Making the Switch to a Hybrid Work Model

Making the Switch to a Hybrid Work Model

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written on May 2021 by Marek Grygier

After a year full of change when it comes to working conditions, it’s worth thinking about the way traditional companies may change post-pandemic. CEOs and teams across the world have experienced some of the benefits that remote work can give firsthand. However, it seems naive to imagine that companies forced to go remote will choose to stay that way completely.

There is a traditional pull for employers to stick to an office setting. It’s easier to monitor what is going, meetings can be held face-to-face, and old habits die hard. Employees on the other hand value more freedom in the way they work. Modern technology has progressed far enough that employees feel they can do their jobs anywhere. As you can see, the expectations of both sides are hard to reconcile completely.

We’re probably much more likely to see a mixture between the old and the new as an answer to this. Rather than have extremes, a gentler transition can be made to fit each company’s unique situation. This is where the hybrid model comes into place, making it a topic worth exploring for anyone who might be interested in keeping some aspects of remote work.

What’s a hybrid work model?

A hybrid model is simply a mixture of remote work and colocated office work. It combines certain aspects of working remotely with some of the traditional aspects that we expect from an office. But there isn’t just one kind of hybrid work model out there. Here are some of the most common setups:

  • One central office with hot desking for workers who are in the office
  • One central office and full-time remote workers
  • One central office mandating people to spend a particular number of days in the office 
  • Multiple offices and hot desking
  • Multiple offices and remote workers 
  • Multiple offices mandating people to spend a particular number of days in the office

You can also find differences in the approaches taken towards work processes. A company has the choice to work with more remote methods than office-based ones or vice versa. This is especially important when it comes to communication and collaboration.

The amount of time people spend in the office is up for decision too. It may be that everyone has the choice as to when they come in, or perhaps a mandated amount of days. It’s also not uncommon to see some office-based teams, along with fully remote workers who may even be spread across the globe.

What happens with the office?

A hybrid work model still has physical office space for those who wish to use it or for more permanent office-based teams. Those working remotely may visit from time to time, or not at all depending on their location and company’s needs. With this model, all the standard office processes must be made accessible to remote workers in some way. This might include conference call technology for meetings or a budget for travel to the office if needed. Remote workers should receive equal opportunities to collaborate and participate in office life.

Primarily remote teams may even spend a few days in the office occasionally. There are a lot of different possible versions of the model that we will explore later on. With the changes to working conditions that we’ve seen over the past year or so, a hybrid model looks like a fair possibility for many companies post-pandemic. A large number of people who have experienced the benefits of working remotely now want to keep a certain level of freedom.

What are the different types of hybrid work models?

A hybrid remote model may seem self-explanatory, but there are a huge amount of ways you can do it. From the list and examples given above, there is a combination that can essentially suit whatever needs you may have.

The type of hybrid work model you use comes down to the nature of your work and how your teams approach it. The current situation your company finds itself in can also affect the kind of hybrid model in place. If you have already implemented some remote practices, you are much more likely to move further towards a more distributed setup.

Remote-first versus office-first

A key difference in hybrid work models is how a company handles the way that people work. There is usually a correlation between how much freedom people have to work remotely and the approach taken. Hybrid companies can take an office-first approach based more on the processes you would have in a standard office. 

Some teams may be permanently in the office, with remote employees occasionally coming in for meetings or tasks. Every employee could perhaps be allowed to have some flexibility in when they come and go. Running all through this is an emphasis on traditional office activities. The strengths of the office and being near to your colleagues is played up to.

A remote-first hybrid model is the opposite path available to take. This method favors collaboration and communication techniques you would see with remote workers and teams. In this case, asynchronous communication is commonplace. Physical meetings are not needed, and only perhaps take place if everyone happens to be in the office.

Rather than replicate what goes on in an office, teams cooperate with the benefits and advantages of remote work in mind. This includes long periods of concentration without distractions known as deep work, and primarily communicating in ways that don’t require an immediate response.

Hybrid work models that evolve with your company

For some employees and teams, there is simply no other choice than to work physically in an office. Physical access to tools is required or perhaps clients and customers have to be dealt with face to face. Here, a hybrid work model simply isn’t possible.

But for companies that deal more with knowledge-based work, a hybrid work model is likely to creep in over time rather than perhaps be chosen straight off the bat. For a lot of colocated offices, hybrid changes have only really been implemented as a response to the global pandemic. Policies and practices are still trying to replicate the office, and communication and habits are very office-driven. 

As time goes on, remote-first practices become more common and both employees and employers recognize the benefits of remote work. You might have already seen this with 74% of CFOs announcing their plans to keep some employees permanently remote, even after the pandemic.

Your company may even start hiring global talent and employees who may never visit the office or physically meet their teammates. As time goes on, it’s much more likely for the focus on remote work to increase rather than turn back. At the end of the scale, you might even see a transition to a fully remote company. 

All these models above end up being an evolution of the one before. So, when it comes to the different types of remote hybrid models, time also is a key factor.

What are the benefits of each hybrid model?

When figuring out how your company can work in a hybrid-remote manner, there are a lot of different options to choose from. Each combination will likely favor either remote workers or office workers. It can be hard to strike a good balance, and you will usually see better results by picking one approach and applying it thoroughly. 

