For quite a while, it seemed as though the future of work was remote. Countless articles have been written about how the shift to remote work might be the final stake in the office workplace.
But is that true? More and more, business owners and thought leaders are considering creative ways to balance the community and structure of the office setting with the flexibility and independence of remote work.
This combination of the old and new work environments is being referred to as the hybrid workplace.
What is a hybrid workplace? We’ll cover this, plus the advantages and disadvantages of implementing a hybrid workplace environment over a fully remote or office-based workplace.
A hybrid workplace is a work environment that provides employees the option of working remotely or working at a physical, office-based space, in order to meet the diverse needs of team members.
A hybrid workplace doesn’t have to evenly square its remote work perks with its office space — it simply should give employees the flexibility of choice.
For some companies, this hybrid model could be an interim solution during the ramp up to returning to the office. Other companies might be struggling with maintaining company culture in a remote environment.
Whatever the case, a hybrid workplace has its own merits and is likely to become the default model for many companies in the future.
Hybrid workplaces have the potential to combine the best qualities of remote work and the office into a workplace that fits everyone’s needs.
For working parents and caregivers — or for any employee who simply values workplace flexibility — the remote model brought a positive valence to our relationship with work. It redefined work-life balance.
The comfort and independence of working from home, or from wherever employees needed to be, stands in stark contrast to the rigidity of a traditional office space, the commuting, and the schedule inflexibility.
But for employees living alone, the isolation of a fully remote workplace can feel exhausting or confining. A study from Cigna shows that isolated employees are less engaged, less productive, and report lower retention rates — and 12% of lonely workers also believe their work is lower quality than it should be.
With mental health fast becoming the core tenet of our everyday, it’s unfair to ignore the burden of remote work on some employees.
Furthermore, company culture tends to fragment in a fully remote environment (although there are plenty of ideas for virtual team bonding). The camaraderie and socialization of coworkers is hard to recreate when everyone is separated by screens.
That’s why the hybrid model is so critical to the future of work.
Employees who benefit from workplace flexibility will continue to expect that of their employers, even if an office is made available to them.
And despite the headaches that come with commuting and the 9-to-5, employees who live in isolation will look for the workplace perks of sociability and company culture, both of which are difficult to recreate in a purely remote environment.
By addressing both of these preferences, the hybrid workplace sits at the heart of the future, where companies treat employees’ work styles and expectations on a more personalized basis.
There’s no one single approach to implementing a hybrid workplace.
Depending on the size of your company, the work you produce, and your company’s financial flexibility, one hybrid solution might make more sense than another.
If you’re considering transitioning to a hybrid workplace, there's a few steps you should take in preparation:
Conduct a survey of employees’ preferences. Learn what your employees value most — schedule flexibility, location flexibility, the ability to socialize, and so on. What level of remote work and/or office-based work are employees comfortable with? Here’s a Return to Work Pulse Survey Template you can use to get started.
Examine your office-based options. If you’re unsure about the overhead of maintaining an office, could you explore co-working spaces as a start?
Explore other styles of workplace flexibility. Could you designate several work-from-home days along with office days? Are some teams able to be fully remote while others might need to go into the office occasionally?
Create a plan of attack. The return to the office demands a lot from HR and the rest of the team. Check out our Return to Work checklist, Policies & Procedures, and Preparing the Workplace to kickstart any return to an office-based workplace.
As we mentioned above, there’s no two hybrid models that will look the same. But once you have an idea of how you might transition to a hybrid workplace, you might consider certain options.
Here are some of the hybrid models the HR industry has discussed:
Fully accessible physical office for those who want to work/meet in person. In this scenario, it might be necessary for employees to schedule desks and conference rooms ahead of time, in order to avoid overbooking.
“Remote Plus”. This combines X# weeks of working from anywhere with, for example, one week of office-based work. It puts emphasis on certain tasks and collaboration when in-person with colleagues.
Co-working spaces / memberships. This allows full flexibility but still provides a physical space for those who prefer it. Additionally, this option could mean less overhead and more cost savings over renting a permanent office.
These are just a few ideas on what a hybrid workplace might look like, but they are by no means prescriptive. Some of these hybrid approaches might not be options for your company. However, it’s never too early to plan for the future of work.
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