A decade ago, a fully remote staff was a far-fetched concept. Not anymore. There are now more than five-million people working remotely in the United States alone, and regular work from home has more than doubled since 2005. From cost savings to improved productivity, there are a variety of reasons to move from office-based to home-based employment; however, some job duties simply cannot be fulfilled remotely, and for many companies the middle ground remains the best solution. That middle ground is the hybrid work model.
“It’s time for leaders to get real about hybrid,” warned McKinsey & Company in July 2021. Employers may be “ready to get back to significant in-person presence” amid the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, but their workers aren’t — and “the disconnect” may be “deeper than most employers believe.”
Indeed, while more than 75% of C-suite executives recently told McKinsey they expected their “core” employees to be back in the office at least three days a week, more than half of the 5,000 employees surveyed said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week.
According to Gartner, the “new imperative” for HR leaders is to identify future of work trends relevant to your business. And while there are a number of different ways to recruit and retain top talent, your HR strategy must incorporate work flexibility to close the gap between employer expectations and employee needs and goals. For many HR leaders, this means creating a hybrid working environment. For Accenture, the future of work is the hybrid work model.
As of April 2021, 83% of workers preferred a hybrid work model, and 63% of high-growth companies had already adopted a “productivity anywhere” workforce model. Indeed, there’s no denying hybrid work is “here for the foreseeable future, and organizations that do not embrace it could experience significant retention, engagement, and talent acquisition challenges.”
What is a Hybrid Work Model?
Employees who’ve worked remotely at least some of the time before and during the pandemic have had the highest employee engagement, which explains why 74% of companies plan to institute some form of remote work for their employees on a permanent basis. And while 73% of workers told Envoy they were worried about returning to the office, employees who work from home all the time are most likely to suffer burnout, which is probably why 94% said they still want to be in the office at least one day per week. As a result, as companies plan for their future of work, many will likely implement a hybrid model that allows for both remote and in-office work.
A hybrid workplace provides employees the ability to choose day-to-day where they would like to work. Some employees can work remote full time while others will be in a physical office bright and early each day. But both groups have the flexibility to change their working location based on their schedules, projects, or needs of the day… Physical and remote workplaces both have their place, and a hybrid workplace allows your team to choose the environment that best suits their needs and work.Zoom, “Planning for Your Next Phase of Work”
In practice, a hybrid work model can take a variety of forms. The most common hybrid work model prior to the pandemic split the workforce between 100% remote employees and 100% in-office employees. On the other end of the spectrum is the most flexible model, which allows all employees to decide their own balance of in-office and remote, as well as what days and times they’ll work. Most companies, of course, fall somewhere in between.
The Right Hybrid Work Model for You
Lever’s new hybrid work model, for example, has designated specific days for different teams to work in the office, but if anyone wants to work on site everyday they can. At Kennected, employees are required to work in the office a couple days a week but can also come in on their remote days. Importantly, both companies based their hybrid work model on the results of employee surveys.
While your hybrid work model should be based on your employees, and your policies are likely to evolve as you test what does and doesn’t work for your organization, there are four basic models:
The At-Will Hybrid Work Model
Especially useful for employees who prefer to work at home but want to come into the office for meetings or particular projects, the at-will hybrid work model allows employees to choose the work arrangement that works best for them on any given day. A number of companies have developed a work-at-the-office request process to ensure that social distancing requirements are met.
The Split-Week Hybrid Work Model
Particularly valuable for managers seeking a regular cadence to face-to-face group meetings, the split-week hybrid work model divides the week between in-office and at-home work. Most companies employing this model split up the week based on department or job duties.
The Shift Work Hybrid Work Model
A more complicated model to successfully implement, the shift work hybrid work model employees workers in shifts, alternating between working from home and working morning or evening shifts on site. Unfortunately, shift work often requires employees to set up additional childcare solutions, which could increase your benefits costs.
The Week-by-Week Hybrid Work Model
Perfect for organizations with large teams that need to meet up in person, the week-by-week hybrid model schedules teams to work in the office or at home on a weekly basis.
