I’ve been working remotely for nearly a decade and can’t imagine a life without a flexible workstyle. However, my brother experienced it for the first time when his company moved to a hybrid working model during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even when the pandemic slowed down and things started returning to normal, he didn’t want to go back to the office five days a week.
My brother wasn’t alone in wanting this.
Millions of corporate professionals worldwide experienced remote and hybrid work for the first time in their lives and loved the flexibility it offered.
Seeing the benefits, companies like Fujitsu, SAP, Twitter, and 3M have permanently switched to fully remote or hybrid work models without compromising productivity. Many others are following.
So, how exactly does “hybrid work” work? What are its benefits and challenges? And should you consider a hybrid working model for your company?
We’ll discuss and answer all of these questions in this detailed article.
What is a Hybrid work model?
Hybrid work refers to a working model where employees use a combination of on-site and remote work (from home or anywhere else) to perform their jobs. Hybrid work isn’t new, but it only became mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is why organizations are still experimenting with different ways to make it work. For example, some companies fix their employees’ in-house and remote working days, while others leave it up to the employees to choose at least one or two days when they need to work from the office space.
Similarly, for some companies, the hybrid working model means department A is required to come to the office on the first three days of the week while department B is required on the last two working days. They can work remotely on other days.
Understandably, most employees enjoy hybrid work more than full-time in-office jobs. According to a recent Gallup survey, 62% of corporate employees prefer working remotely at least 2-3 days a week.
A study by Microsoft involving 30,000+ professionals found that 70% expect employers to offer a flexible working environment, including hybrid work options.
So, it’s safe to say that the future of work is going to be in most industries.
Hybrid work vs. flexible work
Most people use flexible and hybrid work interchangeably. But they’re slightly different working modes. A hybrid working model offers flexibility with the place of work. It allows employees to work a few days from the physical office space and the rest of the week from anywhere they want.
Flexible work covers both the place and time of work. It refers to working models where employees can work from anywhere and anytime.
The main difference between hybrid and flexible working models is control. In the hybrid model, the employer mainly controls when an employee comes to the office or works remotely.
In the flexible model, employees determine when and where they work in coordination with their employers.
Hybrid work vs. remote work
Remote work is another concept closely related to hybrid work. However, unlike hybrid work, a fully remote work model means employees do not need to come to the office at all. They can work from anywhere as long as they can coordinate with their teams in time.
To maintain some degree of control, many remote-first companies fix their employees' working hours so they stay in the loop and work more efficiently.
Asynchronous vs. synchronous hybrid work
Organizations with a hybrid work model can use synchronous or asynchronous communication to get things done.
What’s the difference?
Synchronous hybrid work means your remote and on-site staff must be online simultaneously to communicate and collaborate, irrespective of their time zones. So, a remote employee in Asia must be online at midnight to communicate with their staff in a North American workspace. The most commonly used synchronous communication tools include audio/video calling apps like Zoom and Skype.
In asynchronous hybrid work, your teams can communicate in their time zones and don’t need to be online at the same time to communicate. Loom is a classic example of asynchronous communication.
The employees in a hybrid work setting can communicate by recording and sharing Loom videos. So, for example, a manager operating from the office premises can record a Loom video to share the daily work briefing with their remote and in-house team members, who can view it when they get online.
Similarly, the team members can respond to the manager’s message with a Loom recording without needing to meet live online.
Most organizations with a hybrid working model use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication. For example, they hold a weekly live call where all the team members need to join irrespective of their time zones. But use asynchronous communication for day-to-day operations and coordination.
What are some examples of hybrid work schedules?
Hybrid work is flexible by nature. This is why organizations use it in different ways to achieve the right balance between productivity, efficiency, and employee satisfaction.
Here are some common types or examples of hybrid work schedules modern companies use.
The 3:2 Hybrid Schedule
Companies commonly use the 3:2 hybrid work schedule, where they require employees to be in the office for three days and work remotely for the remaining week or vice versa.
In this model, the company decides their employees' in-office and remote days. So, for example, they could ask department A to be on premises on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays and work remotely on Fridays. In comparison, department B could be required to show up in the office only once a week.
This model provides employers greater control of their employee’s work schedules and is ideal for companies switching to a hybrid work model for the first time.
Staggered Hybrid Schedules
Staggered hybrid schedules lock the remote and in-office days of employees and assign the exact time slots they need to follow.
Companies can apply staggered schedules across the company, at a team level, or to individual employees, depending on the business needs.
So, for example, dept A might be required to come to the office on the first three days of the week from 9 to 5, and dept B would come from 6 to 9 on the same days.
Open Hybrid Schedule
These are flexible hybrid schedules where companies allow employees to decide their in-office and remote days.
Some companies require employees to be on premises for at least one day but allow them to choose it. While others fix the in-office days and give employees the option to work remotely or from the office for the rest of the week.
