Updated: Jun 5, 2021
A year of working from home has taught us valuable lessons. Employers have started acknowledging that work-from-home is, after all, not that bad. Work can be completed, and productivity can be high. Employees who longed for it earlier don’t find it as enticing.
While WFH effectively helped limit the virus's spread, it isn’t a long-term solution. As the pandemic continues, returning to our pre-pandemic phase is not really an option. Therefore, the need to find a middle-ground. And this middle-ground is what we call a Hybrid workplace.
What is the hybrid workplace model?
A hybrid workplace is a model where some employees work from the office while others work remotely, all enabled by technology.
Modern tools like video calls, online meetings, document sharing, and a suite of collaboration apps enable geographically-distributed teams to function and succeed.
Hybrid Workplace Model: A Transition to New Normal of Work
Almost overnight, COVID-19 forced millions of employees from across the globe to re-think their approach to work. Though work from home has become the new norm, it is not a long-term solution. 59% of organizations are already returning to work as our collective efforts flatten the curve.
Research conducted by recruitment experts at Hays reveals that almost 55% of employers predict transition to a hybrid era within the next six months. Salesforce revealed in a report that 33% of millennials and 43% of GenZ are ready to split their work between home and office.
This split of workforces thus acts as a catalyst to accelerate a hybrid workplace model, a structure where some employees work from home and some from the office. But what is the hybrid workplace model? How to establish one for your company? Let’s delve deeper into the topic and know more about it.
What is Hybrid Workplace?
To put it simply, a hybrid workplace is a structure that balances employees working both remotely and from the office. It is an amalgamation of physical and virtual offices and empowers employees to work from anywhere. In this model, employees can choose to work, however, and from wherever they are most productive. And with 85% of organizations believing in increased productivity as a result of this setting, the hybrid workplace is the future.
What to Expect from a Hybrid Workplace Model?
Home office spaces built into our residences
Increased flexibility during working hours
Recruitment over a larger demographic area
Smaller company footprint due to dispersed locations
Technology designed for seamless amalgamation of work from home and office
How to Create a Hybrid Workplace?
So, now that we have a basic understanding of what is a hybrid workplace model and what to expect from it, let us understand how can we adapt our existing organizations to the hybrid structure.
Rethinking Work Patterns
With the introduction of hybrid working practices, flexibility on location, log-in hours, and days have been achieved. Apart from these aspects, we should review and revise our policies, be it for those coming to the office or working from home. For those going to the office, strict guidelines on maintaining social distancing or using “flexi desking” can be a good start.
This will let employees book desks when they need it while keeping it open for others when not in use. As for the remote workers, helping them set-up functional and enterprise-grade workstations at home will ensure increased productivity.
Fostering Better Collaboration
As a hybrid workplace promotes a balance of physical and virtual, with greater emphasis on the latter, it is essential to encourage more collaborations.
With dispersed teams, virtual collaboration can not only create the opportunity to include everyone in the organization but also connect them better. Most remote workers feel left out and this can ultimately hamper their work. Employees who feel that their voices are being heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best at work. Harness audio and video calls to enable more social interaction amongst colleagues. Create virtual “water cooler” moments to keep them motivated. By fostering your employees to collaborate more, you can seamlessly integrate the hybrid workplace culture.
Employees are becoming more flexible and gaining more freedom in how, when, and where they work. With the hybrid workplace model in place, it is all about creating environments that foster productivity, collaboration, innovation, and safety.
To foster this change - to help it grow and thrive. Product modules such as the Team Work Planner and Communication Console allow a seamless transition to a hybrid work model.
How do you go about designing it?
The first step to designing a hybrid work model is identifying the objectives, list the critical success factors, and evaluating the major challenges. When designing a new workplace model that can potentially change our offices' faces, it is necessary to establish a clear roadmap. And you should also have definitive metrics to measure success.
What should be your key objectives while designing a hybrid workplace?
