How has remote work changed your life? Some of us embraced it with open arms and became more productive, emphatic, and creative. Others found that working remotely is challenging, less productive because of their personality or their work-from-home environment, and in some cases difficulties-generator because of the socioeconomic inequalities it underlines. Which is why a hybrid work model is rising to fill in big shoes in keeping the enthusiasts engaged and catching up on the struggles of their less enthusiastic peers.
In this guide we are touching on the “What”, the “Why”, and the “How”s of a hybrid workforce model from both employees’ and employers’ perspectives. What is important for you to know is that there is no universal model, but a constant collaboration and debate around finding the right hybrid work model that fits your organization.
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Hybrid Workforce Model?
A hybrid workforce is a mixed team of employees who work remotely or from an office or the headquarters. They have the flexibility to work however they want, be it fully remote, or fully in-office, or even half time working remotely and the other half working from the office.
A hybrid workforce model, instead, is the arrangement that incorporates employees who work in a single, central location such as an office, store, or warehouse, employees who work remotely, and employees who alternate between in-office and remote work. This model is driven by a combination of factors, including employee well-being and business performance.
McKinsey & Company describes 6 possible models reflecting a mix of on-site and remote working as starting points for your own unique design of a hybrid workforce. They rely on some measurable characteristics, such as: ability to access talent, productivity (at an individual level or in a team), and the cost of real estate (rental, property costs).
There are two extremes: a fully virtual model, and an entirely in-office model. In a fully-remote work model, better access to talent or lower real-estate cost outweigh productivity, which can, in turn, be affected by the lack of cohesive face-to-face interaction. On the other hand, few companies would nowadays choose an entirely physical workplace model, given that most of their employees need flexibility to keep their work–life balance untouched. Pandemics taught us that being present doesn't always mean being more productive or efficient.
That leaves most companies somewhere in the middle, with a new hybrid workplace model. When building a hybrid model, you must analyze the percentage of your employees who are working remotely and how often they are doing so. If, for example, 80% of your employees work remotely only one day per week, in the four days they are at the office, they are likely getting all the social interaction and connection needed for collaboration, innovation, and social cohesiveness. In this case, you might be fine with a partially remote, large headquarters (HQ) model.
Instead, if a third of your employees are working remotely but doing so 90% of the time, the challenges to cohesion are bigger. This remote workforce will miss out on social interaction with the rest of the team - and the coherence, and cultural belonging that comes with it. One solution would be to bring those remote workers into the office more frequently, in which case multiple hubs, or multiple micro-hubs, organized as hybrid workplaces might be a better choice. Not only is it easier to travel to regional hubs than to a central HQ, but more dispersed hubs make the in-person interaction more energizing, fun, and creative. These are the partially remote, multiple hubs model and the partially remote, micro-hubs model.
The sixth one is a partially remote work model, with flexible workspace - meaning temporarily rented space used in select cities for periodic gathering and collaborations. Although it provides full ability to access talent, it doesn't guarantee long-term connectivity and cultural belonging. Plus, the cost of real estate can differ, and thus, create insecurities.
No matter which model you choose for hybrid virtual work, the decision rests on the factors for which you’re optimizing. Is it real-estate cost? Employee productivity? Access to talent? All of these are highly important, and the result is unique and defies simple formulas, because it needs to consider a number of simultaneous factors.
How Does a Hybrid Workforce Model Work?
The decision to move to a hybrid workforce model will affect the dynamics of relationships across your business because it involves more than simply separating job roles between remote and in-person work. To make it work, you need to get everybody on the same boat, and to assume the decision to equally manage two entirely different employee experiences. Gartner points out that at the heart of a hybrid workforce model are the ideas of shared ownership and trust, which helps organizations “break down long-held beliefs and potential myths about where and how work gets done most effectively.”
It needs to work both-sides: for example, some employees might work from home, while others work in the office indefinitely. In contrast, others may work in the office and then switch working locations on a set schedule. Some employees could come into the office occasionally, then complete the rest of their work remotely.
And it also needs to work in the company’s interests: for example, a company might allocate certain days for in-person collaboration and meetings, and then schedule other days for remote work. As per Business Harvard Review, keeping the “5 Cs” - communication, coordination, connection, creativity and culture - alive is what it takes to make the model work.