Open hybrid schedules are pretty flexible. But they’re also the hardest to manage because the decision power lies with the employees, not the company. This means your office can sometimes be overcrowded with no seating space if everyone decides to show up.
Team-Level Hybrid Schedule
Team-level hybrid schedules let managers decide when their teams work remotely or in-office. The managers can ask some team members to be on the premises while allowing others to work remotely. Or apply a flat policy for the whole team.
Team-level hybrid schedules are great for empowering teams but can become a problem for businesses that require frequent cross-functional coordination.
Some organizations mix different hybrid work models for more flexibility. For example, they use the 3:2 model for a section of the company, the staggered schedule for shift-based departments, and the open hybrid model for other employees.
The challenge with this approach is streamlining operations across functions and ensuring that employees aren’t demotivated by the more flexible schedules of their colleagues.
What are the benefits of hybrid work models?
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many conventional and modern organizations to adopt a hybrid working model. Since then, many companies have chosen to go permanently hybrid after experiencing the benefits it offers.
Let’s discuss some of them.
Work when and how you’re most productive
A hybrid working model gives employees the freedom to choose the most suitable time and location to work. It allows them to work from anywhere and prevents social isolation by ensuring teams meet on-premises for at least a few days every week or month. This greater control over schedule also helps employees minimize distractions and work when they’re most productive. For example, some people enjoy working early in the morning and prefer getting most of their work done in the first half. Others might be night owls who do their best work when everyone’s asleep. A hybrid work model allows them to work according to their strengths.
Better work-life balance for everyone
Few things are more valuable in life than your family, friends, and personal well-being. But unfortunately, today’s grueling corporate culture means employees rarely get enough time with their loved ones and struggle to pursue their hobbies and passions.
A hybrid working model solves this problem to a great extent. According to research, 79% of professionals believe going hybrid has drastically improved their work-life balance and increased their overall motivation level.
This isn’t a surprise because the ability to work from anywhere and anytime is an exciting proposition for most people. It allows them to spend more time doing things they love while getting work done at their convenience.
Can hire talent across the globe
Hybrid organizations have a clear edge over conventional companies as they can hire remote talent across the globe. This larger talent pool not only helps them build more skilled hybrid teams but also reduces hiring costs.
Reduce exposure to illness
The COVID-19 pandemic gave us harsh lessons about health and public exposure. Thankfully, the peak pandemic has passed, but the lessons shouldn’t be forgotten.
Organizations with a hybrid work culture are better equipped to tackle health challenges. They can quickly switch between in-office and remote work models without compromising productivity. During regular working days, a hybrid company can ensure their office space is never too crowded by managing their staff’s working mode in advance.
Fewer people on premises mean less in-person interaction and a significantly reduced exposure to viral illnesses.
Save on operational expenses and commute time
Did you know that a typical corporate employee spends up to one year every decade commuting to work? This doesn’t even consider the physical, financial, and emotional costs of traveling hours every day.
So, it’s no surprise that “avoiding commute time” is among the top reasons people prefer hybrid work. In fact, a recent study found that allowing employees to work remotely gives them almost a 21.6% annual pay raise by helping them avoid costs such as childcare and commute.
From an employer’s perspective, a hybrid workspace means saving real estate and administrative costs of managing on-site employees.
So it’s a win-win scenario from a financial POV.
Hybrid work culture fundamentally differs from conventional companies, where office politics, personal relations between employees, and other biases can impact an employee’s growth.
How? Companies need to build transparent processes to execute the hybrid working model. This means everything is documented, communication is officially recorded, and there’s little space for gray areas. As a result, hybrid companies create a performance-driven culture where employees are judged solely on their achievements and results.
What are some challenges with hybrid work?
Like any other system, a hybrid work environment isn’t perfect and comes with several risks. Let’s quickly discuss some of the main challenges with hybrid work.
Workplace proximity bias is a psychological tendency in which employers or specific managers unintentionally favor in-office employees over remote team members for promotions, important projects, performance acknowledgment, etc.
A recent survey of more than 1200 professionals by Envoy found that 96% of managers in the US are more likely to notice the contributions of on-premises employees over remote employees.
This is a serious challenge that can result in discrimination against the hybrid workforce and create dissatisfaction among your employees.
The solution? Acknowledge the problem and ask managers to guard against it. In addition, work on building transparent processes that ensure employees are judged solely on their performance.
Isolation and lack of engagement
Remote and hybrid work comes with a lot of benefits. But social isolation and lack of engagement with coworkers is among its top risks.
According to a recent survey by FinanceBuzz, 46% of remote and hybrid workers cited isolation as one of their biggest challenges. Another study found that while remote workers greatly value the flexibility it offers, 70% of them still cherish working alongside colleagues and building real-world relationships.
