The pandemic has completely disrupted the way we work. There’s no doubt about that. And a form of work from home (WFH) is going to stay according to recent high-quality research (1–3). If you have been following news in the past year, this shouldn’t be a surprise either, since the claims that hybrid work - which means mixing WFH with in-office days - isn't going to go away completely, have been appearing consistently.
Why is that the case, though? Well, the pandemic has shown that it’s actually possible to work from home and that this type of work brings many benefits. One of them is certainly increased flexibility. People working from home can easily drop off kids at school, wear casual clothes, be home for a contractor or do some household chores during a break, to name just a few benefits.
Another advantage is that remote workers usually don’t have to commute, which saves hours of valuable time in many cases. Thanks to that, they can, for instance, spend more time with their family, deal with personal matters faster or work more if needed.
More WFH doesn’t benefit only office workers but also the environment as fewer exhaust fumes are being released into the atmosphere because of less commute.
Besides, WFH workers aren’t bound to one location. They are able to work in different places locally but also internationally in many cases. So if you’re after more freedom, WFH can be the solution.
For these reasons, and perhaps some additional ones, workers on average report higher levels of satisfaction and happiness when they work from home at least a few days per week (4). It’s then no wonder that employees now want to work from home nearly 50% of the time, up from 5% before the pandemic (4).
Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from WFH though. Companies have experienced significant cost reductions. They don’t need a lot of office space anymore and don’t need to spend as much on maintaining it (2), which includes paying for office cleaning and supplies, for example.
That being said, managers are generally less keen on employees working from home for a large portion of their work time. As a result, employees are expected to be working from home for only half the time they actually want, that is 25% of the total work time (4). The most likely explanation for this is that firms assume that WFH hinders productivity when being carried out for a substantial amount of time.
While this assumption may sound quite reasonable, it doesn’t appear to be true, as research indicates that a hybrid model “can actually be the best arrangement for productivity” (4). In most cases, WFH allows for deep work as people aren’t interrupted by colleagues as much as in the office. In contrast, office days are great for in-person interactions needed for collaboration on projects and mainly for fostering company culture.
The hybrid model of working isn’t perfect, however. Like virtually everything in life, it has its drawbacks. One of the main ones is security threats. As Alanah Mitchell, an expert in information management and business analytics, says, “home networks … are typically more vulnerable than office networks … and remote workers are also more likely to share computers with someone else outside of their organisation” (2). Companies, therefore, have to spend extra resources on dealing with these issues.
Another problem that the hybrid has brought is the formation of two subgroups within teams - one made up of the employees who spend most of the time in the office and those who tend to work more from home (2). Experts claim that this can quickly happen due to miscommunications and misunderstandings between the two hypothetical types of employees, resulting in tensions and conflicts and ultimately leading to a team or even company culture breakdown.
Also, workers who spend more time with managers face-to-face are more likely to be promoted than their remote counterparts due to the “proximity bias”, according to studies (5). This phenomenon, too, could contribute to the divide between the two subgroups.
Some experts have been pointing out that “the reality of juggling two workspaces could prove frustrating for workers” (5). For example, Anita Woolley, associate professor of organisational behaviour and theory at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, claims that for most employees, it will be “almost impossible to set up two workplaces that are well-equipped for all the different tasks they need to do - books or other information sources are always in the wrong place, or they don’t have a photocopier or fax at home” (5). This argumentation, however, seems to be rather unfounded as most documentation is on the cloud nowadays, and even if something is still on paper, it shouldn’t be too complicated to transfer it into a digital form in the near future so that employees can benefit from hybrid as much as possible. But only time will show if working in two different places will actually be frustrating for other reasons or not.
Coming back to the point made earlier about managers being less keen on employees working from home for a substantial amount of time, it is possible that managers will rely almost exclusively on clear performance metrics solely based on outcomes and will not be able to take employee behaviour into account, a rather more traditional assessment metric (2). Some workers may appreciate this shift in employee assessment, but many may not.
When it comes to work-life balance, LinkedIn data suggests that employees in remote jobs “are 32% more likely to struggle with [it]”(6), most likely due to the fine line between work and personal life at home as there’s no transition routine after work unless intentionally scheduled in. For example, before the pandemic, you would commute home, but that’s not the case when working from home on a given day.
That being said, discipline can easily overcome this side effect. For instance, employees can set a time for each WFH day after which they won’t work anymore and separate their workspace from the rest of their homes to minimise the likelihood of excessive work. With perhaps a bit of encouragement from managers, it should do the trick.