As George Penn, VP of Gartner explains, “Employers, managers, and employees share ownership of hybrid work decisions. Where, and when, work gets done will be determined by what makes the most sense to drive the highest levels of productivity and engagement.”
Why Do You Need a Hybrid Workforce?
The benefits of adopting a hybrid workforce model are countless and should be looked at through both employee and employer’s eyes. Here are some of them:
- Flexibility makes people more productive. Flexible work makes people better focused on tasks, thus more productive. Why? No workplace distractions, no rush to arrive on-time or to be stuck in traffic. Plus, the freedom to work during productive hours, to accommodate one’s working pace. So, it’s no wonder flexibility has overtaken salary as the top workplace benefit!
- Companies, as well as employees, can make substantial savings. Companies that implement a hybrid workforce model can save money on rental or property costs, as well as on other office supplies, utilities, etc. On the other hand, employees will save time and money on commuting. And since they are flexible to work from wherever they fancy, they can also chose to relocate to a more affordable accommodation.
- Everybody’s health and well-being is improving. A hybrid workforce model allows you to have a smaller in-office team, which means that social distancing rules can be easily respected. Not having to travel to work with public transportation, for example, means less exposure to Covid-19 and thus, lowers the possibility of spreading germs at the office. Finally, working in a hybrid work environment helps employees free up time for more exercise or leisure activities with family or friends.
- Your employees are satisfied and less willing to quit. During pandemic and after, employees got used to being flexible and independent in terms of remote working and they want to keep it that way. Among working adults with jobs that can be done remotely, more than half want to keep working from home. Arranging their desires within a hybrid work environment will improve their level of satisfaction and will keep them productive, engaged and loyal.
Companies have access to wider talent pools. Organizations that implement a hybrid workforce model can hire employees located anywhere in the world, and thus, reduce talent acquisition and facilities costs.
What Are the Main Challenges of Managing a Hybrid Workforce?
One of the major downsides of managing a hybrid workforce is the risk of letting two organizational cultures emerge. One which is dominated by the in-office workers who continue to benefit from the positive elements of co-location and face-to-face collaboration, and another one influenced by remote workers that may experience FOMO and feel isolated. Often, remote employees might feel deprived of the opportunities to advance in the company, because they are less visible.
Another challenge, which goes hand in hand with the first one, is that team collaboration may suffer. When half of your team is gathered in the same workspace, and the rest are connected virtually, collaboration can become difficult. Remote colleagues may feel more like observers. Communication can also be “jammed” by the fact that some people are more comfortable speaking with the camera on than others - and that’s in addition to the status and language differences which usually create barriers to communication in work settings.
Thirdly, diverse home situations may create inequalities that you will need to address. According to Sid Sijbrandij, co-founder and CEO of GitLab, “working from home will never be the best solution for everyone, and “remote” doesn’t always mean “home.” If a team member wants to work in an office because their home isn’t conducive to work, they’re distracted by roommates or family members, they want the social interaction of a co-working space, or they simply feel more productive away from home, we'll pay for the space.”
Employers should also consider additional support like: paying for remote workers’ high speed internet, providing adequate communication, project management and data protection tools. Some adjustments on compensation and benefits across all positions might also be required.
At last, but not least, one major challenge is the one related to security threats. The risk of cybersecurity breaches increases when employees work remotely because they may expose sensitive corporate data while using unsecured public Wi-Fi, downloading unsafe applications or downloading malware by clicking on unsafe emails or websites.
How to Collaborate With a Hybrid Workforce?
During pandemics, many organizations were forced to manage a distributed workforce, which translated into some learnings for the design of a functional hybrid work model.
Here are few of the most significant:
- You need to get your employee’s buy-in for the hybrid working model. Accenture found out that 83% of people prefer a workplace strategy that provides them with the balance between remote work and office work. A hybrid work model comes with multiple benefits, such as flexibility, empowerment, and autonomy. In essence, employees still want to be heard, to be paid fairly, to feel like their work is purposeful. When you show employees support, they are also more likely to rally around your causes.
- Managers will need to adopt an outcome-based mindset and trust employees to work productively against established goals, regardless of location. At the same time, employees will need to be flexible and comfortable moving between various work environments when they are needed.
- Encourage informal digital communication, but don’t rely only on virtual interactions. Face-to-face interactions create significantly more opportunities for informal interactions, emotional connection, and creativity that can foster trust, collaboration, and innovation.
