Hybrid Work Model Considered

Have you already heard of the Hybrid work model? As leaders expect the pandemic to die down in the next months, many are considering returning their teams to the offices, at least partially. This is where the idea of a hybrid between remote and office work comes in – it’s supposed to combine the best of the two worlds. However, many experts are warning company leaders of the nuances that might turn the hybrid model experiment into a disaster. In this article, we’ll briefly present the potential challenges and solutions that will help you decide if the hybrid work model is for you.

What exactly is the Hybrid Model?

There are roughly two different definitions of the Hybrid work model. One suggests that everyone works both at the office and remotely some days of the week. The other definition refers to a separation of the workforce into two groups – one attends work at the office and the other is fully remote. Nonetheless, both of these separated working situations can have serious implications on an organizations’ success.

Some days in the office, some remote

Let’s first consider the hybrid model in which all employees are required to come to the office a number of days a week. The appeal is by bringing everyone to one place, the company ensures informal communication that might be missing in all-remote situations and provides a central hub for the organization. At the same time, this model still allows workers to be remote on some days, thus saving them commute time and allowing for more control and flexibility over their working lives.

In comparison to full-remote, this model immediately poses the following challenges. First of all, every employee has to be located in the vicinity of the office. Even with the requirement is one day per week in the office no one can live far away as they have to be able to reach the office. Resulting from this, the recruiters will have to deal with a limited talent pool. This hybrid model restricts you to hiring remotely. Thus, you will inevitably miss out on some international candidates you could consider if you were hiring remotely. Obviously, these are just things to consider when choosing to switch to hybrid, since if you do pick this model there is no alternative to being local. But if you want to allow for employees whose locations don’t let them come to the office, it could be worth considering the second hybrid model.

Some employees in the office, some fully remote

The idea behind this hybrid model is to allow some employees to stay remote full-time while others return to the office to work in the pre-COVID fashion. The main danger this model poses is creating two “classes” of employees. Firstly, managers tend to think less of the employees they don’t physically encounter on a daily basis. The basic “out of sight, out of mind” concept applies. In fact, the managers might even undervalue the efforts of remote workers in comparison to those they see putting in the hours every day at the office, and the lack of personal contact may also affect their view of remote workers in a negative manner.

The other side of this problem is the remote workers’ psychological well-being which directly affects their productivity. Many of those advocates for the importance of in-office working claim that remote workers feel isolated and left out as they fear missing out on what is happening in the office. Informal communication at the office might become a problem for both of the outlined hybrid models. But, clearly, its effects are more evident in the second one because it is always the same group of people who meet in person at the office and the same people who are always excluded from these interactions. Therefore, the only way to keep the productivity levels high is to adapt the traditional office system to accommodate the needs of the remote staff as well. In fact, many experts suggest companies adopt the first-remote policy which implies that the company would be able to run smoothly even if those in the office go remote.

The common enemy of both hybrid models

Informal meetings at the office risk being the main enemy of both hybrid work models. These brief unplanned meetings may seem like the most natural office practice. Indeed, why shouldn’t you be able to just pop by your colleague’s desk to ask a short question? Simply speaking, other people (and yes, even those in the office) are unaware of your short meeting. The problem is not only that they cannot participate, but that they likely won’t have a chance to see the results of it either. This goes against the main rule of remote work – clear and full documentation of the workflow. The same applies to conference calls. Remote workers can be made to feel like “second-class citizens” when they have to a group of colleagues through a monitor, and this can, in turn, affect the cohesion of employees and reduce the sense of camaraderie as well as employees’ experience of a ‘company culture.’ If the others are situated together in a room, they tend to exchange comments that will be hard for remote staff to hear and impossible to document.

Designing a hybrid model that works

Foreseeing the problems for both models we have discussed, the need for a new, smarter solution becomes clear. Specialists advise keeping the remote work rules in place as well as redesigning the office space for the new way of working. First of all, this means keeping documentation of the workflow that is prioritized and shared by all of the employees – remote and on-site. This will ensure everyone is on the same page.

Next, the regulation of informal meetings is needed. Not only should they be documented if something work-related is addressed, but the circumstances under which they happen for both remote and colocated colleagues should be discussed. This might mean allocating time slots in which remote workers meet online for informal chats with each other just like the staff at the office would do.

You will have to do some basic restructuring of your usual office work to prepare for this novel way of working. Those who aren’t physically present shouldn’t feel absent from the company’s workflow and it is the leaders’ responsibility to ensure this. One way to do this is redesigning the office to have individual spaces for calls instead of conference rooms so that both teams feel equal in their ability to communicate. When most conference rooms are eliminated so is the temptation to crowd in front of one monitor.

Should you or your company do it?

The hybrid model might become an effective work practice for companies that aren’t ready to go fully remote. However, without a structured approach to this transition, it might cost companies a lot of resources. You can’t just combine the traditional all-colocated and remote approach without rethinking it first. If you still think of the office space as the necessary “glue” for connected working, you automatically disadvantage those working for you remotely. If you do not embrace remote work, you won’t be able to embrace a hybrid model either. You will find yourself prioritizing on-site communication, staff, and processes while ignoring the results of your remote team. Adaptability is key and Changing your mindset is crucial. Then you can redesign the traditional office spaces and practices to fully address the needs of your remote workforce. You need both mental and structural change to succeed.

The hybrid model is new, and all new things demand us to accept some degree the unpredictability. But if well-prepared, you can revolutionize your work style and adapt to what might become the new “new normal”.