Have you heard it on your Zoom calls? Is it happening in Hangouts? If you are a professional with a pulse, you have probably heard the term being thrown around in the past 18 months, perhaps accompanied by words and phrases like “productivity,” “the new normal,” “employee engagement,” and other qualifiers for why Hybrid work is here to stay.
Was it your colleagues at work? Was it in the media? Or, you may have read or heard more about hybrid work on the news, but if you’ve wondered what all the fuss is about, let’s review what hybrid work is.
Hybrid work is a working arrangement whereby the location from which employees work is flexible. With the freedom to choose whether to work on or offsite, as employees and employers see fit, the hybrid model combines working in the office and at home into an employee’s schedule.
Traditional office spaces support spontaneous meetings, structured operation hours, and employee activity visibility. However, the office-centric model was upended when a considerable portion of the workforce transitioned to remote work in the spring of 2020 after the federal government declared a state of emergency to slow the spread of COVID-19. Gallup reports that 7 in 10 white-collar workers are still working from home more than a year later.
How this looks, why employers or companies would adopt it, and how it fits into the future of work are all questions we’ll look at to learn more about this newly widespread way of working. The shift from an office-centric to a human-centric design can alleviate these certain pitfalls and accommodate the demands of life stages and other hidden challenges.
What Does Hybrid Work Mean?
“Work from anywhere” seems to be a mantra that firms are using to attract new talent to their companies. With incumbents, it is a strategy to retain employees and make positions seem more attractive. However, with employees being subjected to working from home during the global lockdowns imposed in 2020, companies saw that employees could learn to work from home and still be effective in their jobs.
Now that employees have realized the advantages of no commute and the increased flexibility they have working from home, and employers can save on brick-and-mortar costs, the necessity for employees to be in the office is now being reconsidered.
This has sparked a nationwide debate about the right balance of in-person and remote work, with (naturally) remote workers tending to want more flexibility and autonomy in choosing where they work. At the same time, employers generally favor a total return to in-person offices.
This can be flexible or on a schedule of having certain days or a specified number of days per week in the office or at home. This way, teams are connected via technology rather than sharing floor space.
How Can My Workplace Or Work Become Hybrid?
Certain types of work, such as positions in manufacturing, cannot be hybrid at this point and needs to happen in person. Any role that involves hands-on labor remains just that – physical. Knowledge work, on the other hand, can be hybrid, as much of what is shared is not physical but rather information or ideas.
Given that most of this sharing is digital these days, there is no reason for employees to be in the same room from a functional point of view. A face-to-face meeting can be replaced by Zoom or other digital face-to-face calls.
A hybrid workplace looks different depending on whether you are an employer or an employee. As an employer, it allows you to downscale your office rental space if you have fewer staff coming in to use it.
Still, attitudes toward returning to the office are not monolithic among the workforce, differing not only by generation but also by mental health concerns. For example, the Pew Research Center reports that while older generations are more comfortable returning to the office than younger workers (boomers are 43% in favor, Gen X is at 38%, and Millennials 24%), mental health remains a top priority for a majority of the workforce. In addition, the Conference Board reports that 61% of people, particularly women and millennials, cite stress and burnout as the main concerns in returning to the workplace.
From an employee’s point of view, meetings will be online, and having a stable phone and internet connection from home and a quiet place to work is essential.
Days can feel more intense, as there aren’t the water cooler or coffee machine chats, or other interactions that give one a mental break from the workday while at the office. Finding the right balance between working and home life while at home can be tricky, but it is vital to get it right when doing hybrid work.
If you are switching to a hybrid work model, from whichever side (home to office or office to home), it is essential to phase it in slowly and not just expect to make a quick and easy transition.
The company will need to provide adequate support, whether in digital subscriptions and allowances for screens and desks at home or proper scheduling and safety precautions when returning to the office.
How Does Hybrid Working Fit Into The Future Of Work?
In general, productivity and customer satisfaction have improved after the pandemic, which speaks volumes in favor of hybrid working.
Post pandemic, most companies will adopt some variation of a hybrid working model, though beyond that, the details of how that looks are still unclear.
Most companies are only beginning to think through and articulate how a more permanent version of flexible working will look in detail, causing employees some anxiety.
Companies are rethinking how they hire and the positions they hire for and typically only expecting employees to physically be in the office between one and four days per week.
While many people have suffered from a lack of engagement with their colleagues during the crisis, the companies that witnessed the most significant increase in productivity were those that encouraged small moments of engagement between team members.
According to Gartner Research, future workplace designs will focus on “the individual as the stable pillar we design work around.” The human-centric design model leverages three core tenets in its strategy:
- Performance measured by outcome. Employers should consider pivoting from evaluating performance by visibility in the office to assessing the worker’s actual results. Similarly, employers should embrace empathy-based management that provides employees with caregiving and health care demands equal opportunities for promotion and advancement.
- Intentional collaboration. For on-site employees, serendipitous meetings that drive connections and spark ideas are a perk of in-person work. Still, these interactions can create an unintended professional advantage for those employees if steps are not taken to enable similar collaboration with remote workers. Shifting to an intentional collaboration model can unlock simultaneous access to ideas, tools, and opportunities for teamwork among all employees. For example, digital tools allow team members to upload documents, make real-time edits, chat with others, and use brainstorming features.
- Flexible work experiences. The pandemic thrust thousands of employees into health management and caregiving roles alongside their previous work responsibilities. Where previously employers depended on consistent hours of operation, the future of work will require an overlap of flexible work experiences.
Learning to get the most productivity and engagement out of this balance among the four modes will be a competitive advantage. The hybrid workforce requires it to create equal opportunities for all employees.
The future of work is hybrid, but the workplace design must be equitable for it to sustain and succeed as the new normal. Shifting from an office-centric to a human-centric workplace design requires empathy-based leadership that measures success by performance outcomes, intentional collaboration, and flexibility. Moreover, as the labor market tightens again and employers battle for talent, business leaders who are intentional with creating a human-centric workplace design position themselves as employers of choice.
The jury is still out on how hybrid working models will evolve, and there are still learnings to be noted during this period, but the future of work looks like a hybrid model. The sooner employees, companies, managers, processes, and educational institutions adapt to this to make the most from the model, the happier employees and employers alike will be.
Hybrid work offers many advantages to the extent that employees can work when and where they feel more productive. In addition, it saves employees and employers time and money, allowing more efficient work methods at the same higher productivity than traditional office-based working models.
Written By: Michael Schumacher, Senior Career Strategist
Michael is one of our accomplished Senior Career Strategists who brings over two decades of experience in the career transition industry to ECP.
He is known for motivating and coaching clients while never losing sight of their individualism, personal situations, or specific objectives.
In addition to coaching clients toward success during their job search, Michael is also a talented writer who is knowledgeable about today’s industry trends.