The Pros and Cons of a Hybrid Work Model
Historically, companies that allow employees to work from home experience 25% less turnover, along with 40% fewer quality defects in the work of their employees. This is because, with increased freedom and flexibility, remote employees:
- Don’t spend time or energy commuting to and from work
- Aren’t distracted by their coworkers
- Take breaks when they need to
- Schedule work when they can be most focused and productive
- Take fewer sick days
- Take less vacation time, and often work when traveling
- Feel empowered by the implicit trust of their managers and company leadership.
Of course, if you’re not fully remote, you have to ensure that there’s equity, inclusion and constant communication between and among remote and in-office workers and management.
Here are the top three benefits of implementing a hybrid work model:
1. Better Space Efficiency
In a hybrid work model, fewer people are on site each day, and with less crowding you can make more efficient use of your company’s physical space. As a result, your company could reduce its total number of desks and use the space for informal meeting areas; or, you might need less office space overall, allowing you to shrink your footprint and cut down on overhead costs.
2. Better Employee Engagement
More engaged employees are not only more likely to stay with their current employer, they’re also more productive and effective. And when your employees have more flexibility in where they work, they’re more likely to balance their workloads, participate fully in work activities, and find satisfaction in their work, improving engagement. In fact, even with the option to work remotely, some employees may keep the same traditional work schedule; simply offering the choice to work on or off site empowers and engages the workforce.
3. Better Company Culture
While many C-suite executives (and even HR leaders) worry about a hybrid working environment (with fewer workers on site at a given time) adversely affecting company culture, in reality it’s typically improved by giving employees more control over where they work and when. A hybrid work model allows employees to switch work environments according to their needs and objectives, so they’re more purpose driven no matter where they’re located. Often, they may work on individual tasks at home and then return to the office for collaborative projects, building relationships with co-workers and enhancing the company culture.
Of course, changing your work model is never easy, and if created and implemented without proper care and consideration you could face a variety of challenges, including:
1. An Inequitable Workforce
Spontaneous conversations, immediate responses and face-to-face interactions all improve work quality and community in the workplace, and in a hybrid working environment some remote employees may find it harder to communicate, causing alienation.
Fortunately, there’s a simple (and mostly affordable) fix: Invest in fast and reliable networking solutions, high-quality audio and video equipment, and communication tools like Zoom, Slack and Asana.
2. A Less Engaged Workplace
A bustling workplace is energizing and, while your employees almost certainly prefer flexibility, they may feel a certain dullness in the office once you’ve implemented a hybrid work model. With fewer employees, more empty spaces and less activity, on-site employees can become unmotivated, weakening engagement and reducing productivity.
Fortunately, there’s a simple (and mostly affordable) fix: Make your office more welcoming by designing an inviting lobby, transforming open spaces into informal gathering areas for work and non-work activities, and creating happy moments by introducing in-office perks like snack carts or massages.
3. A Confused Workforce
In a hybrid work model, with different employees working in different locations at different times, you may find an increase in miscommunication and frustration, impacting engagement and the quality and timeliness of work.
Fortunately, there’s a simple (and definitely affordable) fix: Work with your employees and managers to align on scheduling policies and procedures; with the right, clearly defined and readily accessible schedule, your employees will feel empowered to meet with their teammates, collaborate and build strong working relationships, benefiting from the structure of a traditional work model as well as the flexibility of hybrid work.
How to Make Hybrid Work Work
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 97% of employees were looking to be a “flexible worker” in the long term, and more than three quarters said they’d be “more loyal” to their employers if they offered flexible work options. Then, COVID changed everything, and The Great Resignation followed.
In April 2021, more people quit their job in a single month than ever before, prompted by “pent-up resignations that didn’t happen over the past year,” as well as pandemic-inspired epiphanies about remote work and work/life balance prompting additional workers to “turn their back on the 9-to-5 office grind.” In the following months, the numbers of departing employees accelerated, stemming from what Atlantic staff writer Derek Thompson called “a revolution in worker expectations.”
Needless to say, many executives and HR leaders are concerned about the intensifying war for talent. The innovative, industry-leading companies and organizations won’t engage in battle — they’ll listen to their workers and prospects, and adjust accordingly.