It is easy to lose sight of the goal when you plan a big transformation. Keeping in mind the following considerations would help you stay on track:
Ensuring employee well-being and safety: Remember what drove you to this transformation. It may be tempting to overlook a few safety concerns to squeeze in a few more people. But a hasty decision could jeopardize the health and safety of others. So, cap the number of people you can have in the office at any point in time. And stick to it!
Balancing flexibility and security: Hybrid workplaces are all about striking the right balance. While you set out to build a flexible workplace by enabling employees to work remotely, the security risks increase manifold. So, make sure you budget for enhanced security and privacy infrastructure at the planning stage itself.
Driving technology adoption: A large majority of workspace and HR managers would agree that it’s easier to shortlist and shop for productivity tools than drive its adoption. Ensuring you have adequate IT implementation and training staff at hand is one of the prerequisites to transform into a hybrid workplace. What good is it to invest in tech that would lie in the garage unused?
What are the common challenges in designing a hybrid workplace?
Going hybrid may not be an option but necessary for quite a few businesses. However compelling may be the need to go hybrid overnight, it comes with challenges.
After weathering the storm that was COVID-19, an ambitious transformation goal without meticulous planning would be a recipe for disaster. Here are the most common lapses that could lead to a hard landing:
Designing policies to suit the physical infrastructure: Changes to physical infrastructure are relatively easy to carry out – your floor plan and desks will not protest. If you change policies every second day, employee frustration is a given. Treat physical infra changes as fluid and policies as more static.
Using old metrics in new ways of work: Counting work hours, judging employees on the speed of their response, or evaluating engagement based on the frequency of their replies on Slack or Teams, are simply a recast of your old biases in a now redundant work environment. Align your objectives and communicate your expectations in terms of productivity.
Viewing onsite and remote employees through the same glass: One of the most common pitfalls is the inability to be cognizant that you have two sets of employees working in different realities. It is easy to get frustrated over delays caused due to remote work when your benchmark lies in a distraction-free environment equipped with adequate infrastructure. Hybrid models can bring in a new dimension of situational diversity in an already diverse workplace. Managing it requires learning and patience.
What are the tools you need?
A hybrid workplace aims to create a central platform between the two ends of on-premise and remote work.
This platform is a combination of three sets of tools:
Collaboration tools: Collaboration tools like Slack and Teams focus on enhancing productivity through features like file sharing and management, email and calendaring, integration with task tracking apps, and a chat-based interface.
Communication tools: Although collaboration tools offer communication features, solutions like Zoom and Google Meets have been finding new users. One of the possible reasons for their popularity could be their product quality; the other could be their large user base that attracts more users. These serve multiple purposes like recruiting, onboarding, employee engagement, apart from regular team meetings.
Automation tools: Automation tools are more about establishing a hybrid workplace, unlike the other two that have been enablers of a remote model. Hybrid workplaces would thrive on extensive planning. Right from the floorplan to scheduling employees, booking meeting rooms, maintaining social distancing protocols – all of it would be more efficient with automated planning and execution.
What are the must-haves while developing a roadmap?
In a hybrid workplace, workforce management revolves around the axis of productivity and not just attendance.
You must ensure the following are in place to be successful:
Well-defined policies and guidelines: Most organizations, which have traditionally allowed remote work, would have policies for it. But hybrid workplace policies are different. It isn’t the case of few employees working from home for a day or two.A significant part of your workforce would be contributing remotely for an extended duration, while another set would be on-site. Given the different work environments, using the same measures of performance, or indicators of the engagement level, may lead to gross inequities. Say, measuring output in a given number of hours might unfavourably tilt the balance towards people working from the office. It could happen as people working from home need to shoulder household or parental responsibilities. However, to compensate, they may put in more hours at work.
Empathetic approach to management and leadership: One of the most discomforting experiences for leaders during the lockdown has been the inability to monitor work. Many managers relied on sight to see if their teams were working. It’s also easier to set up expectations and follow up in a physical workplace. In a hybrid setup, the approach changes.
Working in a virtual environment, the managers need to use a more empathetic and supportive approach, leveraging tech tools to ensure their teams remain productive.
