- 55% of employees want to work remotely at least three days a week.
- Hybrid work can help to boost team morale and reduce staff turnover, helping employers retain experienced and talented employees for longer.
- Hybrid work comes with potential challenges as well, including in relation to communication and collaboration.
- Employers should make special efforts to include remote workers, and avoid giving office-based workers more favorable treatment.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and so it’s proved; businesses in all sectors have had to adapt rapidly to the ‘new normal’. Remote work has been a crucial part of this process, helping businesses around the world to set themselves on course for future success and prosperity.
Much discussion has been devoted to what the future of work might look like. Will working from home be a permanent reality, or will the return to the office win out? But it’s becoming more clear that remote work is here to stay—it has been growing in popularity for a number of years—though what’s not clear as yet is just how much of a fixture it will become.
After all, remote working isn’t for everybody. Some people simply prefer a more traditional work environment, working face-to-face in a physical office space alongside their colleagues. There are those who struggle to concentrate as well when working from home, especially those who have childcare responsibilities.
But at the same time, there are those who prefer to be remote employees at least part of the time. They enjoy working in a more comfortable environment and sparing themselves the time spent commuting every day.
So how do we reconcile these conflicting perspectives?
What is a hybrid work model?
As the name implies, the hybrid workplace combines both office working and home working (and, indeed, working from anywhere). It allows employees to work remotely part of the time and on site the rest of the time. Employees may choose, for example, to work from home three days a week and in the office two days a week.
According to market research firm Gartner, 67% of employees surveyed said their expectations for flexible working had increased since early 2020, while 55% said that the ability to work flexibly would play a role in determining whether or not they stayed with their existing employer or sought out new career opportunities.
There are also indications that a hybrid workforce might well be a more productive one. The same Gartner survey found that 55% of respondents performed better when given some choice over how and where they worked, compared to just 36% of those who were full-time office workers. This suggests that both employers and employees could stand to benefit from a hybrid model.
Types of hybrid work model
While there are already some all-remote companies, there are various types of hybrid work arrangements that may work better for many. The exact form of remote working chosen will depend on the needs of individual organizations.
Here are three of the most common hybrid work models:
- Remote-first: Operations are geared primarily towards remote working, but with some office space. Such as a satellite office, retained for employees who need or prefer to work there, as well as for client meetings.
- Office-occasional: Employees split their time between working from home (or wherever else they happen to be) and in physical offices. In theory, this allows employees to get the best of both options.
- Office-first, remote allowed: Here, the office is established as the primary venue for working, while allowing employees the option of working from home on occasion.
Benefits of hybrid work
Of course, introducing hybrid working arrangements, and ensuring they work for all parties, is a lot easier said than done.
Many businesses have been forced to accelerate the introduction of such arrangements of late, and there will inevitably have been some teething problems for some newly hybrid companies.
Nevertheless, there are potentially significant benefits to letting employees work part of their time from home and part of their time in the office:
1. Higher employee morale
Team members who have the option to choose where they work are likely to have higher morale and feel more committed to their existing employer. A hybrid working model can therefore help to foster long-term loyalties among staff. Employees feel that their employer trusts them and is attentive to their needs—and their work-life balance.
By contrast, employers which hesitate to offer such coworking options are, as we’ve noted, likely to lose out on skilled, experienced, and hardworking employees to those businesses which do allow them to spend at least some workdays out of the office.
2. Lower staff turnover
Hybrid working can also help to increase employee retention. High levels of staff turnover can be expensive for employers, forcing them to spend money on recruiting and training replacement staff (there is also a loss of productivity involved, as it takes new recruits time to work up to their full capacity).
Employees who have the option of either working from home or from the office, depending on their circumstances and needs, are likely to stick around for longer. This is because they have more freedom to determine their own work-life balance, transforming the whole employee experience, and giving staff one less reason to commence a new job search.
3. Reduced costs
An important benefit of hybrid working is that it could potentially allow businesses to scale back their real estate costs.
Rents are expensive, especially in major cities where office workspaces are highly sought after. When the entire workforce is office-based seven days a week, you need plenty of space to accommodate them.