Despite all these possible issues with the hybrid way of working, some early data indicates that the hybrid arrangement is paying off (4). Employees’ perception of their company’s culture has become “more favourable” since the pandemic started based on Glassdoor’s data, the employer rating site. In contrast, a Gallup pollster has shown that employee engagement in America is “near an all-time high”. Though these metrics may reflect the solidarity with colleagues and managers due to the pandemic to some extent, they also reflect “a genuine improvement in working conditions” (4), as the Economist says.
Moreover, as highlighted at the beginning of the blog post, hybrid will inevitably be the next prevalent mode of working for the knowledge economy part of the population. Due to the popularity among employees, reflecting all the benefits that arguably outweigh all the negatives, it’s gained rapid momentum. Therefore companies mostly have no other choice than to ride the wave of this trend. If they don’t, they may likely see many of their valuable employees leave for another company offering the flexibility of a hybrid model (4).
4 Tips For Implementing a Hybrid Model
However, implementing a hybrid model successfully is no easy feat. There are a few things to consider. We’ve reviewed recommendations for implementing a hybrid model from Gartner, McKinsey and Forbes and condensed them here for you into actionable tips so you can make your company’s hybrid implementation a bit smoother if you happen to be a business leader.
1. Listen closely to your employees
First of all, it’s crucial to realise that it will take years to optimise the hybrid model and that it’s necessary to cooperate closely with employees in designing the ideal working model for the future (7). Close cooperation in this case means listening to individual employees and understanding the underlying issues that they are experiencing so they can be tackled effectively, as the core issues may not be visible in what the workforce conveys explicitly. Also, it’s advised that the experimentation with the hybrid model is approached sincerely and that companies really attempt to learn from the outcomes of the experiments to not alienate their workforce.
2. Communicate the purpose of the office
Second, companies are advised to “communicate the purpose of the office” since it’s no longer the place where all work is done (3). As such, it has to have a specific purpose. It may differ from company to company, but it will likely represent the primary meeting and/or collaboration space.
3. Provide managers with additional training
Third, it’s recommended that companies provide managers with extra training that will equip them with skills to handle new challenges arising from this new way of working, which has employees work from different places and even different time zones (3).
4. Prepare for managing security risk
Last but not least, it’s essential to obtain the necessary resources and expertise for managing the new security risk stemming from extra WFH as mentioned above (8). Though you may not need an in-house team of IT security experts, it will pay off to invest in some sort of additional security assets, no matter if they are in-house or external.
So there you have it. A few tips for a smoother implementation of a hybrid model, the model of working which is undeniably going to be the next most widespread one, at least for some time. There is a number of reasons for that, but two words can summarise all of them: flexibility and convenience.
Hybrid comes with its drawbacks, yes, but there are signs that they are outweighed by the benefits in most cases. Most importantly, it doesn't matter if this is the ideal model of working or not in the long run. Trying if it will work is what counts as there’s a good chance it will, and if it does work well, the economy’s effectiveness will improve as well as the well-being of many millions of workers. If it doesn’t work well, we can go back to the pre-pandemic work model or try something completely different. Either way, we will at least have given it a shot.
If WFH is part of your weekly schedule and you lack an ergonomic set-up, you may consider checking out hydesk, a standing desk converter we’ve designed with the environment in mind that will help you turn any desk into a standing one and serve as a laptop stand as well.
McKinsey. What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work | McKinsey [Internet]. McKinsey & Company. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/what-executives-are-saying-about-the-future-of-hybrid-work
Mitchell A. The future of work is hybrid – here are an expert’s recommendations [Internet]. The Conversation. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 16]. Available from: http://theconversation.com/the-future-of-work-is-hybrid-heres-an-experts-recommendations-167432
Gartner. Workplace Reopening Guidelines Focus on Re-Onboarding [Internet]. Gartner. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/3-workplace-reopening-guidelines-for-hr-leaders
The Economist. The fight over the hybrid future of work. The Economist [Internet]. 2021 Nov 8 [cited 2021 Dec 16]; Available from: https://www.economist.com/the-world-ahead/2021/11/08/the-fight-over-the-hybrid-future-of-work
Lufkin B. Why workers might eventually reject hybrid work [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 16]. Available from: https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210920-why-workers-might-eventually-reject-hybrid-work
Lewis G. The Critical Hybrid Work Issue That Companies Should Tackle Now [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 20]. Available from: https://www.linkedin.com/business/talent/blog/talent-strategy/hybrid-work-here-to-stay