As businesses reopen and hope for an end to this pandemic renews, employers are facing a big question: Should we switch to a hybrid work model?
While much of the workforce abruptly went fully remote in March 2020, the transition to hybrid work has the potential to be a more thoughtful, intentional shift. Do it right, and it could reap large rewards. Do it wrong, and it could be just as messy as the original shift to remote.
So, how can you ace the hybrid work model for your organization? Below, we’ll go over tips on optimizing it and some examples of companies making it work.
But first, what is a hybrid work model?
What Is a Hybrid Work Model?
Simply put, a hybrid work model combines remote and office environments.
What that ends up looking like varies depending on the company and the individual employee. Some companies allow their employees to choose how often they work remotely and how often they come into the office. If the company gives its employees freedom to choose, some employees may decide to work fully in-office, others may work fully remote, while still others may do a combination of the two. Some hybrid work companies, however, may require all employees to work at least a few days on-site.
What those remote days look like can also vary widely. For some, “remote” really just means they can work from home. For others, “remote” means they can work pretty much anywhere in the world. And still for others, “remote” is somewhere in between (for example, some companies permit remote work only within an employee’s home region due to laws and regulations).
At its core, the hybrid work model is about compromise and flexibility. Many employees were forced to go fully remote due to the pandemic, but now, they don’t want to return to the office full-time. As a result, employers are trying to compromise by combining the best of both worlds (on-site and remote).
But is there any evidence that the hybrid work model is desirable and beneficial? Yes, there is.
Hybrid Work Model Research
- 96% of people who started working remotely because of the pandemic say they’d like to continue to work remotely “at least some of the time for the rest of their careers.” (Source: Buffer)
- 39% of knowledge workers would consider quitting if they were required to make a full return to the office. (Source: Gartner)
- Half of women who started working remotely during the pandemic say they feel more safe doing so. (Source: Gartner)
- Knowledge workers with a disability feel 45% more respected while working in a hybrid environment than on-site. (Source: Gartner)
- Gartner found that “radical flexibility,” which it defines as an employee’s ability to control where, when, and how much they work leads to more high performers in an organization.
- The Adecco Group surveyed 14,800 workers across 25 countries and found that 82% of respondents feel as productive or more than before they switched to hybrid. They also found that after the pandemic, more workers want to be measured by their outcomes and results—not the hours they put into it.
Based on Adecco’s research, it seems hybrid work can be more productive, but how “productivity” is measured needs to change. If a worker can create the same desired results in 30 hours, instead of the standard 40 hours in a traditional workweek, why must they remain “at work” for 10 extra hours to be seen as productive?
Now that we’ve seen the research, let’s take a look at real-life examples of companies making the hybrid work model work for them.
Hybrid Work Model Examples
Spotify’s “Work From Anywhere” Program
In February 2021, Spotify, which went remote at the start of the pandemic, announced Work From Anywhere, granting employees the choice to work from home, from the office, or a combination of both. The music streaming company also gave employees more flexibility on which country they worked from, though there are limitations because of time zones and local laws.
Grammarly’s “Remote-First Hybrid” Model
At the start of the pandemic, Grammarly switched to working fully remotely. Now, it’s transitioning to what it has dubbed a “Remote-First Hybrid” model. Most of the work is done from home, but teams meet every quarter for “essential time for face-to-face collaboration.” This model also requires that each team’s members work within three time zones of each other and have at least six hours of overlap a day.
The most genius part of Grammarly’s model? It treats every employee as though they’re working remotely (even when they’re not). Why is that important? Here’s how CEO Brad Hoover explains it on the company blog:
“By ‘remote-first,’ we mean that our modes of collaboration will assume every team member is remote. We believe this will help us build an equitable workplace that ensures transparency and equal opportunity for each Grammarlian to learn, grow, and have the highest impact.”
Apple’s Office-First Hybrid Model
On the other end of the spectrum is an office-first model, where working on-site is the default, but there is some time allotted for working remotely. Apple is a good example of this.
According to reporting by The Information, Apple is transitioning employees back to the office by starting a “hybrid work pilot” in February 2022. Under this pilot, employees will start coming to the office one to two days a week, increasing to three days a week in March 2022.
Hybrid Work Model Pros and Cons
Of course, as with any work model, hybrid has benefits and risks that need to be weighed.
By having some employees work from home, companies won’t need as much office space, which can reduce rent and utilities costs. And for employees, not having to commute at all or as much can save money too.
Boost employee satisfaction
Many employees who went fully remote at the start of the pandemic are expressing a desire to remain at least partially remote. A hybrid work model is a nice compromise for both employees and employers.
As we saw in the research above, a hybrid work model has the potential to boost productivity in your workforce, especially if it means employees get to choose the environment more conducive to their creativity.
Tip: Tools like Krisp, a noise cancelling app for your meetings, can help to keep up the productivity.
Create a more diverse and equitable workforce
Many companies lauded the diversity benefits of going fully remote; finally, they could expand their scope into new countries and hire talent who, for whatever reason (childcare, disability, etc.), might not be able to come into the office every weekday. If these same companies were to return to the office completely, it would cut out some of that diverse workforce it hired and cut off future talent.
And in terms of equity, many people’s circumstances have changed during this pandemic. Some welcomed new children into their lives, others adopted pets, and still others are struggling with newly developed or exacerbated mental health conditions. Requiring these folks to now return to the office in a full-time capacity would place undue hardship on them. Hybrid work can be more fair because of the way it considers and accommodates nearly all situations.
When PwC surveyed 752 U.S. executives in August 2021, they cited the loss of in-person company culture as “the biggest challenge to hybrid work.”