The hybrid work model addresses this problem to some extent and encourages team building by ensuring that employees get together at the workplace at least a few days every week. Still, fully flexible hybrid companies where employees decide when to come to the office can face these problems.
Working from home (or anywhere outside the office) sounds exciting because it offers freedom from the cubicle. But it can become a challenge if you don’t manage the distractions of the outside world.
When working in your office, everyone is focused on work and conscious of their time. In a remote setting, you can easily get distracted by family engagements and outside events.
Not suitable for all industries
Thanks to faster internet speeds, smartphones, audio/video communication tools, and project management software, thousands of companies worldwide have successfully adopted hybrid work schedules.
However, this model still doesn’t work for many industries where the workers need to be present in the office to ensure service delivery. For example, manufacturing companies cannot operate without their factory staff on duty. Similarly, there are many other business models where the hybrid work structure isn’t a feasible option yet.
Difficult to collaborate without the right structure in place
The hybrid workplace can only function properly when you have the right processes and tools in place. You need to employ project management and collaboration software and other necessary tools to ensure that projects stay on track and your remote employees deliver work on time.
Without transparent processes and tools, managers can be forced to micro-manage their remote staff since they cannot see them working all the time. This can lead to conflicts between employees and hurt productivity.
Allowing employees to work remotely and access vital business information from anywhere exposes organizations to several cybersecurity risks. For example, weak passwords or a lack of proper user authentication can lead to data theft and security breaches.
So, it’s crucial for businesses to create a solid cybersecurity plan and train employees to ensure data security before switching to a hybrid or fully remote work model.
How to build a successful hybrid work model for your organization
Now that we’ve discussed the risks and opportunities of a hybrid work model, let’s see how you can apply it to your business.
Decide If Hybrid Work Is Right For You
Don’t switch to a hybrid work culture just because everyone else in your industry is doing it. Instead, ask yourself if it’s the right decision for your business and employees.
Carefully calculate the costs and benefits associated with this transition and see if you’re getting a positive ROI.
If you decide to move ahead with the change, determine which hybrid model works best for you. For most companies experiencing a hybrid schedule for the first time, the 3:2 model works the best as it allows them to experiment without making too many changes.
So, carefully study the different models and the challenges other companies in your industry have faced implementing them so that you’re fully prepared to handle them.
Invest In Process Development And Technology Stacks
Switching to a hybrid work model requires transparent processes and a significant investment in tools and software. Processes ensure that your remote and in-office staff know exactly how to operate. They’re your shield against productivity and efficiency losses.
Technology and software, on the other hand, provide your team with the secure environment needed to operate in a hybrid model. Invest in project management tools, synchronous and asynchronous communication software, cybersecurity services, and any other necessary tech to operate remotely.
Take All Stakeholders On Board For Planning
Switching from a conventional working model to hybrid work is a big change for most companies. So make sure you take all the key business stakeholders, including functional managers and critical business operation heads, into confidence before making a move.
Plan the transition with your management’s feedback to ensure that everyone sees this change as a win-win scenario.
Develop A Communication Plan
When teams go hybrid, communication becomes vital to business growth. You must lay out clear communication protocols using which employees can collaborate and get projects done.
Finalize the tools and modes of communication, including the different synchronous and asynchronous tools and when to use them. For example, you can use Loom for project updates, presentations, tutorials, and even daily work briefs, and keep live video conferencing solutions like Zoom for a weekly all-hands meeting.
Similarly, you need to choose the communication platform where your core company collaboration takes place. For example, it could be Slack with different channels for every team or department.
Whatever protocols you decide, you must document and share them with your team so that everyone knows how to engage with co-workers in a hybrid setting.
Build An Inclusive Work Culture
Despite all the technology and processes, a hybrid work model cannot function properly without an inclusive company culture based on empathy, trust, and equality.
Everyone must acknowledge that remote work comes with unique challenges; sometimes, others need to step in to cover for their coworkers. Similarly, employees need to be responsible in exercising their remote work privilege and ensure they do not manipulate the system.
And above all, managers and decision-makers should discourage discrimination and reward employees solely on their performance instead of their location, race, or any other bias.
Systems and processes help create such cultures. But ultimately, it’s up to a company’s leadership to emphasize these points and value them with their actions to start a trickle-down effect that encourages everyone in the company to become a part of the same culture.
Gather Feedback From Employees To Improve
Hybrid work models are still evolving, so feedback is critical in improving your processes and productivity. Engage your employees through surveys, listen to their challenges, and understand if hybrid work has made their lives easier or harder.
Learn, adjust, and improve to find the optimal model that works best for your company.
Are you ready to switch to hybrid work?
Countless companies have already switched to a hybrid work model, so it’s certainly doable, especially if you’re in the tech industry. However, as we’ve discussed, you must carefully evaluate the challenges and risks associated with this transition to ensure it benefits your business.