Corporate America’s Latest Pandemic Experiment: The Hybrid Work Model
After more than a year of pandemic shutdowns and restrictions, cities and businesses are reopening. But not all employees are ready to return to work. Many are still at risk or have children learning remotely; Moreover got used to working from home and aren’t ready to return.
That is driving another pandemic experiment in corporate America: the hybrid working model. It’s a structure in which some employees remain at home while others return to the office.
It makes sense companies want to create hybrid workplaces. A recent Society for Human Resource Management survey found 52% of polled employees would work from home full-time if given the choice. About a third would accept a lower salary in exchange. Despite that, some employers worry they will be at a disadvantage if rivals bring employees back and they don’t. The longer they maintain remote work environments they fear the more the culture will erode and engagement will decline.
Challenges of Hybrid Work Models
Those fears may be unfounded but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges shifting to a hybrid work model. Office space may need to be redesigned, schedules reworked and the right digital tools implemented. The days of grainy video calls and sluggish collaboration tools must end. In a hybrid work model, you can’t get by with any old technology. It must be a seamless experience between those at home and those in the office.
Management needs to be clear about their expectations and how the hybrid model will work. You don’t want to pour money and resources into the effort only to see it fail. Consider the nature of the employees’ jobs, their level of experience, and their past performance to gauge if a hybrid model makes sense. There needs to be a good mix of staff that can perform their jobs remotely and on-site. If your staff requires a lot of hands-on training or supervision and performs in-office tasks, a hybrid model may not be the best option.
Hybrid Work Structures
There is not a one size fits all approach to creating a hybrid work model. It looks different from one organization to the next but there are some common frameworks businesses can follow.
Remote with an Option
A remote-first approach became popular during the pandemic and remains so even as businesses reopen. With it, companies operate as if they were remote but keep office space available for employees to work out of. The flexibility can be for some or all employees depending on who is required to be in the office. With this approach employees act like a remote company relying on communications tools to remain connected.
For companies that prefer to have more staff in person, a hybrid model is a way to bridge the gap. Typically more than half the workforce is in the office while the others remain remote. Some companies require their remote workers to come to the office occasionally. This is a popular approach and can be an effective way to get employees reacquainted with the office. It also helps when recruiting talent in the COVID-19 era. Workers are looking for flexibility from their employees. A variant of the hybrid model is the flexible work structure. Employees split their time between working at home and in the office.
Tools for Hybrid Success
Regardless of the hybrid model you adopt, the right digital communications and collaboration tools will determine your success. The digital tools should mirror in-person communication and collaboration. It’s the equivalent of whiteboards, brainstorming meetings, and in-person events but online.
Whether you implement a messaging platform or schedule video meetings through Zoom you need to employ the tools that make the experience seamless. Thanks to advances in technology, cloud-based video conferencing software is cheap and easy to use. Slack and Zoom became popular communications tools during the pandemic because they enabled co-workers to easily stay connected. Some other popular ones include GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.
Hybrid companies also need applications to track time and productivity, foster collaboration, and manage projects. The good news is there’s an app or cloud-based software for all of that.
Take time and activity tracking for starters. There are several software programs that help you track employees’ billable hours and monitor employees’ progress whether they are at home or in the office. On the collaboration front, there are several tools available to keep brainstorming between remote and in-person teams going. Conceptboard is one example. It’s an online whiteboard designed for teams to brainstorm and collaborate in the cloud. The shared workspace lets teams visualize projects and manage them across different groups. Rival Miro operates an online whiteboard and zoomable canvas.
Project management is another aspect that can not be overlooked. Adopting an online project management system will help employees stay up to date on projects and on time. Some popular project management platforms include Monday.com, Smartsheet, and Asana.
The pandemic has turned the traditional work model on its head. Countless companies have proven they can thrive with everyone working at home. Now they can’t turn on a switch and expect everyone to come back into the office. To ease the transition, many companies are turning to hybrid work models. To be successful in that new environment they are adopting digital tools that foster collaboration, productivity, and management.