If part of the workforce is working elsewhere some days, you can arrange things so that the business as a whole needs less office space. Including meeting rooms and conference rooms, as well as desk space. This is because not all team members will be in office spaces at the same time, allowing for greater flexibility.
4. A wider pool of talent to recruit from
With hybrid work, employers can recruit from a wider pool of talent, from HR professionals to web developers. As we’ve mentioned, many employees find remote working convenient and will look for it in the job description when applying. Also, recruiting pools are no longer as restricted by the need to commute physically.
Commuting can be draining, sometimes taking hours out of the day and leaving workers tired by the time they get in. One or two days a week, however, is much more feasible.
5. Healthier company culture
With greater flexibility and autonomy granted to the workforce, businesses often find that their overall company’s culture is far healthier. This is because employees feel that their employer trusts them to get on with the job without hovering over their shoulder all day long. This can improve the whole workplace atmosphere, and not just for remote workers.
Potential downsides of hybrid work
Many businesses have already embraced remote and hybrid working, with tech companies in particular leading the way. But it’s important for business owners to recognize both the potential pros and cons of hybrid workplace models, as the latter will need to be addressed in order to make such arrangements work.
1. Remote workers might feel excluded
It’s particularly important to remember that remote team members could come to feel that they’re being left out of goings-on in the workplace. This isn’t just a matter of things like in-person meetings and everyday office conversation, but also other little perks of the job, like team outings and birthday parties.
This might sound like a relatively minor problem, and it is, but it can contribute to a sense of demoralization among employees who spend most of their time out of the office. When an employee feels alienated from their colleagues, this can cause problems. Employers need to be aware of this, and take steps to counteract it.
2. Less social activity
Remote workforces are also likely to find that they have less of a shared social life. This can be a big thing for employees, and its importance shouldn’t be overlooked. This kind of social interaction really does matter in helping to build team spirit and morale.
Obviously, when some members of the team are working from home, it’s not as simple as making an off-the-cuff decision to zoom out to a bar or restaurant together after work. Teams should therefore make the effort to plan outings in advance when everyone is available.
3. Collaboration can be challenging
When team members are working across different locations, it takes a special effort to maintain close collaboration between them.
Coworkers who are together in the same office can just grab a meeting room and brainstorm, for example. This isn’t so easy when people are scattered about between their respective homes and the office.
4. Communication takes work
Likewise, communication as a whole can be tricky when hybrid working arrangements are in place. There are numerous software tools and video conferencing apps to help you along, but it does require commitment to ensure that everyone is kept in the loop.
5. Office workers may receive favorable treatment
There’s also a risk that hybrid workers aren’t cut the same slack as their office-based colleagues. They may come to feel that they’re missing out on opportunities for career advancement, and that they don’t get enough face time with their managers so that they can make an impression. Hybrid workplaces must maintain a level playing field.
How to make hybrid working work for you
We should note here that for most businesses, the potential benefits of hybrid work environments—in terms of talent acquisition, employee experiences, increasing productivity, and business strategy in general—outweigh the downsides. Unless you’re aware of the latter, however, you could end up with the worst of both worlds.
Here are some steps you should take in order to make hybrid working work for your business.
1. Adopt asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication can help companies adopt hybrid working. In short, asynchronous communication means that people aren’t expected to respond to messages instantly. Instead, coworkers are allowed to respond in their own time, giving them greater freedom to concentrate on their work rather than being bombarded continually.
2. Make sure everyone has the right tools
As well as having good internet connections, employers must also make sure that all members of the team have the tools they need in order to do the job. This includes communication apps and tools, in addition to other software and resources. What’s more, they must also be properly trained in how to use these tools.
3. Make time to socialize
Hybrid working can make maintaining team spirit and camaraderie a challenge.
Business leaders should therefore encourage remote employees to take the time to get to know one another, and talk to each other outside of work-related duties (whether on a video call or via team messaging). This requires attentive people managers to provide careful nurturing.
There’s little doubt that different forms of remote working are now a permanent feature of modern business.
The potential advantages of hybrid working are immense, and although there are downsides too, employers can go a long way to mitigating these by taking fairly simple measures. With a bit of flexibility, your business could reap real rewards from becoming a hybrid company.