What is the Future of the Hybrid Workplace?


A worldwide pandemic has forced organizations to reconsider their workplace strategy. After more than a year of either a full or partial remote workforce, we’ve been challenged to rethink the traditional, 9-to-5 in-office model, and what we’ve discovered is that this traditional model is not the only one that works. Many companies are still fully remote for the foreseeable future, while some have adopted the Hybrid Work Model. There’s one thing that remains true today: most organizations are in the trial-and-error period of what works best for them. They’re considering safety and social distancing, flexibility, work-life balance, and overall employee experience. With the recent rise of various COVID-19 variants, this topic has been reintroduced to many organizations. So, the question remains: What is the future of the hybrid workplace and how can company leaders successfully integrate it into their organization?



What is a Hybrid Work Model?


A Hybrid Work Model is a workplace strategy that allows employees to work from different locations: at home, at the office, on the go, at a coffee shop - really, anywhere. Employees are given the option to work from home or report to the office as long as they are consistent in accomplishing their tasks and meeting their goals. When done effectively, this model encourages:

  • Self-sufficiency

  • Flexibility

  • High Performance

  • Collaboration

  • Positive Work Relationships

  • Effective Work Habits

While Hybrid models can look different for every organization, the above themes remain the same throughout each variation. As COVID-19 and its variants continue to spread across the world, it could force organizations back to some type of Hybrid Work Model. There are 3 main types of Hybrid Work Models for organizations to consider: Remote-First Model, Occasional-Office Model, and Office-Preferred/Remote-Allowed Model.


Remote-First Model


This model is one that was seen very early on in the pandemic, similar to that of fully remote. However, unlike fully remote, organizations can keep their physical office spaces for some employees to work from. For some positions, their job requires a physical presence, like a facilities manager, custodian, and various administrative positions. The Remote-First Model also means defaulting to strictly online communication, like virtual meeting platforms. However, depending on the organization, in-person meetings can be delineated for specific situations if approved by leadership. This model has proven successful if organizations specifically define uses for its office space, whether it be used for one-on-one meetings only, or strictly for collaborative work and no solo work. Remote first, office second.


Office-Occasional Model


While some love working remotely, others are eager to get back to the office and might not want to lose money on unused or underutilized office space. According to Built In, a talent acquisition company, the idea behind the Office-Occasional model is that employees come into the office a few times a week, blending in-person collaboration work and solo work. Depending on the organization, this policy can be as loose or strict as possible. For example, organizations can require that all employees be in the office on Mondays and Tuesdays but can choose to work remotely the rest of the week if they’d like. Leadership teams should set some sort of guidelines for this work model to ensure its success, otherwise, the expectations for employees can remain unclear and can cause confusion.





Office-Preferred/Remote-Allowed Model


For some organizations, Office-First/Remote-Allowed was already commonplace before the pandemic hit. This model allows for both office and remote work, with the office being the designated primary place for working. This strategy is particularly common when the entire leadership team is working from the office. As Built In puts it, the organization is likely to become office-centered when leadership is in the office, as they will most likely want to have in-person meetings and collaboration. In this model, there is typically a remote policy and remote workers may be sporadic, with those who work closest to the leadership team in the office most of the time. One consideration for this approach is to ensure those who are continuing to work from home still feel engaged and included, and not second rank.




Considerations When Adopting A Hybrid Work Model


It's clear from the pandemic that the Hybrid Work Model actually does work for many organizations. And employees are showing a favorable preference for it over the traditional 9-to-5 model. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Envoy and Wakefield Research showed 47% of employees would likely look for a new job if their current employer didn’t adopt a Hybrid Work Model. So, it’s clear many employees see the value in this model. And for a good reason. Benefits of a Hybrid Work Model include:

  • Employees can do work when and how they’re most productive

  • Better work-life balance

  • Reduce exposure to illness

  • Ability to hire talent across the globe

  • Save on real estate expenses

However, there are two sides to every coin. Despite the great benefits, the Hybrid Work Model has some challenges that organizations should consider as well, according to Swiped On and Hana:


  • Communication – Team member communication becomes more difficult when individuals are spread out across different locations and different platforms. How and where to talk to their colleagues can become a topic of confusion and can cause project delays and interruptions in team morale.

  • Schedules – Ensuring schedules remain in effect can prove to be difficult with a Hybrid Work Model. Knowing who is in the office and who is working from home is critical. This constraint can affect meetings, deadlines, and other factors.

  • Operations – There are many operational questions to be answered when adopting a Hybrid Work Model, such as: What will office occupancy look like? How can we ensure the right people are in the office at the right time? To help with this, organizations can create semi-strict policies that determine who needs to be in the office and when.

  • Culture – Without the physical presence of employees in a space, it can become challenging to create and uphold good company culture. This is especially true for younger generations, as they place high importance on company culture and need to be in the office to build relationships for their professional network.

  • Collaboration – In many organizations and industries peer to peer and group interaction is critical to their success. Sometimes laying that drawing, color palette, or another document out on the conference room table where everyone surrounds it and offers feedback in real-time just can’t be beaten.



There is also a case to be made for the industries in which remote working is not an option. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is estimated that 37% of jobs can be done remotely, while 63% cannot. Such jobs include the service industry, construction workers, installation and maintenance workers, transportation workers, agriculture and farming, industrial occupations, and hospitality. The Bureau of labor statistics also states that highly educated individuals are 3-times more likely to have the ability to work remotely, while lower-income, less-educated workers hold positions that cannot be done from home.



All in All, The Future is Flexible


Before COVID-19, the standard office was designed around productivity, efficiency, and everyone being physically present. Now, after the rise of COVID-19 and its subsequent variants, safety and cleanliness are at the forefront. With many offices pushing their Return-to-Work plans into the later Fall months, many continue to experiment with working remotely, and most employers will increase flexibility and allow some form of a Hybrid Work Model. A higher value is being placed on employee safety, health, and wellbeing, forcing some types of these models to define the modern workplace now and into the future. And as we’ve learned, employees want the choice to work from wherever they feel most productive. That’s not to say that the Hybrid Work Model doesn’t come with its fair share of challenges. Knowing the challenges beforehand will help organizations to operate more seamlessly as we continue on in a pandemic world.


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