Several things have come out of the realities businesses had to face during the Covid-19 pandemic. A significant effect was that many enterprises were forced into remote work and discovered that it wasn’t a threat to their profit margins or productivity.
We redefined how we communicate, meet, plan and perform everyday tasks so that actual contact and the need to commute were at an absolute minimum. As a result, lots of us came to the realisation that not only does remote work function as well as non-remote work; in some ways, it’s better.
Productivity has increased in many sectors because of the remote working model. It’s no longer necessary to travel abroad for a half an hour meeting with a client or business partner; it can be done from the comfort of your own home.
The elimination of a daily commute to and from an office has led to an increase in output from employees, and let’s be honest, it’s great to be able to just have your morning coffee and check your emails in your pyjamas.
Some miss the old school model of work. It’s not ideal to work from home if you have young children and the schools are closed. Some just crave the chat around the break room, but we now know that doing the traditional 9 to 5 in a physical building isn’t the only way that works.
As the world has become more vaccinated, herd immunity also means the return to work. A lot of businesses are discovering that a number of their employees have grown accustomed to remote work. They don’t really want to come back to the office.
They have enjoyed the autonomy and work-life balance that comes from performing their job in a place of their choosing and aren’t really confident that a return to the office will be ‘better.’ This is where a ‘Hybrid Model’ can come into play.
But what is a Hybrid Model? How does it work? What challenges could companies face if they decide to implement it? Read on to find out more.
What is a Hybrid Work Model?
A hybrid work model combines the traditional model (performing daily tasks from the office) with remote working. Under a hybrid model, staff can work from the business or from a place of their choosing. This could mean working from home, a co-work space or something similar. All they need in this situation is a connection to the internet.
What types of Hybrid Work Model Are Being Suggested?
Because the hybrid model is a relatively new concept, there are a few different methods in which it could be implemented. The three main types of hybrid working are; Remote-First, Office-Occasional, and Office-First – Remote-Allowed.
This is the method many have gotten used to throughout the last year and a half.
With remote working, all or a majority of employees are working from home. They can be using their own equipment, or it could be provided by their employer. Meetings generally take place via third-party applications like Zoom, Teams, or Google Hangouts.
This is where most staff work remotely, but they are also able to come into a physical workplace if they need or would prefer.
Because of the strict guidelines on social distancing, this has mainly operated on a roster style system. Employees can nominate which day or times they wish to be in the office to avoid compromising social distancing protocols.
Here, the primary work method is in a physical workplace, but there are allowances made for those who wish to work remotely.
Many businesses already worked this way before the pandemic. It’s preferred for employees to work in the office, but if they would like to work from home a few days a month, that’s ok.
What Are the Problems with the Hybrid Work Model?
As with any new mode of working, there are, of course, some challenges businesses could face when entering into any form of hybrid work.
These range from logistical issues through to business culture and trust in employee autonomy.
If remote working is permitted in a workplace, but the company’s leadership doesn’t ever work remotely, employees can feel as though the option for remote work is purely lip service. It’s a fundamental principle of leading by example.
That being said, not all company leaders can operate remotely. The essential factor here is to ensure that employees who do choose to work remotely feel that you trust them to do so.
If you offer staff the ability to work remotely, then barrage them with more emails asking for progress updates than they ever received in the office; you might find that they simply take a hint that you don’t really trust them to do their job without being watched.
Employee Promotions & Recognition
Promotion and progression can create some issues with a hybrid model of working. Some anecdotal studies have shown that office workers are more likely to receive promotions or bonuses than their remote working colleagues.
In this case, it would seem that simply being physically in view of management already makes an employee more favourable.
Long-Established Company Cultures
It’s an old saying, but it still rings true, ‘nobody likes change.’ However, change and adaptation are two key points that will help a company outperform their competition.
Change can be uncomfortable, but ultimately, it can lead to incredible shifts in company culture that will contribute to higher productivity levels and a lower staff turnover.
In a post-Covid world, refusing to adapt to shifts in the way people work because ‘it’s not how we usually do it‘ is not only ignorant, it’s counterintuitive to the betterment of a company. This doesn’t mean it is as simple as flicking a switch, perhaps your company is over a hundred years old, or most of the C-Level employees aren’t that tech-savvy.
Enacting change in long-established company cultures takes time and energy.
Inconsistent Employee Experiences
When you have two different kinds of employees, you are bound to have two different kinds of employee experience. Your on-site staff will not have the same day to day experience as your remote staff, and if you’re not careful, it can result in an ‘Us vs Them‘ culture.
It doesn’t take an HR specialist to realise that this kind of contrast can quickly turn a harmonious environment into a toxic workplace.
