You may have heard that the future of work is hybrid. But what does that mean in practice? While the pandemic forced many businesses to change up their operations almost overnight, now we are faced with a different challenge. That is: leveraging what we learned during the pandemic and applying it to how we work as standard, outside the crisis.
Enter: hybrid working. In this definitive article, we’ll explore what hybrid working is, its challenges and the 3 steps you can take to create a hybrid working policy for your organisation.
Hybrid Working Definition
Hybrid working is a flexible arrangement where employees combine onsite and offsite work in line with both their own and their employers needs. Pre-2020, hybrid working arrangements were rare. However, following the major shift caused by COVID-19, organisations the world over are now offering a degree of flexibility in their own hybrid working models.
The hybrid work model empowers employees with choice. It asks them where and how they would like to work (while considering organisational requirements) and gives them the tools and resources they need to do so effectively.
When creating a hybrid working strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every organization. In fact, doing so rather defeats the object because hybrid working involves meeting your employees where they are. And that will look different across businesses the world over.
For example, here at Huler, we offer complete flexibility in our hybrid working arrangements. Day to day, our employees are free to work remotely or at one of our offices. We recognise that everyone has different ways of working. While some might prefer to do focused work in a dedicated office space, away from the cut and thrust of their home life, others might benefit from working remotely due to their health status, childcare arrangements, or simply because they feel more productive doing so!
Some organisations take a more structured approach to hybrid work, where employees choose one or two days a week for remote work. Alternatively, a workforce may be split between remote workers and on-site workers. The beauty of creating your own hybrid working model is that it offers so many different combinations, with complete flexibility to chop and change depending on your employees and business goals. Not to mention the wide range of benefits of hybrid working too.
Hybrid Work Vs. Remote-First
There are a few differences between hybrid working models and remote-first working. The biggest is that a remote-first workforce is exclusively remote with no onsite capacity. Some organizations are even going as far as getting rid of their offices entirely as part of this strategy, leaving employees to work from home or in co-working spaces all of the time.
Hybrid work leaves the choice (in part) in the hands of employees, making both options easily available. Organizations that embrace hybrid work have both physical workplaces and the infrastructure for employees to work effectively and productively from anywhere. Sometimes at the drop of a hat!
What Are The Different Types Of Hybrid Work?
Because the hybrid work model is so flexible, there are many different variations. Which one an organisation runs with is dependent on the needs of the business, the preferences of staff, and (of course) day-to-day operational requirements.
Remote-First For The Majority
Remote-first means working from anywhere is the standard for most employees. While a remote-first organisation likely has a physical working space for those who need to be physically present, most of the workforce can work from anywhere.
Lots of organisations understand the value of having a physical space in which to collaborate and create. And it is these companies that are favouring an ‘office occasional’ approach, where employees come into the office one or two days a week and work remotely for the rest of the time.
The difference between remote-first and office occasional is that the former makes remote work the default, while the latter might be more prescriptive about which and how many days employees are to attend the office.
For example, a business may stipulate that all employees should work from the office on set days. Or, they might require employees to attend the office two days a week. Alternatively, the office may be reserved for collaborative and creative work, while focused work happens remotely.
Office First, Remote Allowed
In this model, the office is the default. It is the kind of setup many of us have experienced prior to 2020.
While there might be some scope for workers to operate remotely, this is approved on a request basis that considers the employees’ job role, the goals of the business, and how the rest of their team is working.
One of the pitfalls of this type of working model is, because remote workers are the exception to the rule, they get forgotten. This can mean they get passed over for promotions or pay rises, are left out of important conversations, or feel excluded from the workplace culture.
This critical disconnect can lead to low engagement, productivity, and retention.
Organisations Pivoting To A Hybrid Work Model
The coronavirus pandemic led to a big shift in the way we work. In a matter of days, many well-known organisations publicly pivoted to a hybrid work model and (so far) have never looked back.
This is, in part, backed up by employee sentiment surrounding remote and hybrid work. In a May survey of 1,000 US adults, 39% reported that they would consider quitting their job if their employers aren’t flexible about remote work. This figure rises to 49% among millennials and Gen Z employees.
Here are just a few examples of organisations that are embracing a hybrid work model, and how they are going about it:
In May 2020, Coinbase announced that the company would be remote-first after COVID-19 restrictions lifted.
In a blog post, Co-Founder and CEO, Brian Armstrong wrote: ‘in the future, anyone who wants to, can continue to work from an office. That won’t change. What is changing is that (almost) any employee who prefers to work outside of an office, can. For many employees, it will probably be a mix of both.’
In March 2021, Jane Fraser, CEO of Citigroup, announced what the future of work would look like for the global investment bank. This future includes three new models of working:
Hybrid – Colleagues work in the office at least three days per week and from home up to two days per week.
Resident – For roles that can’t be performed offsite, such as in branches or data centres.
Remote – For colleagues who can perform their function outside a Citi location, although Fraser stresses that ‘new remote roles will be somewhat rare’
As well as this, the article focuses on three actions the organisation will be taking to help employees fulfil the principles Citigroup set at the start of the pandemic called “Make the most of now”.