Technology that suits your organizational needs: It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that WFH was possible only because businesses invested in technology infrastructure. For a hybrid model, new variables enter the equation, placing unexpected stress on the current tech stack.
As a result, business leaders need to reassess the tech needs of different functions and teams, enabling them to succeed in a model different from WFH.
Communication that provides a level playground for all employees: Communicating guidelines and policies and staying in touch with your team helped businesses successfully implement the remote work model.
Does that bode well for a hybrid workplace?
Think of a meeting going on in a hybrid workplace. Members in the room are privy to side-talks and more tacit communication in the room. People attending it through Zoom can listen only to the speaker. A situation like this could work to the company's disadvantage as a whole.
Therefore, a more appropriate way of conducting meetings in a hybrid workplace would be to have all team members attend virtually – people on-premise can log in through their desks.
How do you implement a hybrid workplace?
Like any initiative, you need to create an employee buy-in for implementing a hybrid workplace model. However, the current situation concerns your team's health, safety, and well-being. Therefore, a healthy dose of empathy and keeping the process human would help you attain better success.
Here’s how you go about it:
Create a buy-in: Listening to employee-concerns, and involving them right through the planning process will help you avoid last-minute setbacks. Run employee surveys, document the data, and maintain transparency throughout the process.
Make your physical workplace safe: Sanitization and social distancing norms are just two components of a safe workplace. Use technology for regular sanitization reminders, screening, and testing employees, automate desk and meeting room bookings, revisit floor plans, add more safety equipment, and limit the number of people on the floor.
Communicate all the safety measures to your employees regularly and in-advance.
Develop hybrid workplace guidelines: Guidelines for WFH are different from a hybrid workplace. Thinking through various situations and cases, you can develop a comprehensive yet easy-to-understand set of guidelines.
List the dos and don’ts clearly, with no space for ambiguity. Also, strive at establishing an even playfield for employees working remotely.
Communicate with your employees: Bringing about a change after months of WFH, you are dealing with inertia mixed with the fear of COVID-19. A sudden change may be upsetting.
Hence, it is a must to communicate the reasons behind shifting to a hybrid workplace model. When announcing the plan, back it up with data and the benefits.
How do you measure your success?
Every transformation exercise starts with an objective. Measure the success against those objectives.
Following is the process to measure the success of your hybrid workplace model:
Identify a baseline to measure results: If the goal is to increase productivity, decrease lost-opportunity, or human error cost caused by remote work – quantify your as-is.
Establish KPIs: The digital transformation KPIs work for hybrid workplaces. These can be technology cost per employee, workplace & technology utilization rates. Human resource management can be another dimension for your KPIs – attrition rates, employee satisfaction, and so on.
Incorporate qualitative insights: As we all undergo a massive change; numbers cannot comprehend the real picture. Incorporating behavioural insights and anecdotal evidence may prove helpful in the long term.
Examples of companies that have implemented hybrid workplaces
2021 is witnessing the emergence of hybrid workplaces.
The ones that made it to the headlines for successful implementation are:
HubSpotStarting 2021, HubSpot provided three options to its employees – office, flex, or home. The office option entails employees working from the office for three or more days a week; flex two or less and home means complete WFH.
FigmaFigma conducted extensive surveys to understand what its employees wanted in a design-software company. It rolled out two options – Hubs and Remote – along with a few policy changes. The employees visit a workspace with fewer people for two specific days a week under hubs. The other option is to go remote completely.
DropboxDropbox announced its Virtual First program in October 2020. Remote work will be the primary mode of engagement for all day-to-day work.
RedditIn the same month as Dropbox, Reddit announced it would allow its team to work from “the office, remotely, or a combination of the two.”
Coinbase in May 2020, Coinbase announced it would be a remote-first company, allowing “remote work to all employees who want it, while maintaining the ability to work from an office for those who don’t.”
ShopifyMay 2020 also saw Shopify announce its Work from Anywhere program. Under its Destination90 option, it allows people to work from anywhere in the world for 90 days a year.
Designing and implementing a hybrid workplace model can be easy if you follow the above-mentioned steps.