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What is Hybrid Work, Really? Debunking the Myths

Justin Mitchell
September 9, 2021

To recruit and retain top-tier talent, businesses should be looking to meet their employees' working needs and preferences. There is no better time to do so than now.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. COVID-19 lockdown of May 2020 sent 35% of employed Americans into a teleworking situation, revolutionizing the way we view work options.

To meet employee needs, companies that were previously office-first have been trialing remote-first options. Those not ready to commit to fully remote operations are looking into hybrid work.

But what is hybrid work, really? And is it actually a good option for businesses?

In this article, we’re going to explore what hybrid work means, why it could or could not work for your business, and how to set up a hybrid work infrastructure properly.

What is hybrid work (and why it’s not right for every organization)

Hybrid work is a combination of in-office work and remote work. There are a few different ways that this could work:

  • Some employees work in the office, and some employees work remotely.
  • Employees work in the office some days and work from home on other days.
  • Some employees work in the office, some employees work remotely, and some employees do both.

There are many reasons you might be considering a hybrid workplace, and each of these hybrid work options comes with its pros and cons. While flexible work is something most employees want, they’re not entirely sure how they want to see it laid out.

McKinsey surveyed 5,000 employees around the globe to get their thoughts on the future of work, and while the majority want to see some kind of flexible working model, they’re in disagreement about what this should look like. Additionally, nearly half of all employees report some burnout or work-from-home fatigue.

With this in mind, a hybrid work model seems like it would make sense. And there are several benefits to a hybrid model. However, many of the benefits coincide with full-time remote working as well, such as:

  • A larger talent pool that isn’t location-specific – while an office setting can be perfect for your core team, you may consider bringing on fully remote employees who have no interest in relocating but have the required skills.
  • Increased productivity – a Slack survey shows that 53% of employees working with companies that allow remote or hybrid working reported higher productivity.
  • More flexibility – the same Slack survey found that 83% of respondents do not want to return to the office full-time due to the flexibility that a hybrid or remote work schedule provides.
  • Employees do not want to return to the office – an Envoy/Wakefield Research survey found that nearly half of all U.S. employees (47%) would consider looking for a new job if their company doesn’t embrace some form of hybrid work.

But like everything, that doesn’t leave hybrid work without its cons:

  • It has an impact on work-life balance – according to Slack’s survey results, 39% of employees feel like they work more hours per day when working from home, compared with 31% of office-based workers.
  • Not every worker gets the same flexibility – depending on the type of hybrid work model you implement, some employees may not see the same benefits that their co-workers do.
  • It can be difficult to keep track of who’s in-office vs remote – an effective hybrid model requires strategic planning and organization to be successful.
  • People don’t feel connected with their colleagues – a McKinsey executive survey showed that companies who support employee engagement see an increase in productivity; however, poorly managed hybrid work schedules can hinder such employee connections.
  • Remote employees can feel left out – if your hybrid model isn’t well-managed, it can create an environment where in-office employees fall into cliques that leave your remote employees feeling excluded.

Each of these downsides to hybrid work has a solution if leaders are willing to take the time to set up the model with a solid foundation, monitor the issues and adapt when necessary.

If you want to give hybrid work a try, your best opportunity for company-wide buy-in is to empower your employees to lead the charge.

Let your employees help lead the way

Allow your employees to have some say in the future of your company and its work policies. Having this level of open communication can already start to ease the minds of your team, especially when it comes to post-pandemic work life.

The McKinsey employee survey mentioned above also discovered that 40% of organizations have yet to communicate with their teams about how work after the COVID-19 pandemic could look. Due to this uncertainty, 47% of employees surveyed feel anxious about the future.

Infographic, Anxiety about the future

To get the most useful employee feedback, you need to ask the right questions. Don’t ask your employees where they want to work. As we’ve covered, many aren’t even sure themselves.

Instead, ask your employees where they do their best work.

This subtle change can bring significantly different answers that will better inform your hybrid work strategy.

Millions of workers across the world have moved from a rigid, in-office structure to working from home. And the working from home experience has varied for many throughout lockdowns, school closures, and their reopening.

The idea of where employees do their best work may have drastically shifted throughout this time.

So, instead of asking where they want to work, get down to the root of it. Find out if your employees do their best work in their home office or if they prefer getting out of the house and working in a separate workspace.

Send out a survey to all employees asking questions about how and when they work best. Review the responses with other leaders in your company, and have them speak to team members, so everyone feels like a part of the decision.

And whatever the response is, listen.

As Phil Freo, Senior Director of Engineering at Close, says:

“Founders should listen when people want to work from home. If employers don't listen when employees start saying, ‘I can do my job well from anywhere—you could see I did great at my job even during COVID,’ they are risking unhappy employees who may leave and go find a remote job.”

