How can we make the hybrid working model work?

For much of the digital workforce, 2020 was all about remote working. Adapting to new work environments as offices and workspaces closed their doors became the norm, and our meetings, collaborations and interactions shifted online.

Naturally, this presented both challenges and opportunities for employees, with some finding it hard to separate their work from their home life and to switch off, while others enjoyed less time commuting and more time with their family.

However, we fared, as the world continues to open up once again, the focus for companies is on what the next step will be when it comes to where their teams will work.

There’s little denying that almost all digital businesses can operate remotely and be productive, and now is the time for robust plans and policies around the future of work environments to take shape.

Will companies require their teams to be back in the office full time, will they shut the doors on their office space for good and ask their teams to work from home full-time, and if so, how will their employees react to these scenarios after so long spent working away from a physical office space?

Or will companies introduce a hybrid of the two, mixing office and home-based work in a way that benefits the company, and the individual employees that work there?

What is a hybrid working model?

It’s a term that has been around for some time already, but now, as companies manage their return-to-work policies, it’s being talked about more and more. Ensuring that employees can return to the office in a way that is not only safe to do so, but that also meets their changing expectations is a challenge.

In essence, the hybrid working model enables employees to mix where they choose to work from – at home, in the office or other workspace, café etc.

The model is designed to encourage autonomy, flexibility and productivity when choosing to work where and how you prefer, blending it with traditional elements of collaboration, work relationships and the positive interactions that come from working together in an office environment. 

Hybrid model a popular choice

At Digital Republic Talent, we conducted a short survey across our LinkedIn network (Apr 13th, 2021) which looked at the intended plans for their company’s working policy.

We were interested to get a quick snapshot of how many companies were planning to return to either a 100% office-based set up, 100% work from home setup or a hybrid of the two options. The hybrid model proved to be the most popular choice with 51% of people saying this was the route their company was intending to go down as they started setting out their policies.

Interestingly, the full-time office-based approach, a throwback to how things were for many pre-pandemic, was the intended option for only 6% of workers, while almost one-quarter (24%) stated their company was asking them to continue to work from home full time.

Integrating a successful hybrid work model

Like the findings from our survey, the conversations we’ve been having in recent weeks with our clients suggest that they are also planning to implement hybrid models into their businesses. Indeed, it’s the route we’re taking at Digital Republic Talent as we seek to encourage productivity, collaboration, and engagement amongst the team.

If you’re looking to implement the hybrid model for your employees, we’ve outlined some of the practices we’re including, as well as ideas taken from some of the companies we’re working with. 

Set out your hybrid model policy

Chances are people will have different preferences and opinions on what a good model looks like, and what suits them best. Every policy will be unique to each business but there are a few models to consider:

The at-will modelallows your teams to choose the best arrangement for them on any given day. Typically, your teams will work from home most of the time, using the office for meetings, interviews or having a quiet place to work for the day.

The split-week modelwill see your teams dividing their time between home and the office in a more structured way. For example, teams or individuals may be designated days to be in the office, spending the rest of their time at home.

The week-by-week modelwill see your teams alternating between working in the office and at home on a weekly basis. This allows large teams to meet up together for things like company meetings, deadlines, or reviews.

Whichever model you choose, it’s key to gather feedback from your employees to make sure there’s alignment between personal needs and preferences.

Prepare the office to hybrid working

Introducing flex desking; a method for employees to reserve their desk before coming into the office can encourage the smart use of space. This allows you to ensure employees remain safe and distancing can still be observed.

Similarly, if you have people in the office full-time or you’ve downsized your office during the pandemic, this is a great way of managing where people sit on the days they’re in.

Blend what’s worked during times of remote work

By this we mean, if you’ve used tools and technology to communicate whilst working from home, continue to use these if they’ve proven to be effective.

Video calls, messaging apps, cloud file sharing etc. can all still be utilised even by those who are returning to the office on a more regular basis than others. In doing so, you’ll maintain the relationships amongst employees, and it will allow collaboration to continue.

Provide equal benefits for remote employees and include them

For those members of the team who choose to work more often than not from home, there’s a risk they’ll start to feel their missing out on the in-office benefits enjoyed by others.

It’s important to make sure this demographic feel included and valued if they’re spending more time at home and are afforded the same perks and opportunities as those more regularly in the office. This will be beneficial for engagement, output and retention.

So, what’s next?

For many businesses, getting to grips with full-time remote was a challenge, and the next step in the return-to-work process will no doubt prove challenging too.

While hybrid working proved to be the most popular approach for businesses amongst our respondents, whichever route your company chooses to go down, the decision should be based on what suits both the company and the individuals best.

Being clear on the policy and communicating the reasons behind the decision is a must, and regular feedback needs to be taken to ensure employees are as happy and productive as they can be.

It remains to be seen how businesses will react to a hybrid model, but if the enforced shift to online, remote working has taught us anything, it’s that people working across digital are adaptable and will make a success of these changes.

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