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Hybrid work — a mix of in-office and out-of-office work — is not a new development. In the ’90s, we had cell phones; then, in the 2000s, we had Blackberries to easily facilitate frantic out-of-office emailing.
But post-pandemic, “hybrid work” has taken on a new significance, with most employees expecting some possibility of working remotely, where that is feasible.
Here, I want to take some time to unpack the different ways that an organization might introduce a hybrid work model and highlight some ways in which companies might make better strategic hybrid work decisions.
Why go hybrid?
Over the years, the productivity and efficiency benefits of remote work have become clear. All the way back in 2013, a controlled study led by Stanford Economist, Nicholas Bloom, demonstrated a productivity increase of 13% due to remote work; in 2021, an Owl Labs State of Hybrid Work study reported a 25% reduction in employee turnover due to remote work; finally, a new study demonstrates that an average 45 minutes of the daily time savings from working from home are invested right back into the business.
That said, 100% remote isn’t feasible for all businesses and business functions: A 2021 Jabra study showed a clear preference for the traditional office when it comes to collaborative work, presentations and onboarding. To that, I would add that face-to-face client interaction, and specialized tools/infrastructure can be important reasons to have employees in the office at times.
Given the benefits of both remote and in-office work, it is clear that some form of hybrid work is the way forward for many organizations. So, what’s the best way of arranging this? Below I will go through some popular hybrid work models and highlight where these have been useful to particular organizations.
It’s worth observing that hybrid working arrangements usually relate to where the work occurs. But it is also common to combine hybrid work arrangements with flexibility about when and how work occurs. For example, hybrid work can be combined with “flex time” (employees being able to decide when they start and finish work, within reason) and “async work” (being able to work without constantly checking in with other team members and managers).
In a remote-first business, remote work is the default. Most employees will work remotely, most of the time. But remote-first doesn’t mean “remote only.” Many businesses that default to remote work may still allow in-office work. For one thing, many employees actively prefer to go into the office some of the time.
Spotify adopted a remote-first model with its “work from anywhere” policy, promoting remote work, while still retaining physical office space and paying for co-working space for employees that seek to work in-office. At Horizons, we have adopted a remote-first policy as well, if employees wish. We also have regular regional meetups to bring our distributed team together. We find this provides a good balance between remote flexibility and in-person collaboration.
A remote-friendly business is supportive of remote work, but remote work may not be the default. A remote-friendly business allows remote work on certain days of the week, for certain teams or on a discretionary basis. Companies that have recently implemented this include Apple (three days per week in the office), and Microsoft — the kind of arrangement applied by Apple and Microsoft is also known as “split days” hybrid work.
Remote-friendly is the preferred model for businesses that have a strong need for in-person collaboration.
In a split-team hybrid approach, some of the workforce are permitted to work remotely, while others are required to come into the office. While this may make sense from a job-function perspective (some work is more feasibly carried out remotely than other work), it also risks creating a perception of unfairness: Some in-office employees may be upset that they have no say in the matter — according to a 2022 Gallup report, only 6% of employees who could work remotely would prefer to be entirely in-office.
How to make your hybrid work decision
Given the variety of ways in which you can implement hybrid work, how should you go about deciding which model is right for you? I suggest the following steps:
Make remote work flexibility the default assumption in workforce planning. No matter what the needs of your business are, the evidence is clear that employees value the option to work remotely.
Decide which essential business functions, if any, need to be done in person. There is an element of subjectivity to this. Companies like Apple have decided this is crucial for the creative element of their work. For others, it may be about responding to a clientele that expects in-person meetings.
Work out the best way of dividing work between in-person and remote elements. Split-team or split-days are possibilities, but it is also possible that primarily remote work with semi-regular in-person meetings/events will suffice.
Incorporate your approach to remote work into a written remote work policy that employees have access to. This ensures that there is transparency and that a fair approach is taken.
Check in regularly with employees to see how current hybrid work arrangements are working out. This should occur both in organization-wide employee wellness surveys and one-on-ones with team leads.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work, and most of us adopting hybrid are, by necessity, experimenting as we go. While the benefits of hybrid work are clear, every company needs to look to its own business needs and processes and find the appropriate balance between flexibility for employees and in-office efficiency.