Since Covid-19 upended our lives, companies around world the had to adapt into a mandatory remote work set up. We learned a lot in the 2-year pandemic, from the benefits of a flexible work environment to the threats to our mental health of setting up a workplace in your home space. Today, companies are adapting yet again and navigating their way to a hybrid work strategy. In this new work set up, how can we get the best results and performance from our team?
A critical concept that has emerged since companies began planning their post-pandemic work models is 'hybrid': a structure that combines remote work and in-office days. This hybrid model allows employees to keep the flexibility of working from home and still have the face-to-face social contact with colleagues.
Let's learn more about the model and discover the best practices to succeed at implementing it.
The new hybrid office
The best of both worlds, with a home base for an office but with the freedom to work from anywhere else as well. The modern workplace is designed to give employees more autonomy in their work-life balance by allowing them flexibility while still benefiting from the structure of having an office to socialize and strengthen work relationships. Employees can choose between the two, depending on what type of work they need to get done and which environment is more conducive to their tasks at hand.
Baruch Silverman, founder of personal finance website The Smart Investor, says:
"We try to use home working days less for video sessions and more for the tasks that require concentration. A task that may take several hours in the office may be completed in just an hour or two at home".
Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor with expertise in remote work, believes that:
“Once the pandemic subsides, working from home two days a week will be optimal for balancing collaborative and quiet work while benefiting from the reduced stress of less commuting.”
Hybrid working models
Given that we're talking flexibility between two work set ups, the rules are still unclear and companies can define their own hybrid model. Many companies have shared their model, choosing from a spectrum between fully remote and 100 percent in-office. Some companies also take into account the type of work being performed, determining flexibility per job type, instead of a fixed policy throughout the organization.
- The Citigroup model: a 50/50 mix. This is a great strategy when you have a solid in-person component, like a bank branch where it is a must to go back to work. On the other hand, there are other departments that could easily adopt remote work. Approximately 50% of Citigroup's workers must go back to the traditional office, and some employees can continue working remotely every day of the week.
- The Microsoft model: half-time remote, or more with manager approval. Microsoft allows their employees to work from home at least 50% of the time, but workers can get manager approval to increase their remote schedule.
- The Lockheed Martin model: 40% hybrid with better training. Leaders at Lockheed agreed that only 3% of their workforce were telecommuting pre-pandemic. Their biggest issue was that leaders couldn't manage their people as well in this new environment. So 45% of the company managers had to do over 20 hours of training. Consider this if leadership's management style is the biggest issue at going fully digital. Workers are hoping to stay mostly remote post-pandemic.
Hybrid work as the new normal
According to Microsoft's "Work Trend Index", hybrid work (a mix of remote and office work) is likely to become the chosen work set up post-pandemic with over 70% of workers in favor of flexible hybrid work options.
The study also uncovered some hybrid work trends in the wake of the pandemic.
- Flexible and hybrid workplaces are here to stay in the post-pandemic period, with 73% of workers saying they want flexible remote work options to continue.
- Gen Z is struggling more than other generations. Some 60% of this generation, between 18 and 25, say they are struggling with the work-from-home model. They are more likely to be single, making them more likely to feel the impacts of isolation. They are also just getting started in their careers and have not extensively experienced the structure, discipline, and social benefits of having to get up and go to work.
- Workers' daily social life has become intertwined with work and the digital world. One-fifth of the respondents said they virtually met their colleagues' pets and families as they clung to each other during the pandemic.
Benefits and challenges of hybrid work
There's a reason organizations are going hybrid, and that employees are supportive of the shift. There are numerous advantages to a hybrid work model. Naturally, it also comes with challenges, especially now as we feel our way through this new norm. Issues will pop up as we learn more, so it's important not to lose sight of the benefits we wish to gain by going hybrid.
- Better Collaboration and Work Relationships. Deploying a hybrid work model allows staff to gain the best of both worlds. Employees experience the benefits of collaborative, in-person relationships while also having the chance to work remotely on tasks that require a deep, individual focus.
- Improved Work-Life Balance. An analysis by Harvard Business Review shows that physical and psychological problems arising from burnout costs organizations in the US between $125 and $190 billion a year in healthcare. Prioritizing work-life balance builds a healthier and more productive workforce, and saves money. A hybrid work model achieves this balance by providing employees with the option to work remotely and in-office.
- Increased Productivity. Productivity gains arise from greater flexibility, increased focus while working, and reduced absenteeism. Remote working allows greater flexibility since employees can work from any location, at any time. As such, they can balance their workloads easily at lower personal costs.
- Better Visibility Into Employee Performance. Online platforms and tools allow managers to easily view employee activity on various tasks to get a clearer picture of the team's productivity. Managers know when staff members are hitting milestones and due dates, no matter where they (or their employees) are working.
Best tools to succeed in hybrid work
When it comes to remote and hybrid work, flexibility is key; flexibility not just for where you work, but how your team works together as well. Thankfully, there are countless innovations that have capitalized on our obligatory work-from-home stint during the pandemic and have improved and enhanced tools to better support companies and teams working remotely.
Slack, for example, now seems to be a necessity for many remote work teams, and in-office teams as well. Apart from communications tools, we're seeing a rise in employee performance tools that measure productivity based on data from office applications. People analytics is also on the rise to help executives better care for their people and design a work culture conducive to both productivity and mental health. Valued at over $2 billion in 2020, the people analytics industry is expected to grow to more than double by 2026.
Overcoming technology adoption
As mentioned, hybrid work also comes with challenges. As with many policies, there is work to be done before reaping the benefits of a new work model. One major challenge is the adoption of new technologies that make remote work possible and more effective.
For companies and institutions, the evolution of a hybrid workforce can be part of a broader digital transformation effort to improve efficiency, agility, and creativity. But to hit these goals, companies need to go beyond installing the enabling technology. They must also adjust their operating model and recalibrate governance.
Most executives consider that nothing is more urgent than connecting workers to each other more seamlessly online. A survey made by KPMG in mid-2020 polled that more than 80 percent of digital transformation strategy leaders said they were investing in collaboration tools.
However, as always, it is much easier said than done. The biggest challenge to adopting new technologies lie in the human capital. A 2020 survey cited lack of skills of both employees and leadership as main barriers to new technology adoption. We're seeing a similar trend in companies who wish to employ data-driven decision making.
As we make an effort to transform organizations and move towards the future, there is a need to invest time and effort in training ourselves to utilize these new tech tools in order to reap as much of the benefits as we can from the new hybrid work model. If in the years of the pandemic we were forced into remote working, it is not less obligatory and relies more on our willingness to learn and evolve with new technologies.
Nobody knows for sure what the future office will look like, but the gradual (and often hybrid) move over the coming months will no doubt shape its trajectory. Even before Covid-19, companies needed to rethink conventional, inefficient practices like paying for a flight for a two-hour meeting. During the global quarantine, we learned the pros and cons of remote working and found a new appreciation for in-office culture.
Now, we need to pinpoint the best practices and formulate the best hybrid model that works for our specific organizations. The goal, though, is still the same. How do we ensure our employees are healthy, engaged, and thriving at work?
For employers, the hybrid model is a new option that could help achieve that. The specific calibration? We're not quite sure yet. But for now, we'll keep experimenting and learning to forge the best path forward.