With the introduction of hybrid workplaces, companies are revisiting their work policies. Although most employees are working remotely now, many will return to the office at some point. A recent study found 72% of US employees want to work from home at least twice a week. Approximately 30% want to continue to work remotely, with a similar percentage wanting to work 100% in the office. What experience has taught companies and employees is that not everyone works well from home. The question becomes how do companies implement a hybrid workplace?
What Are Hybrid Workplaces?
Hybrid workplaces rest on a continuum. At one end are the employees and companies that want to work 100% virtually. At the opposite end are those that want to work 100% in an office setting. Most businesses will implement hybrid work policies that combine in-office with remote workspaces. A hybrid workplace is marked by the flexibility afforded to a distributed workforce where employees may choose to work remotely or in a shared office.
A distributed workforce is not the same as a remote workforce. Many companies have had remote employees for some time; however, they were not integrated into office operations. At the same time, they were local enough to come into the office if necessary. A distributed workforce means that the same tools and services are available to all employees regardless of their work location.
For example, sales staff have worked remotely for years. When traveling to or from a sales call, they might stay in a hotel or stop off at a coffee shop to connect back to the office. Most people returned to a local office at some point. Hybrid working means something different. It means incorporating members of the hybrid workforce into daily operations. Meetings have to be inclusive, and everyone needs access to the same resources.
How that migration happens remains to be seen. Short-term solutions were put in place to address an immediate need, but are those solutions viable in the long-term? Will meetings continue to be over Zoom or another conferencing platform, for example? Companies will likely revisit the concept of meetings, deciding which ones are best served in-person and which work well with virtual tools.
Hybrid workplaces also encompass mixed work schedules. According to Harvard Business Review, a recent study found a 52% increase in the number of employees who worked a 6:00 pm to midnight shift. It also found that the average workday increased by 15%. Managing a workforce that can work from multiple locations and on different work schedules presents a paradigm shift that few companies have addressed.
What is a Hybrid Workplace Model?
There’s no framework for hybrid workplace models. Instead, there are different perspectives on what a hybrid workplace model means.
For centuries, location defined work. Millions of people got up every morning and went to work at the office. A commute was something everyone dealt with. What happens when work and place are not the same?
If people no longer work in the office, companies begin to question why they have so much office space. Why continue to pay for unused office space in areas where office real estate is at a premium? For example, It’s estimated that the average cost of office space is $17,000 per year per employee in New York City. Companies will likely reduce office space as more employees work off-premise.
When work happened in an office, it was whatever happened in that space while there. Although employees had tasks to complete, they often left before completing all their tasks, or they took work home with them. Now that work is no longer tied to a physical space, companies need to re-evaluate their expectations. Some companies were already making the move to looking at work in terms of what was done rather than when and where it was done. Part of creating a hybrid workplace will be defining what work means.
Defining a hybrid work environment must address meetings and collaboration processes. They are a component of remote work that has yet to be fully embraced. Many feel that face-to-face meetings are necessary for effective communication and team building. Others seem comfortable with the virtual meeting space. How hybrid remote work models operate will depend on where on the continuum a company sits.
What is a Hybrid Office?
If companies decide to reduce their office space, how will they use the limited square footage? With 30% of the workforce wanting to work in the office full-time, organizations must ensure they have dedicated workspace while providing for work areas for those that only spend a percentage of their time in the office. Companies would no longer need traditional office layouts with walled offices or cubicles with designated meeting rooms. More collaborative and shared spaces would be a better use of limited space.
One hybrid office concept would be to have meeting rooms used throughout the week for in-person meetings with a limited number of work areas for hybrid workers. Employees could reserve individual work areas for their days in the office. If they were only attending meetings, they wouldn’t need individual workspaces. Companies could restrict in-person meetings to brainstorming or project kick-off meetings. Meeting rooms would be dedicated to more collaborative efforts.
Hybrid office layouts would reflect a more flexible workforce where companies could reconfigure space to accommodate different uses. A large meeting space could be divided into smaller rooms to allow for multiple meetings one day and reconfigured to a larger space for office-wide meetings. The hybrid office must be as flexible as the workforce that occupies it.
Some businesses may want a more casual approach to meeting spaces. Rather than meeting areas with a traditional table and chairs, organizations may create a more relaxed environment with couches and chairs that could also be used as shared workspaces. The arrangements are unlimited since there is no existing blueprint for hybrid office layouts.
What Are the Benefits of Hybrid Work?
In-person offices and remote workforces provide the flexibility for employees to take advantage of the close connections and social interactions of an office environment while providing the option to find productivity elsewhere. That flexibility can create a larger talent pool if daily commutes are no longer required. Hybrid workplace models can provide a better work/life balance for many employees. These are just a few of the benefits of a hybrid work model.
The hybrid model redefines performance. It is no longer measured by what happens at the office. Instead, performance is based on completing tasks that can be tied to clear work objectives. Recent surveys found that 77% of employees were more productive when working remotely. This increase in productivity was especially true for those employees who did not need to engage with other stakeholders while working.
Smaller offices mean lower rental costs as well as reduced utility expenses. Office amenities could be reduced if companies provide snacks and beverages to on-site employees. The cost of office consumables would also decline, making for a more cost-effective office space. It’s estimated that companies can save up to $11,000 per year for every employee who spends 50% of the workweek at home.
Companies are not the only ones that benefit from hybrid work models. About 30% of remote employees saved $5,000 per year in work-related expenses. Savings came from reduced commuting costs, clothing expenses, and purchased meals.
Before the increase in remote work, employees looked for employers that offered more flexibility in work schedules. Whether it was working remotely a few days a week or adjusting a work schedule, they wanted a better work/life balance. Employers can expand their talent radius with more remote work options since daily commutes will no longer be a defining factor.
What Are the Disadvantages of Hybrid Offices?
Managing a remote workforce, in-office staff, and employees with flex schedules can become overwhelming. Something as simple as scheduling a meeting can become a day-long task. What are some of the disadvantages of operating a hybrid workplace?
Creating and maintaining a corporate culture is essential for a company’s long-term viability. But, how do businesses nurture that culture when people work remotely? Companies face the challenge of introducing new hires to the corporate culture as part of onboarding. When there are no shared lunches or training sessions, employees are left on their own to find and fit into the corporate mindset. Without periodic communications, employees can quickly move out of alignment with the corporate culture.
Hybrid workforces have hybrid communication. Some employees communicate face-to-face; others are merely a face on a screen. Those differences can make it difficult for clear and engaging communications. Communication methods must be inclusive and equitable. That means everyone meets in-person or virtually. Even if some participants are in the office, they should use virtual tools to communicate. It ensures that everyone is sharing the same experience.
Brainstorming or similar creative endeavors work best in the physical world. There is something about human interaction that releases creative energies. It may be necessary for organizations to have scheduled in-person meetings when collaboration and creativity are the focus.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities increase with each remote employee. Without strong endpoint security, companies face an increased chance of a security incident. Organizations need to draft security policies and develop procedures to ensure that all remote employees operate in a secure environment.
Necessity may have forced the increase in hybrid work environments, but that doesn’t mean that they will disappear when the need is no longer present. Companies of all sizes need to embrace the changing landscape and find ways to increase the productivity of the hybrid workforce. Because effective meetings are a critical component of a hybrid workplace, organizations must find the best tools for meeting management.