Return To Work Guide

What Is Hybrid Working?

Hybrid work refers to the idea of going back to the office after working from home for at least one day a week but also spending some time working remotely. It may surprise you, but even pre-pandemic, a hybrid or work from home model was favored by the vast majority of workers.  

A survey by Global Workplace Analytics in 2019 found that a hybrid working environment would make employees happier (83%), feel more trusted (82%), improve their work/life balance (81%), and be more likely to recommend their company to a friend (81%).

After a year of remote work, a survey of 30,000 people by Microsoft found 70% expect flexible work from home options to continue post-pandemic. A similar survey by LeadershipIQ suggests that most workers will want to work from home either 3-4 days (39%) or 1-2 days a week (29%). 

Office access is still important, with in-person team time, access to office supplies, and high-speed internet listed as draws. The solution? Hybrid or work from home options are a must. 

So, why should employers offer a hybrid or work from home model, and what’s the benefit for employees?

What are the benefits of a hybrid working environment?

It lowers social isolation and increases work/life balance

The initial research on the ‘great remote work experiment’ is that remote work has left nearly half (42%) of employees with lower life satisfaction, checking devices more outside of work hours (54%), working longer hours (71%), and feeling more alone (24%). And with some 36 million Americans living alone, remote work can be lonely. As social isolation can have long-lasting health implications, providing access to the office isn’t just important for retention, it’s important for employee health.

It allows for less commuting

Though the extra time commuting on public transport seems to provide some benefits to workers, the average American who drives to work spends 54 hours a year stuck in traffic. Commuting by car is linked to increased stress, pollution, and respiratory problems and costs the US around $100 billion a year.

It can enable more effective collaboration 

Although most remote workers experience challenges with communication, some experts have connected this to using software that does not suit hybrid teams. While organizations find the right tools to enable seamless collaboration, a hybrid work environment can help bridge the gap. Teams get the benefit of in-person communication without any setbacks if their software isn’t yet up to scratch. 

It reduces overhead costs

Let’s face it — office space is expensive. Depending on where you are in the US, it can cost up to $595 per square foot (Washington DC). It’s estimated that between 10-30% of office desks will go unused post-pandemic, although 30-40% were typically unoccupied before COVID-19. The ability to cut the actual square footage needed by offering hybrid or work from home options can save significant office space costs.

It offers more opportunities for team-building

It’s been long proven that in-person interactions lead to better commitment, support, and cooperation. The Harvard Business Review anticipates that within a hybrid working environment, the office will serve as a ‘culture space’ that provides a social anchor, enabling learning, connection, team-building, and collaboration.

Read more:
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Return to Work: Employee First Steps

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Exploring the Brave New World of Hybrid Team Management

What are the challenges of offering hybrid or work from home options?

Office space will need to be reconsidered

Although it’s expected that most organizations will retain office space, introducing a hybrid or work from home option will involve looking at more effective options — real estate company JLL recorded a nearly 50% drop in new office space leased in 2020. It will take time and planning to find the right solution.

How to address this for an effective hybrid working environment: 

According to The Wall Street Journal, companies such as Dell are using desk booking systems for their Australian offices as they embrace hybrid or work from home options. You’ll need to create a fair system for employees that ensures you’re not paying for reams of unused office space.

Not all industries and jobs are suited to it 

Unfortunately, offering a hybrid or work from home model will not suit every role in every company. A survey by communication platform Slack found the following insights:

Industries most likely to suit long-term hybrid or work from home include:

  • Business development
  • Product management
  • Program and project management
  • IT and security
  • Business ownership

Industries least likely to suit long-term hybrid or work from home include:

  • Health care services
  • Customer support
  • Media and communications
  • Arts and design
  • Education

How to address this for an effective hybrid working environment: 

If your industry is not suited to a hybrid work environment, consider whether you could offer some form of remote work. Could some employees be afforded one day per week at home for keeping on top of paperwork, with in-office work scheduled for the other days? Companies may need to offer a little flexibility to managing hybrid teams.

There are some racial, socio-economic, and gender disparities 

According to the BBC, minority racial groups are disproportionately represented in essential work settings. For example, 26.4% of London’s transport workers are BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), a group that makes up only 14% of the population. Unfortunately, this is likely to impact the hybrid and work from home options available, as these occupations are statistically less likely to be remote-friendly. 

There are also socio-economic factors to consider — remote work is not comfortable for people who live in smaller homes or larger households. There is also a suggestion that a hybrid working environment could magnify the gender gap (for example, a Boston Consultant Group survey found that working women were taking on 15 more hours of unpaid domestic labor each week).

How to address this for an effective hybrid working environment: 

The best way to address this is a simple one: speak to your employees. This can take the form of a survey or dedicated office hours. Find out what may be a barrier to hybrid work, whether some workers will need full-time office access, or if employers can offer benefits such as financial support towards childcare to make the transition easier.

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It requires significant short- and long-term planning

As we see from new desk booking systems (such as Dell’s in Australia), HR teams will need to be hands-on in assessing office space needs both in the long- and short-term. According to Professor Anicich of The University of Southern California, your initial return to work steps may include gathering data around job roles and which tasks are (or are not) suited to working from home.

How to address this for an effective hybrid working environment: 

Organizations will need to decide their hybrid or work from home option at both a company and team level. Companies may ask that teams agree on their remote days with their managers or have one ‘crossover’ day together as a team to foster collaboration. Having clear agreements in place before the return to work movement begins is key here for planning.

It requires higher security 

Although 75% of IT leaders believe that the future of work will include hybrid or work from home options, more than half are worried about remote employees connecting to public WiFi networks (58% of employees admit they have considered doing so). Your long-term return to work guidelines will need to include an updated security policy.  

How to address this for an effective hybrid working environment:  

The reality is that hybrid work will involve employees working in a variety of environments and transporting equipment to multiple locations. Again, avoiding this pitfall will require clear rules around connectivity, equipment use, and working in public places. Your IT department should be able to advise what is best here.

What is an example of an average week for employees who choose a hybrid or work from home model?

According to workplace technology company Envoy, there are three main working schedules you can offer your employees who choose hybrid or work from home options: 

  • Cohort schedules in which groups of employees work particular days. One group may do Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other will take Tuesday and Thursday. Alternatively, you can offer the first and third week of the month versus the second and fourth.
  • Staggered schedules in which not every employee’s start and finish times overlap. This can prevent crowding at entrances and break rooms.
  • Custom schedules in which managers set a schedule depending on the team’s need to be on-site that week, or employees choose their schedule without oversight from their manager.

But what are some of the world’s leading companies doing? A report from the technology career website Dice Insights tends to paint a picture in which the most popular option is three days working from home and two days working from the office. It’s also worth noting that the least popular options were offering one day working from home and five days working from home. Getting the balance right is very important for a hybrid and work from home model.

Further reading:
blog post

Exploring the Brave New World of Hybrid Team Management

blog post

How to Know What Way of Working Is Best for You