- Allow for vulnerability. The pandemic blurred the line between work and home. It shed light into the personal corners of co-workers and it became our new normality. We cried and celebrated wearing funny hats to surprise someone on their birthday. We saw each others’ children and puppies and we baked cakes together - and we did it with the help of technology. Allowing for vulnerability in this new hybrid workplace model means empowering people to adapt to whatever changes may arise and keep creativity alive.
- Make sure that your team members have the skills they need to be productive and advocate for their development.
- Set weekly priorities and objectives so the most important work gets done first.
6 Strategies To Build A Successful Hybrid Workforce And Turn Challenges into Strengths
Rome wasn’t built in one day and neither will your hybrid workforce model be! How can you turn challenges into strengths? Here are some ideas:
- Focus on the ties that bind your people together. You have the opportunity to design the hybrid workforce model that best fits your company and generate a new culture shared by all your employees. This will provide stability, social cohesion, and belonging, whether your employees are working remotely, on premises, or in some combination of both. Creating a workplace culture that prioritizes connection tends to translate into higher productivity.
- Encourage informal interactions. Although they occur more naturally among co-located employees, leaders need new approaches to also include remote team members. One approach is to leave a part of the meeting agenda free, as a time for employees to discuss any topic. Leaders can also establish an open-door policy and hold virtual coffee rooms and social events. Keep personal connections alive.
- Create ‘safe’ spaces to learn from mistakes and voice requests. Psychological safety matters in the workplace, and it requires even more attention in a hybrid virtual model. A culture in which employees feel comfortable making mistakes, speaking up, and generating innovative ideas is an evergreen asset.
- Promote workplace equality. Avoid inequality among employees by making sure you have workplace policies and practices that are fair for everybody. Implement clear work policies to help the hybrid workforce understand what the company expects from them, including, for e.g., a social media usage policy, time and attendance policy, remote work policy, etc.
- Boost awareness around cyberattacks. With employees now working from home, their networks are much more exposed than before. You must take some basic security measures such as: using only encrypted devices, implementing strong password policies, training employees to detect and avoid phishing emails etc.
- Keep track of the performance of your hybrid workforce model. The right metrics will depend on your goals. You should try to achieve results across all parameters and prepare to make adjustments along the way.
Best Tools For A Hybrid Workforce
Collaboration tools were key to supporting efficient communication and productivity during remote working times and still are, within the new hybrid workforce model. If you are looking for the best tools to help you build and manage one, here are some of them:
- Smart office solutions. They will help you manage remote and on-premises work seamlessly. Take for example our YAROOMS plug-and-play platform. Our solutions: desk and room booking, visitor management, digital reception, or our work planning tool will make your workplace interconnected, catering to all your employees’ needs, no matter the location. They will be able to easily book meeting rooms, desks, and even parking spaces to ensure a safe workplace environment. AI and IoT software will simplify communication between employees in remote workplaces, giving them access to vital projects and data.
- Video conferencing and messaging apps. Zoom or Microsoft Teams or Skype has grown to be an integral part of our lives during the pandemic, and will continue to occupy an important place in the future of work too. Messaging apps, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, are our go-to most handy communication channels.
- Project management tools will keep everybody in the company on the same page, offering 360° visibility over projects, tasks, status reports, performance KPIs etc. Asana, Trello or Jira are the most used platforms nowadays, enabling an agile working approach and helping employees better prioritize and organize their work.
- Finally, an employee survey platform will help you constantly measure the degree of satisfaction that your teams are experiencing regarding the hybrid work model. Are they more productive, or are the tools helping them better organize their work? Use survey tools to get their feed-back about what it was like coming to the office and take action to improve their experience. Managing a hybrid workforce within a hybrid workplace is easy with the right tools in place. Think about turning the work environment into an employee-centric workplace, engaging employees to be more productive, collaborative, and creative.
As a conclusion, of course there will be bumps along the road and of course you don’t have to make all the decisions about your hybrid workforce model up front. A hybrid work model could be the answer long awaited to boosting your company’s performance and culture. Don’t forget to take it step by step: identify the challenges, implement long-term strategies, test and measure the performance, and most of all be honest in your communication towards employees. It’s always harder than it seems, but it definitely pays off in the end.