Through the course of the ups and downs of the COVID pandemic, many businesses have struggled to identify the best path forward for a potential return to work. For a growing majority of businesses, a hybrid work plan is becoming the frontrunner as the potential working style of the next era of office work.
A hybrid work plan combines the cost and productivity benefits of working remotely with the benefits of collaboration in an in-person office setting. As business leaders make decisions about what model works best for their company and culture, the hybrid style has become popular for its ability to keep safety measures in place while helping workplaces evolve as the pandemic continues.
What Does a Hybrid Work Plan Look Like?
The various elements of a hybrid work plan may look very different from company to company. Some styles include remote-first or remote-allowed, office-first, flextime, office-optional or office-occasional, and work-life integration. For some companies, a more flexible work plan may mean that employees spend certain time, specified or unspecified, in the office during the week while the rest of the time is spent working from home. For example, this could mean three days of the week are spent in the office while the other two are remote, or four days are in and one day is out of the office. Leadership and certain teams, departments, or positions may each have a different type of work plan, with some working fully remote while others are more frequently working in the office.
Hybrid work plans may include some level of asynchronous work and communication, enabling employees to have more freedom with virtual work and a break from needing to constantly stay connected. This can help make work more productive and lead to more uninterrupted progress. It also adapts better to workers operating remotely in different time zones.
Additionally, work plans could include the following setups:
- Maintaining an office space for employees who are not able to work productively from another space,
- Allowing flexible start times to optimize commutes,
- Using technology to allow remote employees to consistently communicate with in-person team members, such as setting up an effective video conferencing platform,
- Changing employee’s work plans based on the week or project, or
- Establishing hours or days to help coordinate when employees can be in the office at the same time.
Each company can choose how to best incorporate some of these elements into their hybrid work plan, and weighing the benefits and challenges of a hybrid work plan can help businesses establish the right approach moving forward.
Benefits of a Hybrid Work Plan
The clearest benefit of a hybrid work plan is that it supports more productive work, either from home or from the office based on whichever is better suited to individual employees. This also allows a company to better cater to a diverse workforce with disabilities or illnesses that may have limited productivity in a traditional workplace. A hybrid model can sometimes reduce overhead costs, depending on decisions to keep certain office spaces open or change an office layout for more collaborative in-person work. Another advantage that comes from incorporating a hybrid work plan is that it broadens the available talent pool, as flexible hours can enable employees in other time zones to operate productively. As over 60% of Uber’s employees preferred a hybrid work plan, this option for returning to work can keep colleagues connected and support better collaboration. These benefits can help a company improve operations moving forward, but there are also some challenges that come with using the hybrid model.
Challenges of a Hybrid Work Plan
One thing to consider when implementing a hybrid work plan is how purposeful guidelines and policies for any remote workers are, as they may feel less connected to their coworkers if benefits are not distributed evenly. Therefore, HR may need to focus on communicating the benefits of working from home, customize the hybrid work plan to best suit the company’s size and goals, and design remote-inclusive events to build company culture. Additionally, having some employees consistently working from home could lead to bias for managers who interact with certain people in person and therefore favor the in-office employees because of more exposure, leading to faster promotions.
Communication can also be difficult to coordinate if not standardized with expectations, especially across time zones if many employees are located around the world. And, if a hybrid work plan is not laid out clearly, it can lead to discrimination for remote employees, or cause logistical issues with too many employees working remotely when in-person collaboration is more effective. There are some steps to take that can help address these challenges when finalizing a hybrid work plan.
Tips for Rolling Out a Hybrid Model
Focusing on the experience from the perspectives of both in-office and remote employees from the start is key to successfully implementing a hybrid work plan, matching policies and benefits to ensure fair treatment and clear guidelines. Employees should be given a platform to share their preferences and approval for expectations. Online communication channels and standards should also take top priority, using tools to build a community beyond work topics and foster the company’s culture. Additionally, meetings should be catered to remote workers by providing agendas and staying on schedule.
Leadership also sets the tone for the style of a hybrid model – if leaders and managers are working from the office, this will likely lead to more of an in-person model, while if they are working remotely, it will be more virtual-first. Regardless, training for managers and leadership can help ensure that employees are treated equally whether they are in person or working from home, and training for all employees can help clarify performance standards, increase information accessibility, and support independent work. Flexibility is one of the most beneficial characteristics of a successful hybrid work plan.
Safely Returning to the Office
In addition to having a hybrid work plan in place, companies should consider what steps they need to take to ensure employee safety and well-being while in the physical office space. Businesses, such as CelerPurus, have been successful in bringing their employees back in person because of the proactive steps taken to ensure that safety and well-being.
Here are five considerations to successfully and safely bring employees back into the office:
- Have a plan. Take time to map out what your return-to-work plan looks like and make sure to inform your employees of any new guidelines or protocols, such as encouraging social distancing or abiding by a mask mandate. Consider phasing employees back into the office, taking into consideration any hybrid plans that will help limit in-person numbers. Having a plan in place can provide your employees with assurance that you are taking the proper steps to ensure a safe return.
- Be flexible with that plan. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us to “expect the unexpected.” Even with plans and guidelines in place, it’s important to be prepared to pivot. Your employees might need to isolate or quarantine due to exposure, or a new variant could force a return to full-remote work – in any circumstance, being able and willing to adapt is critical for a successful in-person return to work.
- Provide resources for employees. If your company wants to bring employees back to the office, make sure you’re providing access to resources for a safe, sanitized environment. Consider implementing sanitation stations around the office, blocking off desks or chairs to encourage social distancing, and providing masks or hand sanitizer to each employee. This initiative not only contributes to a safer working environment, but it also demonstrates your company’s commitment to safety sanitation in the workplace.
- Be transparent. A study showed that 37% of respondents said they didn’t know if their organization had any type of plan to safely bring employees back into the office. For a successful return to work, organizations must communicate with their employees, both before bringing them back into the office and once they’re there. Let your employees know what your plans are and be transparent when adjustments or changes need to be made.
- Continue to assess and re-assess. With any successful implementation comes some level of assessment or feedback. Involve all stakeholders, including leadership and staff, in conversations around what’s working or what isn’t and how your company can make necessary changes to better promote safety and well-being while in the office.
Planning for the long-term, post-pandemic future must involve adopting a hybrid work plan. It’s inevitable that future disruptions will occur, but business leaders and IT departments can play especially important roles to help build and implement a safe and successful hybrid work plan.