If culture is created by the numerous interactions between a group of people, then by splintering that group into homes, coworking spaces, and the office on certain days of the week—it’s tough to get everyone on the same page. Some people will start to feel left out. Some people will never even meet their teammates. Culture can really suffer, and that’s definitely a consideration when planning your hybrid work transition.
Team bonding becomes a challenge
Related to culture, team bonding in a hybrid environment is a challenge. There are only so many virtual team-building activities you can do before people start dreading them. In a traditional office-only environment, team bonding happens outside of those planned events. It happens over coffee in the office kitchen, during chit-chat with your cubicle mates, and even in accidental run-ins in the hallway. These are known as “water cooler moments,” and they matter for building relationships.
Finding a way to bond your team when some work from home and others work in the office will require creative thinking. You might even decide to do occasional in-person meetups for this reason.
Communication becomes fragmented
When everyone was working remotely, it’s likely that much of your communication happened online via email or Slack, since it’s not like you could walk over to their office and have a word. But when some of your workforce is working remotely and others are on-site, it creates opportunities for undocumented communication, where your on-site employees talk in person about something important but fail to communicate it to your remote employees.
To prevent fractured communication, adopt a “remote-first” approach like Grammarly. It creates an attitude of defaulting to virtual communication, such as a Slack message, which allows everything to be documented and transparent to all employees.
GitLab, a fully remote and asynchronous company, encourages having a “single source of truth” for this very reason. To achieve this, it publishes its handbook on the internet, where anyone can read it. In the handbook, GitLab writes:
“By having most company communications and work artifacts be public to the Internet, we have one single source of truth for all GitLab team members, users, customers, and other community members. We don‘t need separate artifacts with different permissions for different people.”
While you don’t need to be this radically transparent, it is a good idea to have one central hub where all employees can find necessary information.
Hybrid employees end up overworked
According to Quantum Workplace’s 2021 State of Remote Work report, hybrid employees were more likely than remote and in-office employees to report working 50+ hours per week. The report authors note that both remote and hybrid work can make it hard to have boundaries around specific work times. So a hybrid work model may inadvertently burden employees who choose it.
It’s a logistical nightmare
Think about it: When your employees are fully remote, everyone is on the same page, and you don’t need to plan where each person will be working. And if you had all of your employees return to the office, unless you had a significant change in the employee numbers and office space since March 2020, you’d pretty much know where to place them.
But with hybrid, if some employees are coming into the office and others are staying at home—and still others are coming into the office on days they choose—now you have to plan so that you don’t reach capacity. If some workers only come in on three days of the week that they choose, how do you ensure that this group doesn’t unintentionally all come in on the same day and run out of desks? The logistics of the hybrid work model are inherently more complicated than fully remote or fully on-site.
Tips for Switching Your Teams to a Hybrid Work Model
Ask for feedback from your employees
The past 18 months or so of forced remote work due to the pandemic has either been bliss, torment, or something in between. To make sure you make the best decision for your teams, ask them for feedback on what went well, what didn’t, and how they’d like to move forward.
Here are some ideas for soliciting feedback:
- Send out online surveys.
- Host an all-hands and allow employees to submit anonymous questions and feedback to be reviewed during the meeting.
- Have managers meet one-on-one with direct reports.
Ask, “Why not just stay fully remote or return fully in-office?”
Just because hybrid work is the latest trend in this post-pandemic world doesn’t mean you have to follow it. There are plenty of other organizations that decided to stick to being 100% remote because it was working well for their employees.
So before you go hybrid, meet with your teams and ask, “Why not just stay fully remote?” Brainstorm. Listen.
Then, turn the tables and ask, “Why not return to fully in-office?”
Only after you decide that there are unique benefits to going hybrid should you continue down that path.
Plan the logistics
This is where hybrid work can get complicated because, instead of a fully remote or fully in-office approach, you now have a multitude of combinations you need to account for.
Some questions to ask include:
- If you choose to do a rotational schedule, how will you create this schedule and make sure you don’t miss anybody?
- How will you ensure that you have enough desks for the people who choose to come into the office a few days a week?
- How will you ensure that everyone doesn’t come in on the same day and overflow the workspace?
- How can you prevent having the office open on a day when no one ends up coming in?
Document your hybrid work policy
Going back to that “single source of truth” mentioned above, you need to make sure you have a document that explains your new hybrid work policy and that all your employees have access to it.
In this hybrid work policy, answer questions like:
- For employees who come in on a rotational basis, can they switch shifts with another rotational employee?
- What’s the procedure if someone changes their mind? For instance, what if someone who chose to be fully remote now wants to come into the office three days a week?
- How will you handle meetings that involve some on-site employees and some remote ones?
- Will your company assume a “remote-first” attitude in its communication?
- What are the best methods of communication when you move into a hybrid work phase?
Consider a pilot phase and pivot as needed
It’s okay if you don’t get hybrid work right the first time. And if you want to test it out first, you can institute a pilot program to see how it goes before committing to the model 100%. That’s what HarperCollins did. As reported by Publishers Weekly, HarperCollins employees began returning to U.S. offices in October. The CEO says that what the company learns from this “pilot phase” will shape decisions around creating a more permanent work model.
Is the Hybrid Work Model a Good Fit for Your Organization?
The hybrid work model has a lot going for it: increased flexibility, the potential to save money, and the ability to create a more diverse, equitable workforce—just to name a few. But switching to it is no small task. It requires careful thought and planning.
As we saw from companies like Spotify, Grammarly, and Apple, though, “hybrid” looks different for everyone. That means you get to customize it based on what works best for your teams and your business. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing your workforce—and perhaps that’s the biggest reason to go hybrid after all.