These actions include:
- Zoom-Free Fridays
- Encouraging staff to set healthy work boundaries by limiting calls outside of traditional working hours
- A company-wide holiday dubbed: Citi Reset Day.
Allen & Overy
Law firm Allen & Overy also reflected on how Covid-19 ‘jolted [them] into accelerated transformation’. They acknowledged that the challenge for them moving forward was ensuring that ‘the office of the future retains the best of the physical and remote worlds’.
For A&O, this means giving employees flex to decide how to split their time between working from home and the office. They also envision that their offices will become ‘meeting places for team activities…rather than day-to-day workspaces.’
In May 2021, CEO of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai published a post on The Keyword that detailed their approach to hybrid work, including a more flexible workweek where employees would spend ‘approximately three days in the office and two days wherever they work best.’
As well as this, Google plans to give employees more choice around where they work by rolling out several flexible working practices such as work-from anywhere weeks, dedicated focus hours, and reset days.
Hubspot was another early adopter of the hybrid working way of thinking.
In a post published on their Careers blog, Katie Burke (Chief People Officer) wrote that HubSpot has ‘historically been more remote-friendly than remote first’ and introduced Hubspot’s ‘New Vision For Work’.
In this new vision, employees will have three working options to choose from: @office, @flex, or @home, alongside other changes to facilitate their new hybrid culture such as:
- Benefits and perks for remote workers.
- Training and support to help managers build and grow high-performing teams remotely.
- More remote job openings.
- A fair and transparent hiring process.
- A remote-first onboarding experience.
Many organisations and sectors are embracing hybrid working. In the examples above, each business clearly understands how important it is to create robust hybrid work policies supported by their core values, goals, and mission statement. There is an intimate understanding in each announcement that a culture shift is needed for hybrid work to succeed, along with clear boundaries and significant buy-in and investment from the powers that be.
This is most definitely an approach to emulate when making the switch in your organisation!
3 Steps To Hybrid Work
The key to a successful hybrid work model is to ensure that it works for the majority.
This can be achieved in three steps:
Step 1: Speak To Everyone
Before you make any changes, get your ear to the ground and listen to what your employees want. To do this you could distribute a company-wide survey asking:
- What do you like about your current work arrangements?
- What do you dislike about your current work arrangements?
- If given the option, how many days would you choose to work from home?
- Do you enjoy working in the office?
- Do you enjoy working from home?
- What are the biggest challenges of working remotely?
This simple first step will give you an inside look at what is going on in your organization and what you can do to improve it.
Step 2: Get Organised
As mentioned above, successful hybrid workforces need robust procedures and sufficient tech to make sure everyone stays connected.
Areas to consider include employee experience, internal communications, productivity, professional development, scheduling, and collaboration.
If you’ve already invested in a long list of tech systems to solve these problems, first take stock of how well they are working. Are employees engaging with them? Do they even know where to find them or how to use them? Consider how you can bring everything together in an intuitive way for hybrid teams, rather than investing in more systems. For example, a digital workplace platform is a great way of making sure each employee in the business has access to the right tools and information they need to do the job.
Establish robust and actionable processes to ensure communication is effective. In a successful hybrid workforce, no one should be left behind. Think about everyone and ensure procedures are in place to touch base with them regularly, whether that is through specific one-to-one meetings or internal comms.
Step 3: Live Your Culture
According to McKinsey, around 70% of workplace transformations fail, largely due to culture related challenges. If your organisation is looking to bring about hybrid work transformation that sticks, a new culture is needed to facilitate this new way of working
Your company culture is the main driving force behind the success of your hybrid work model. HR Teams, Managers, CEOs, and everyone in between needs to live and breathe a people-first culture, regardless of the sector, your customers, or how large your organization is.
Work still remains an integral part of our lives, but our attitudes to it have changed. While stressful, the pandemic also gave many employees the space to spend more time with their families and prioritise their health and wellbeing. This change also gave rise to a shift in the way we view work. Now, employees want to find more purpose in what they do. They want to be more creative and entrepreneurial, involved in decision making and kept in the loop.
Without a doubt, the people in your business are the driving force behind culture. Rather than try and make them fit a culture that feels unnatural and stressful to them, organisations looking to reap the benefits of higher motivation, retention, satisfaction, engagement, and productivity would do well listen to what their people need when it comes to work and create hybrid working policies and arrangements that align with that.
Hybrid Is Here To Stay
Hybrid work is here to stay. But what does that mean for your business?
Well, the short answer is: it depends on your current workplace culture, the job roles of your people, the infrastructure you already have in place, and the goals of your organisation – to name a few! While there are a huge number of benefits to hybrid working, without the proper controls and measures in place, it might not work in the way you imagine.
Here at Huler, we think hybrid working and work from anywhere is the future. We already know that it’s what the majority of employee wants. So, businesses can either spend all their time and energy fighting against it and wrangling people back to on-site locations against their will, or they can invest in policies, technology, and training that will support productive work in a hybrid setting. If you agree but you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry. We’ve got your back. Our digital workplace solutions are created specifically to engage and empower your hybrid and distributed workforces and kickstart effective digital transformation in your business.