How to Solve the Problems of the Hybrid Work Model
Now that you’ve had a look at some of the problems facing those who opt for a hybrid model of work, it’s time to look at some of the solutions to them.
Progressive and Flexible Leadership
If you are allowing a hybrid model of work, you need to pay attention to where your management and leadership are working from. If they mainly chose to work in the office, it’s almost certain that those working under them will feel that remote work is unconsciously frowned on.
If this isn’t dealt with, you could find that you’re a company that allows remote work, but nobody ever does it.
To combat this, your management needs to either take advantage of remote working or reassure remote workers that they aren’t facing biases for choosing to not come into the office.
Ensure All Employees Are Treated the Same
You may think that you already do this, but a recent study tells a different story.
Typically 64% of managers favour on-site workers more than remote ones. They usually think that on-site workers tend to be higher performers.
Yet, another study has shown that full-time remote workers are actually 5% more likely to be high performing team members.
To eliminate bias, companies need to look at their culture and examine what specific key performance indicators are worthy of promotion, irrespective of an employee’s physical location.
Adapting Company Culture to the New Environment
This can be as simple as setting guidelines and sticking to them. In some cases, you might have to take a ‘no prisoners‘ approach.
Yes, you might have staff members that aren’t used to conducting meetings via zoom, but it wasn’t that long ago we were still sending faxes and needing things signed in person.
When establishing a change in company culture, the main point is to be open, honest, and communicate effectively. Then be consistent and make sure all leaders are on board.
Plan Meetings & Communications with Remote Workers in Mind
You might think that if you work in a hybrid model to undertake a meeting, you would just have your on-site staff in a room with a video link for remote workers to participate.
This sounds good in theory, but it can create the feeling of being ‘less than’ for the remote employees. In turn, you might find that they are less likely to contribute to the meeting or speak up if they have a point.
Under a hybrid model, meetings should be conducted to ensure all employees have the same experience. You may have staff in the building, but there’s no reason they can’t ‘skype-in‘ from their desks.
If you keep remote workers in mind, they are less likely left out of communication simply because ‘they weren’t there.’
Should Your Company Consider the Hybrid Work Model?
The principal question to ask yourself here is, ‘Can the nature of our business be conducted remotely?‘
The second question to ask is, ‘If it can, why haven’t we already done it?‘
These two questions aren’t meant to spark a philosophical debate in your head, but they are questions worth answering. There are uncountable benefits to a hybrid model. Still, if the answer to the question of why you haven’t done it already is simply ‘I prefer to see my staff in the office?‘ then it’s not for you.
As with any new form of working, it’s essential to ensure it fits with the way you do business, accommodates the employees you want to secure, and facilitates the practices at the core of your company’s foundations.
The Learnings of Working through COVID-19
After 2020 the excuse that ‘we can’t really work remotely‘ doesn’t really cut it for many companies. We were forced to learn how to work remotely (almost overnight in some cases) and were able to adapt to it perfectly.
Throughout the pandemic, many skilled employees lost their jobs, and a lot of them have realised that there’s a world of work out there. The rise in the gig economy and the ability to do things like job swap have changed the landscape of work and provided new methods better suited to some people’s lifestyles.
As we come out of our time in lockdown, many companies will discover that because people have had to adapt, they also are going to be a bit more particular about where they work.
Learning from Covid will ultimately put your company in the position to secure the best possible staff for the most productive outcomes.
If you’re still not convinced that change can be good, think about this; Covid-19 taught us all that there were indeed quite a few meetings that could have been emails.
Consider Going Remote-First
The future of work is remote; this is a fact. It doesn’t mean that the traditional work model will cease to exist, but the landscape of how people work will continue to become less focused on needing to be in one specific place.
If you are considering a hybrid model, possibly the best one to initiate would be the ‘Remote-First’ model. It eliminates a lot of the problems you can face by having inequality between on-site and remote workers. As an added benefit, it can also relieve the financial stress of maintaining the physical space to house employees during the workday.
Remember that Remote-First doesn’t always have to mean working from home. It simply means that processes are set up from the start with remote work in mind instead of remote workers being some invisible secondary team of internet ghosts.
Setting up your workplace as a remote-first company enables all employees to feel engaged, secure, and trusted to do the job you have hired them to do.
The hybrid model is an exciting possibility for us as we head into a post-Covid world. It’s a positive adaptation from a negative situation and a true example of the ability to adapt out of necessity.
Conducting business entirely remotely was unthinkable before 2020, but now it’s not only possible; it’s as normal as wearing a mask in public. As restrictions ease and we navigate the new normal, we can be sure that remote working and the hybrid model will become part of our standard business operations for years to come.