What is a hybrid work model.
As many of us start to return to work, a hybrid model may just be the answer. But it comes with pitfalls and challenges that organisations will need to address quickly, especially when considering what a collaborative work space means.
Even before the pandemic, remote working was a hot topic. Through advances in technology, teams were able to work more effectively than ever before - without the need to be in the same room. Then in 2020, remote working became the main issue for all organisations the world over. How to do it effectively, what the ongoing challenges were, and if it was a good fit for people? Now in 2021, the conversation has shifted to the hybrid work model. How best can organisations accommodate the mix of people and their needs, how can they combine both remote working and face-to-face?
As organisations return to their workplaces and start conversations, it’s very clear that people do not want to give up remote working - for those who started during the pandemic, only a very small amount (9%) want to return to the office full time. In previous years, organisations have been quick to avoid remote working, citing that the infrastructure was simply not there, this is obviously no longer the case. Additionally, organisations also can’t ask people to come back full-time yet, with various versions of lockdown and limited services still in place. Therefore, the most common solution everyone is leaning towards, the hybrid working model.
Check any media outlet, people are starting to refer to a hybrid work model a lot, but there isn’t yet a clear definition. With every organisation and industry tackling this in different ways. The one recurring theme for those who do implement a hybrid model, it’s going to take time and effort to get there. From what we’ve seen, there are three trends emerging:
The first option is returning to what most people would consider the norm, that being workspaces/offices as the primary place for working but importantly, with remote working allowed. As this was fairly familiar before the pandemic, then it would be no surprise if most organisation chose to return to this setup. The main driver will be the type of industry and especially the leadership team. For example, if the organisation leaders are in the office every day, then we’d expect most other workers to follow, to avoid missing out on collaboration and any other significant conversations.
In this version of hybrid working, there will be a remote policy, with the expectation that various and small amounts of people will choose to spend their time split between the office and remote working. However, there will be an understanding of the opportunities missed out by those who do not follow suit with the leadership team.
In this scenario, the biggest challenge will be ensuring those people who work remotely (more than others) don’t become second-class citizens, ultimately cut off from the rest of the organisation. It’s very easy for those not following the common path to feel isolated and suffer poor work-life balance, often resulting in burnout. The lack of connection to the rest of the organisation also leads to disengagement, low productivity, and fewer options to succeed. It will also be critical for the workforce to mainly be local, which also has its own limitations.
For many organisations, the decision will be to go remote-first. This means things will look very similar to what they're currently doing - in short, the pain of change has been indued and they now consider themselves to be fully remote. The likelihood is that workspaces will still be kept open for some people, but probably at a reduced rate and will vary from one organisation to another. This will also mean different people will have varying conditions, dependent on their role - e.g. those that are physically required to be in an office versus those with don’t.
Remote working will be different for everyone but the underlying approach will be that each organisation should be considered a fully remote outfit, with people potentially anywhere, in any time zone, relying on technology to help connect the dots. With any retained workspaces, primarily for collaborative purposes.
The good news to this approach, it means a much more flexible and limitless workforce - with candidates able to move offices more easily and apply for roles from anywhere globally, hopefully encouraging a much more diverse workforce. Equally, by making the decision now, it will avoid a number of the challenges of the more blended hybrid work model. Specifically, what are workspaces for and how often are they used.
The main concern for remote organisations will be how do they support and grow culture, as well as organising face-to-face events because remote does not mean never seeing anyone again.
3. Blended model
This is where organisations will attempt to blend both office and remote working, either because fully remote doesn’t work, or that there are other impacts around retaining and returning to a collaborative workspace.
The concept will be that people are trusted to work almost 50/50 in the office and remotely (e.g. a couple of days in the office each week). And depending on the organisation, this may be quite a loose policy, with people able to choose what works for them and their team/department. For example, everyone might find consistency in getting together at certain points throughout the week in an office space.
The driving force behind this model is the trust in putting people and culture first. Whereby, people are required to spend a certain amount of time in the workspace each week but are optional when and if they want to stay longer.
This model should inspire retention and greater productivity, but being caught between both remote or workspace-based approaches, means it’ll be most at risk of being pulled in either direction. That is unless very clear and equitable guides are put in place. This means certain decisions need to be made sooner than later.
What can be done to grow a successful hybrid work model?
At first, a hybrid work model may seem like the easiest solution, helping solve many of the current challenges organisation faces. Especially, as they get to keep their workspaces as well as accommodate the different needs of their people. But to implement such a model so that it encourages productivity, engagement, and better connection between people (in different locations), leaders will need to tackle the following topics:
Hybrid or Remote Policy
Establish - Establish a working policy sooner than later - outline who, where, and when people work (this may include essential workplace days and/or meetings, or staggered in-house times).
Circulate - Make sure everyone knows what the policy is, where it can be found, and when it is updated.
Manage - Make sure there is a policy owner - someone who is able to review, update the leadership team, and update on regular basis.
Safety - Update workspaces to ensure people feel confident in returning (e.g. space and hygiene measures).
Flex desking - Consider allowing people to book their desk/spot before coming in.
Collaboration - More than just going open-plan, consider spaces for collaboration rather than solo desk work.
Routine - Rather than unscheduled meetings or last-minute notices, try and plan events in advance and stick to them.
Screen-first meetings - Help everyone feel included by having all meetings remotely (regardless of locations).
Communication online - Prioritise online, over in-person conversations - so less is missed out.
Collaboration - Through technology enable people to make announcements and recognise others' achievements.
Feedback - Gather opinions regularly through surveys, polls and one-to-one meetings.
Relationships - Encourage people to create time to connect, hang-out, and/or play. Either on video calls or one-to-one catch-ups while attending the workspace.
Training - Consider training managers to recognise biases towards people within the workspace or being remote.
Leadership - be honest and clear about where and how the leadership team will work. Consider having leaders and managers only work remotely so no favouritism.
Equal benefits - Remote workers may feel they are being left out, so consider gifting perks and benefits for those people - a basket of goodies, or home gym equipment.
The most important thing to recognise about any of the different models is the amount of time and effort needed to keep people safe, productive, engaged, and ultimately maintain culture. The workplaces of the future will all continue with some sort of hybrid working, and what works best for you now, could well change with time.
Our own recommendation would be a lean towards a remote model - as long as organisations are able to give clear outlines on what a communal workspace should be used for (such as collaboration events once a month or to conduct Sprint planning and reviews). Having already gone through the hard changes - being remote in the pandemic - it would make sense for many to continue in this way. With the main advantage being that a remote model would provide a consistent experience across the organisation, whether people work remotely or in an office.