Whether your team prefers working from home or in the office, it’s okay. The task at hand now is to find the perfect solution.

Building a hybrid work infrastructure

If you decide that having a hybrid workforce is going to be the best option for your company, it’s important to have policies in place that outline the overall hybrid work office schedule and work week plan.

This plan should be organized, built for maximum productivity, and satisfy everyone on your team. To help you get started, we’ve got a few tips for building a successful hybrid work infrastructure.

1. Get input from your employees

As we’ve mentioned, surveying employees should be step one. These surveys aim to find out about environments that enable their best performance and the reasons for their choice.

For example, some employees might genuinely prefer their home office environment. This is where they feel they can be the most productive. Other employees might be put off by the long commute, or may have moved further from the office during the pandemic.

Understanding the motivations behind employee responses can help you build your hybrid model, as you’ll know which areas to optimize.

To find out how you can serve your employees best, ask open-ended questions like:

  • How has your workday changed in the past year to 18 months?
  • How many days would you like to work onsite each week, if any?
  • Do you feel more productive in the office, at home, another location (e.g., a coffee shop or coworking space), or a combination of places?
  • What kind of work schedule helps you thrive personally and professionally?

Analyze the responses you get to these questions to get an idea of what sort of hybrid schedule might work best for your team.

2. Consider the different types of hybrid office spaces

The great thing about hybrid work is that it’s such a new concept that there are no boxes to try and fit your unique business into. Your team can carve out a hybrid work environment that’s completely custom and different from any other company’s hybrid work plan.

We have a base of four hybrid work environments to help you start planning your model: remote first, split time in the office, micro-offices (or coworking spaces), and office-first.

Remote first

The first option is a fully remote team that uses your office space as its main headquarters. Even though you still have an office, the default is remote working.

You might reserve your office space for things like in-person client meetings, team building activities, physically collaborative projects, or when someone just wants to work out of the office that day.

The most functional hybrid teams operate remote-first. This ensures that communication is fluid even if 100% of the workforce opts to work remotely on any given day. This is why we recommend remote-first as the best option for hybrid working.

Split time in the office

In the split time option, you’ll have set office days where people work in the office and set work-from-home days.

You can set this up in several ways. If you have a small team, you can let individuals choose which days they want to work from home and keep track in an office-wide calendar.

For larger organizations, you might have set days for different teams or departments to be in the office together so they can collaborate on projects.

Additionally, you could have a single day where everyone within your organization comes into the office for some face-to-face time, while the rest of the week is dedicated to remote and focused work.

If you need to hold a meeting on a day where some team members are in-office and others are remote, you can follow the lead of companies like Zillow and Salesforce. In their offices, if everyone can’t be in a meeting, then everyone dials in—no matter if they’re in the office or working remotely.

Micro-offices or coworking spaces

Why not nix the main office altogether? Your company can create small micro-offices across the city, country, or even the world, depending on where your team works and lives.

Or save money on office spaces and overheads by covering coworking passes for employees. According to collated data by Coworking Resources, coworking spaces are on the rise and numbers are predicted to grow by 158% by 2024.

Infographic, Number of coworking spaces woldwide

Organizations like Gable, and Codi help you find flexible options in many cities around the world. The best part about coworking spaces is that you can often find a solution for your specific need.

Some companies are looking for on-demand desks when employees feel like working away from home for the day, while others need a private meeting room or an entire office for a day. A hybrid model that does away with office spaces could make use of a coworking space (or spaces) instead.

Office first with remote work allowed

If you can’t find a way around collecting everyone in the office regularly, or if your employees prefer office-first working, you can still offer some remote options. You can facilitate an office-first environment with the option to work from home when employee workload allows.

For example, if you work in an office environment where a lot of client meetings must happen in person, you can host these meetings on particular days and allow employees to prepare and conduct other work outside of the office.

Working from home around one day a week is estimated to boost productivity by 4.8%, according to a recent survey of more than 30,000 U.S. employees.

Analyze the survey responses you received to determine which of these options will work best for your employees and your business practices.

3. Create collaborative spaces instead of desks

If you decide to keep your main headquarters, your in-office environment could be due for an update. When deciding on a hybrid model, your in-office space shouldn’t encourage people to work in isolation.

After all, if they are traveling to the office just to work on their own, why can’t they do this from home or an alternative space?

Desks and cubicles are relics of the past. In fact, trendy open office spaces that were installed to thwart traditional cubicle-cities have now been shown to reduce face to face interactions by as much as 70%. This is owing to the invisible “fourth wall” that office workers must use to keep from the distractions of a large audience.

Instead, create collaborative workspaces throughout the office that promote teamwork and employee engagement while keeping some rooms closed off for conferences and important meetings.

