Are you eager to get back to the office? You’re not alone. A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. workers by Eden Workplace found that, after a full year of working remotely during the global pandemic, 85% of employees were looking forward to returning to their original workplace.
Despite the weather-related small talk and microwaved tuna in the kitchen, it appears that people are missing their colleagues: 52% of survey respondents said that socializing with co-workers was their main reason for wanting to be back in an office environment. “Working from home clearly has its place, but the drive among workers to be among peers and colleagues is extraordinary,” said Eden Workplace CEO Joe du Bey of the findings.
Though the enthusiasm for a shared workspace is evident, many aren’t keen to return to the traditional 9 to 5 office setting. The past year has proven that companies can adapt and offer more flexibility to their employees, so why shouldn’t this continue post-COVID?
According to Harvard Business School, which surveyed almost 1,500 working professionals, only 18% of employees want to be in the office every day. The majority (61%) would prefer to have a mix of both, with the option to work from home two to three days per week. This desire will likely urge employers to trade in their traditional office setup for a new hybrid workplace.
So what exactly is a hybrid workplace?
What is a hybrid workplace?
A hybrid workplace can mean two things:
- A work environment with a hybrid team that includes in-office employees and full-time remote workers
- A flexible arrangement that enables employees to split their time between the physical office and their home office
The second model is a newer concept and is likely to skyrocket in popularity as COVID-19 restrictions ease. SHRM.org author Kathy Gurchiek predicts that the hybrid workspace will soon become “the new norm.”
This promise of a future workplace is an exciting one. Though it’s not exactly a Jetsons-style concept with flying cars and robots, the new era of flexibility can offer a range of benefits to workers who struggle with a typical 9 to 5.
But how does it work in practice? What happens when remote work is no longer mandatory, but employees aren’t coming back to the office on a full-time basis? This fusion of two work situations will require some preparation.
How to prepare for a hybrid workplace
For many companies, this will be their first foray into a hybrid working model. If you are an employer, you need to have a return-to-work plan in place. Here are a few initial steps you can take to help prepare for this transition:
Step 1: Get employee feedback
First things first, talk to your employees. Ask them about their preferences and figure out if a hybrid office is the right option for your company. Discuss this feedback with your HR department and other senior executives to see how feasible it is.
Step 2: Share safety guidelines
Ensure your workers are aware of the standard safety guidelines, including rules on social distancing in the office and cleaning protocols. Be sure to tailor these guidelines to suit your workspace — this is especially important in a hybrid working model, where some employees may share hotdesks and other facilities.
Step 3: Update IT requirements
Your return-to-work plan will need to outline specific instructions for the IT department. For example, will employees keep an extra laptop at home for their remote working days? What equipment will they use when they return to the office?
Step 4: Make a short-term schedule
Create a clear office schedule for the first few weeks back. There will likely be an interim period where employees return to the office on a phased basis — for example, the sales department may go back before the design team. You can also arrange for employees to arrive at staggered times to reduce unnecessary contact. Managers can use this transition period to document what works well before deciding on their optimal schedule type.
Types of hybrid office schedule
Once your hybrid office is up and running, you can decide on your long-term schedule format. There are a few different options:
- Fixed: An employee or team will come into the office on the same days every week. For example, the marketing team could be office-based on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and work remotely on Mondays and Wednesdays. Team leaders can then plan face-to-face meetings for in-office days.
- Custom: A manager can customize their schedule to suit specific company projects. In this situation, all team members working on the same project could use the office one week, and it would alternate to a different team the following week. This method could be suitable for creative agencies and software development teams working in weekly sprints.
- Flexible: An entirely flexible schedule gives the freedom to employees to choose their in-office and remote days. The idea here is that employees know their personal schedule best, and they can tailor it to suit their individual workload. An example could be a writer who comes into the office to pitch ideas, discuss briefs, and attend key meetings. They will likely choose to clock more remote hours when nearing a deadline.
It’s important to choose the correct hybrid office schedule for your team — and to act quickly if it isn’t working. Alexandra Cote notes in Entrepreneur.com that employees may struggle with a hybrid schedule: “As work keeps switching between the office and their screens at home, they might lose focus and motivation.” Managers must be vigilant and check in with their employees to see how they are adapting to their new environment. This doesn’t mean installing keylogging software or tracking mouse movements — instead, employers should consider a collaborative work management solution. With a shared project platform, leaders will be able to monitor progress and ensure their teams are working efficiently without micromanaging employees.
How to keep hybrid teams connected
One of the biggest obstacles to the hybrid workplace is connecting people who don’t work together on a full-time basis. To help you tackle this, remember the three Cs: culture, communication, and collaboration.
You can't force team culture. Though the idea of a virtual watercooler is intriguing, true bonding often occurs as a result of face-to-face interaction and spontaneous “corridor conversations.” Where possible, host team-building activities on the days where everyone is in the office.
Employees need access to appropriate communication channels so they can stay in touch effectively, wherever they are. Consider swapping your emails for a messaging platform. Make an online communication plan and add custom app integrations so employees can transition seamlessly from couch to boardroom.
Who says you can’t boost collaboration in a hybrid office? Collaborative tools such as live editors, shared calendars, and Gantt charts can keep your teams connected at all times, whether they’re at home in their pajamas or sitting at opposite desks.
Welcome back to the office!