In 2020 you couldn't shuffle papers at a team meeting without hearing the words "remote working".
Strategies were constantly workshopped on how it could be implemented effectively, what challenges would arise, and if the possibility was there for an organization. Now, in 2021, the conversation has shifted onto the hybrid model.
The three hybrid working models
As physical office spaces begin to welcome staff again, organizations face a challenge: The workforce isn’t keen to give up remote work. People who were introduced to remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic are eager to continue doing so. Companies can no longer claim they can't operate remotely (a common reason to avoid remote work pre-2020). Plenty of businesses are turning to the hybrid model, yet many still grapple with this as a viable concept.
The hybrid model is the buzzword on the tip of everyone's tongue, but there isn't one universal definition. This gray area isn't a bad thing - being open for interpretation allows your team to mold the model to your needs, but simply put, it’s a combination of working remotely and from an office.
The model looks different for each organization. However, all companies that choose to incorporate a hybrid model will face some challenges.
There are three main hybrid work models that we’re currently seeing:
Operations will closely mirror those of a fully remote company, with minor exceptions. Some won’t allow the same level of flexibility to every employee, as their job may require their physical presence. The main principle of this model is that the company should act like a fully remote company with its employees spread out across multiple time zones and defaulting to online communication methods.
Employees will come into the office a few times a week using the office to blend in-person collaboration and solo work. This can be a loose policy depending on the organizations' needs; for example, employees are instructed to come into the office 16 hours a week - the days being their choice. More firm guidelines could include expectations for employees working from the office every Monday and Friday. At the core of this model is that the company isn't going fully remote-first. The workforce will be primarily local rather than distributed because employees have to come into the office occasionally.
Office-first, remote allowed
This is where office and remote work operate simultaneously, with the office designated as the primary place for working. This was a standard setup before COVID-19; companies would have a small percentage of their workforce remote, with the rest working from one primary office space. Usually, the whole leadership team is based in-house. By default, the entire team will be office-centered. The leadership team will generally have in-person conversations and collaboration, excluding remote workers to some degree.
In a hybrid medium, employee experience can be a trickier task to maintain. How would an employee who is new to the company working between "home" and office spaces measure their experience? If their experience is either a positive or imperfect one, can they pinpoint what influences the verdict if they work in multiple locations?
As an illustration, imagine your staff members' home office is poorly set up; they can’t concentrate and are distracted by family members coming in and out, poor lighting, or weak and patchy internet connection. This troubles them and impacts their working experience.
This can raise questions for management:
- Do these negative feelings distort the employees' perception of their job and company?
- Would the employee be able to differentiate their frustrations towards their home office from their general employment experience?
- Would these feelings cause variation within employee engagement?
- And if this did impact their engagement, what would indicate to management that intervention is required, and how would they know that the issue is their home office environment?
Problems then arise. Management can’t possibly know all this unless it’s expressly stated by the staff member. Nevertheless, with the correct procedures and processes put into place, these issues are avoidable from the very beginning.
How can an organization succeed in delivering both the needs of the employees and the business itself?
Firstly, organizations need to offer employees a consistent experience. Communication within the company must shift online; this avoids issues arising for both employee and employer from remote workers not being aware of particular in-person conversations or decisions. Prioritizing this "online-first" communication is a simple step that has enormous benefits to a hybrid workspace.
In practice, the company should plan meetings and events while considering remote staff. For example, instead of gathering team members in a board room with remote workers present through screens to the side, everyone should have the same experience by joining the meeting remotely from their laptop. Doing this avoids remote workers feeling excluded and allows them to participate equally.
Another fundamental consideration that managers need to recognize is that the quality equipment necessary to work from home are luxuries that many cannot afford. If disruption to employee experience and employee performance is to be avoided, home-office equipment needs to be approved and replaced as needed, such as:
- A stable WiFi connection
- The correct chair for the desk in use
- A dedicated laptop
- Headsets and audio equipment that allow participation in meetings
- Anything else required to carry out work-related tasks
Remote work shouldn't have to be synonymous with working from home or with isolation from team members. However, the most successful way to implement remote work requires remote-first thinking and not setting up processes for remote workers as an afterthought. This ensures the success of the hybrid model and is less likely to leave remote employees feeling unengaged and unproductive, something all companies should be working to avoid.
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