This is the key to making a hybrid work model work for your organization, according to Lynda Gratton, a British organizational theorist and London Business School professor known for her work on organizational behavior. Specifically, she writes in Harvard Business Review, managers must “consider the challenge from four distinct perspectives:” jobs and tasks; employee preferences; projects and workflows; and inclusion and fairness.
Jobs and Tasks
“When thinking about jobs and tasks, start by understanding the critical drivers of productivity—energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation—for each. Next, consider how those drivers will be affected by changes in working arrangements along the axes of time and place.”
Fujitsu, for instance, has developed an ecosystem of spaces that together comprise a borderless office. They include:
- Hubs, designed for cross-functional cooperation and “serendipitous encounters,” and used by employees who want to work creatively with customers or partners
- Satellites, with meetings spaces where teams can work in person and virtually, designed for coordination within and between teams working on shared projects
- Shared offices, designed as quiet spaces for employees to work independently, typically in or near urban or suburban centers to minimize commuting time
“Our capacity to operate at peak productivity and performance varies dramatically according to our personal preferences. So in designing hybrid work, consider the preferences of your employees—and enable others to understand and accommodate those preferences.”
Companies across industries are developing their own ways to solicit and incorporate employee perspectives into the development of their hybrid work model. Many are providing managers with simple diagnostic survey tools to better understand their employees’ preferences, skills, weaknesses and responsibilities. To automate and streamline the process, others are using their survey results to develop employee personas, with guidelines for hybrid work arrangements tailored to each employee type.
Projects and Workflows
“To make hybrid a success, you have to consider how work gets done. An executive… must not only consider their [employees’] needs and preferences but also coordinate the work they do with that of the others on their team—and with other functions and consumers of their work. That kind of coordination was relatively straightforward when team members all worked in the same place at the same time. But in the era of hybrid work it has grown significantly more complex.”
As Gratton has found from her research, executives and HR leaders are “tackling this” in two ways:
- Expanding the use of new technologies to optimize coordination and communication among employees in and outside the office
- Reimagining workflows, based on the answers to the following questions:
- Are any team tasks redundant?
- Can any tasks be automated or reassigned to people outside the team?
- Can we reimagine a new purpose for our place of work?
Inclusion and Fairness
“As you develop new hybrid practices and processes, pay particular attention to questions of inclusion and fairness. This is vitally important. Research tells us that feelings of unfairness in the workplace can hurt productivity, increase burnout, reduce collaboration, and decrease retention.”
When individual managers are tasked with developing their own hybrid work model, different teams end up with varying degrees of flexibility and freedom, which “inevitably [gives] rise to accusations of unfairness.” Smart companies avoid this common pitfall by designing new processes that ensure equity in the development of a companywide hybrid work model.
Brit Insurance, for instance, randomly chose employees of all levels from offices across the world to participate in the initial stages of its work model creation process. For the next six months, workers from multiple divisions and generational cohorts worked together virtually, using diagnostic tools to profile and share working capabilities and preferences, learning modules to develop deeper insights into the best ways employees and managers could work together to better meet company and worker needs, and a half-day online “hackathon” event during which they pitched ideas to the CEO to be incorporated into the company’s hybrid work model “Playbook.”
Designing Your Hybrid Work Model Playbook
The future of work no longer entails people commuting into city centers “to work by themselves in rows, to be monitored in an old-fashioned presenteeism style of management that was invented more than 100 years ago.” Instead, says Nicola Gillen, a London-based workplace strategy and design specialist and author of Future Office, “they will come to the office more purposefully for specific reasons,” like collaborative work, meetings and brainstorming sessions.
While the likes of Microsoft and Google have debuted high-tech gadgets to streamline the transition process and improve hybrid coordination and productivity, not every organization has the internal resources or management-level experience to research, create, iterate and perfect their own hybrid work model. That’s where we come in.
The MBL Difference
If you’re looking to kick off or improve your process of creating the right hybrid work model for your employees, or need help recruiting and retaining top talent, there’s no better solution than MBL. At MBL, we are a true partner. We think of our work as building relationships, not as a business transaction. It’s our mission to learn as much about your company and its needs as possible, so we can act as your guiding force. We will share our vast network of partners, carriers, technology and wellness providers, and more, so you can diversify your talent pipeline, foster employee satisfaction and inclusion, and boost your bottom line.