Before You Head Back to the Office, Consider a Hybrid Work Model

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Before the pandemic, most organizations prioritized their physical sites. Companies expanded operations and market reach by opening new offices in new locations and staffing those offices with people who came in every day.

The pandemic, however, triggered the world’s largest remote work experiment. Practically overnight, millions of people started working from home — and they found they could remain productive and effective while doing so. The unexpected global shift to remote work proved to be a success for employees and employers alike.

Now, as some areas are loosening restrictions, office buildings are opening again. But bringing people back to those offices is no simple effort. New social distancing regulations require minimizing the number of people in shared spaces, while factors like closed schools and no childcare leave some employees unable to head to the office at all.

Rather than rushing back to the physical-first practices of the pre-COVID days, many organizations are responding to the new realities of the office by implementing hybrid work models. It’s not all working from the office or working from home, but a balance of both.

How to Make Hybrid Work Succeed

What exactly a hybrid work model looks like will depend on the needs of the particular company. For one organization, it might mean some employees keep working from home while those who can go to the office do so. Other companies might implement staggered schedules, in which all employees come to the office, but at staggered times to maintain social distancing. For example, some employees might work from the office in the morning and then from home for the afternoon, while another group works from home in the morning and then from the office during the afternoon.

Regardless of how your organization implements hybrid work, it’s important to orchestrate employees’ work arrangements with productivity concerns in mind. For example, if some employees are coming to the office, it’s important to think about which employees would benefit from being in the office together. Collaboration is a strong driver of productivity and positive office culture, so it makes sense to bring employees who regularly collaborate into the office together at the same time.

But productivity isn’t the only factor to consider as you develop a hybrid model. It’s also critical to take convenience into account. Some employees might prefer to work remotely, while others may have caregiving responsibilities that make coming to the office very difficult. Consider basing office attendance solely on necessity: If a staff member has some responsibility that really needs to be fulfilled in the office, then it makes sense to mandate their presence. If, on the other hand, an employee can easily fulfill the day’s tasks from home, it might be best to ask them to work remotely as a safety precaution.

A recent Hibob study found that 60 percent of employees are comfortable returning to an office environment, but that also means 40 percent of workers are not ready to come back. These differences are personal and cut across age groups and professional roles. Employees may have all kinds of concerns regarding their safety, regardless of the steps your company takes to enforce social distancing, especially if they or their loved ones are in high-risk categories. It’s important to exhibit empathy in these situations. Some team members will not be able to come back to the office for several more months, and managers should do their best to support these employees during this time.

When planning for the big return, HR leaders should keep employees informed and encourage their feedback on the transition. It’s a good idea to survey employees to see who is ready to come back to the office and what challenges they will have to overcome in the process (e.g., public transport, school system closures, risk factors).

Remember: The point of a hybrid work model is to protect the safety of your staff while also facilitating productivity and collaboration. A true hybrid model should ensure an equally productive experience regardless of an employee’s environment.

As part of guaranteeing that productive experience, employers must invest in a tech stack that supports strong collaboration, employee engagement, and project management across remote and on-site work environments. The benefits of implementing a robust tech stack also extend far beyond the current pandemic. Establishing this infrastructure allows the business to consider remote hiring options in the job market for future positions, giving it the ability to easily and cost-effectively extend its footprint — and its talent pool — without building a new company office.

Benefits of a Hybrid Work Model

In addition to its productivity- and culture-strengthening benefits, a hybrid work model also helps organizations remain flexible, which will be critical in the coming months. An employee may be required to go back into quarantine at any time, and another wave of shelter-in-place orders may arise if cases spike. By implementing a hybrid work model, an organization makes it possible to keep operations running regardless of these bumps in the road.

Hybrid models are also, of course, key to keeping employees safe from coronavirus. When fewer bodies are in one place at the same time on any given day, social distancing is easier and the potential spread of the virus can be arrested. Hybrid work can be a powerful tool in mitigating office-wide outbreaks. Of course, offices should be thoroughly cleaned after employees leave each evening to further minimize the chance of infection.

Hybrid work models also show employees that their employer is prioritizing their well-being above all else. That’s an extremely important message to send if you want to keep your company culture alive and well throughout the rest of the pandemic For many, life is difficult right now, and there are things going on in the world outside of our control. A hybrid work model can ease some of that burden, allowing employees to tend to personal responsibilities while still handling their work-related duties.

The future of work requires an open-minded approach to hybrid models. While the COVID -19 pandemic sparked these changes, this period will ultimately alter the way organizations manage and engage employees for the foreseeable future. Employers must embrace agility to thrive. Physical location need not be a limiting factor on recruitment or getting work done.

Rhiannon Staples is the chief marketing officer at Hibob.

By Rhiannon Staples