Plant filled collaborative space
Source: Dropbox Studios

Turn your office into a gathering place where people work together and foster relationships, saving focused deep work for remote options. Encourage huddled collaboration in these spaces, and avoid rows of headphoned, hunched over people sitting at their desks for hours on end.

4. Cultivate a positive and equal company culture

Company culture is important in every office, but it’s especially important to nurture in a hybrid workplace. Making sure that employees who work remotely more often than others aren’t being excluded needs to be a priority.

Freo states:

“The risk of hybrid is that the remote people get left out of key ad hoc discussions/decisions, get skipped for promotions, and don't have the information they need to do their jobs effectively. Founders should combat this natural tendency …  not having a two-tier system of office-employees vs. remote-employees, etc.”

Having policies in place to keep things equal across the workforce, and ensuring that your leadership team spends the same amount of time out of the office as the rest of your employees, helps to keep this “proximity bias” from occurring.

Proximity bias is the false belief that employees with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders are better workers, leading to more perks and opportunities for advancement than their remote counterparts.

A work from home experiment by Chinese firm Ctrip reported greater productivity and work satisfaction, but an almost 50% reduction in promotions among those who worked from home.

To combat this and give hybrid work a fighting chance at success, leaders need to make sure they level the playing field for everyone on their team. That means reducing in-office, ad hoc communication and meetings.

If the meeting can't be done asynchronously, make sure that it is inclusive to remote workers, through technology, documentation, and recording.

To further cultivate a positive company culture in your hybrid office, it’s time to reenvision why your office space is there in the first place.

Remote work is for focused work and admin work. When working remotely, employees can structure their deep work and shallow work around the times they operate best.

Office work is for building relationships, onboarding, and collaborating on projects. As a rule, keep office days for activities that cannot be completed remotely.

As well as project-focused work, you can use office days to boost and maintain morale. Try to get everyone in the office at the same time on occasion. Buy lunch for your team, host happy hours (in person and not on Zoom) and plan team-building activities on your team’s office days.

Dr Joseph A. Allen, Ph.D.
Professor of Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychology at the University of Utah

Hi all, Dr. Allen here. And one thing I want to emphasize is that hybrid work and remote work is here to stay. Employees and employers want this, to some degree and so what does that mean? You know, to meetings? As a meeting scientist, we've learned that you can improve your meetings by almost 50% in terms of effectiveness simply by ensuring participation regardless of where you are, whether your remote, in person or otherwise, your meetings will be better if you just encourage participation.

5. Prioritize asynchronous communication

As we transition to a hybrid workplace, prioritizing asynchronous communication (also called async) to even the stakes will be key. The one thing you shouldn’t waste your office days on is meetings. In fact, we strongly believe that you shouldn’t waste any days having too many meetings.

Last minute meetings and side-conversations will leave people feeling left out, leading to anxiety and poor team collaboration. Defaulting to scheduling the majority of your meetings async will save you time and make sure everyone is more productive, no matter where they are on a given day.

Trying to align schedules to meet in real time, whether in person or remote, defeats the purpose of flexibility. If you’re going to hybridize your workplace model, prioritize asynchronous communication.

Using asynchronous communication tools—like Twist and Yac—allows you to communicate comprehensively and conveniently.

By replacing a check-in or status update meeting with a voice message in a team channel, you're able to save time while still being thoughtful, concise, and inclusive in your communication. The best part is you’re able to do this without having another meeting eat up a chunk of your team's calendar.

In a remote or hybrid work environment, this is even more important. Async is all about promoting flexibility and improving productivity so that employees don’t feel bogged down by schedules and the real work can get done.

6. Consistently gather feedback from employees and adapt

Once you implement a hybrid work plan, the job isn’t over. It’s unlikely to be perfect from the start, so keep an open line of communication with your employees about their work preferences.

Ask for regular feedback on how the new policies are working for your team so you can adjust and adapt accordingly.

Don’t rule out any hybrid work options. You might start as an office-first hybrid team, then realize that remote-first with a single collaborative day in the office every couple of weeks is the most efficient and effective working option for everyone.

Do avoid changing models too often. Try to commit to one hybrid working model for a set time (such as a year), then reevaluate.

As new employees come on board, continue to be transparent and flexible about their work options. Hybrid work should be about unlocking each employee’s potential, so they’re able to do their best work.

Key takeaways

Remote work is the future. But not every company can commit to a fully remote schedule right now. For those companies, a hybrid model might be your best bet.

There are many options available to businesses interested in a hybrid working model. The best fit for your business will be the model that aligns with your employees’ preferences while making the most sense for your business practices.

Workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work, are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. On top of this, they are more likely to perform better and view their company as more innovative than competitors that don’t offer such choices.

Establishing a healthy and productive, flexible working environment requires tools to help— this is where Yac comes in. Sign up for free to see how Yac can help employees communicate conveniently while working remotely.