The way you organize your setup will revolve around the amount of time you allow people to work remotely, or even who is allowed to work remotely:

Total freedom when choosing to work in the office or remote

If you decide to give your employees a choice, you need to figure out a few ground rules of what is and isn’t allowed. Will you let your employees travel while working? Will you start hiring internationally? How do you effectively manage your office space according to everyone’s choices? As you can see, there are multiple ways to do this which will affect the pros and cons of the situation.

Pros: You can significantly save on office space with this model. More likely than not, employees will choose to spend more time working remotely than with other setups due to its desirability. This can also have benefits on their work-life balance and even productivity. 

You can also implement remote-first practices if you find that most of your teams stay outside the office. Everyone can begin to tap into the benefits of deep work and asynchronous communication. If you choose to, you can begin adding in fully remote team members from all around the globe.

Cons: The natural socializing you experience in an office will inevitably take place less. You may also find that some of your office-based activities have to be reduced. Team meetings are much less likely to take place in person, but the importance of this depends on how much you value them.

While you will need less office space, managing your exact needs will be more difficult. It may be that on a per-person basis, your operating costs are slightly less efficient.

Some days in the office and some days remote

Working on a schedule of three days in the office and two remote, or vice versa, is also a popular choice. This model tries to combine the best of both worlds, but can still place a lot of emphasis on office-first practices.

Pros: Not every company is ready to allow a lot of remote freedom. Employees may lack the experience and managers too in managing such a change. However, a few days outside of the office will have much less of an impact on the status quo.

Meetings, socializing, and spontaneous communication will all still take place to an extent. If your particular industry or work relies on these then it’s a definite benefit.

Cons: Some employees may feel that they can do more of their work remotely and don’t need to come in for the prescribed office days. The days that people work remotely also might have to mirror office practices, making their work more inefficient.

Your hiring is also limited to people who can come into the office. This significantly limits the talent pool that your company can work with.

Some permanent office workers and some permanent remote workers

This model is another attempt at trying to bring together the benefits of remote and co-located workers. However, it has its own set of benefits and drawbacks which differ from the previous model. In this case, your permanent remote workers may even be new hires to the company. Going hybrid may be an expansion plan, rather than changing any conditions for your existing workers.

Pros: The benefits of office work can be maintained for some teams and employees. At the same time, you can hire fully remote individuals, perhaps even globally. If you wish to, you can even distribute work across time zones on a relay basis. 

Cons: Working methods and practices might differ across teams which can lead to clashes. If office employees and remote ones both have to use the same approach, one side will end up at a significant disadvantage with their work.

Which one is the best for my company?

To answer this question, there is a combination of factors that you need to take into account. This includes the type of work being completed, your employee’ skills and thoughts, and even logistics.

Realistically you will be choosing between a remote-first model or an office-first. As we mentioned before, a hybrid model’s strength lies in its flexibility. Your model can change, and probably will as you find out more about what works and what isn’t so suitable.

What do my employees want?

At the end of the day, your employees will be the ones who end up having to deal with the policies put in place. While you may think that one setup is a good idea, your colleagues will often know better what would actually work for them.

Technical teams may need access to specialist equipment that they simply can’t use at home. Some teams may find that they really can do most of their work from home. This question is really one of the most important to ask, so make sure you get it right!

How much of my team have remote experience already?

If everyone is new to remote work or only has a small amount of experience, this can affect the path you want to take. Moving most people out of the office or giving them a large amount of freedom to work from home might not be best at first. The level of remote training or experience your team has will change over time, meaning that you can still change your hybrid model further down the line.

Does my team need physical access to the tools needed to work?

Some industries rely on tools that can’t particularly be moved into a home office setting. In this case, a hybrid model with an emphasis on the office is likely necessary. Expensive computer equipment needed for intensive modeling or high-quality printing is a good example of machinery that can’t be taken home. If these are used daily by employees, then this has to be taken into account.

Do we rely on an open-office environment for bouncing around ideas?

If you work in an agency environment or one that values quick, on your feet thinking, then it’s best to emphasize the office in a hybrid setup. There are of course tools that can help facilitate these types of meetings in a remote setting. Nevertheless, you will often find that the exact situation cannot be replicated so well from home.

Do I want to hire globally?

One of the key benefits of having remote workers is that you don’t need to necessarily hire locally. You can make the most of employing workers all over around the world and tap into a global talent pool. If this is the case, then your hybrid model will have to make considerations for these workers. If you end up having a large number of workers with no real possibility to come to the office, then remote-first is going to be much better suited to your organization.

Implementing a hybrid work model

Once you’ve decided what is best for you and your teams, you’ll need to undergo some preparation for a successful implementation. The whole process will probably take some time and iterations as you learn, attempt, and see what’s successful.

There are however some key, basic points to consider that can get you on your way:

Create a solid remote work policy

You probably already have some basic rules in place for remote working. It’s also likely that these aren’t enough and you will have to build on them. Our primary recommendation would be to seek some outside help in creating this. It can help you avoid common pitfalls and traps and get started with good remote work straight away.

If you either don’t have the budget or time, then there are plenty of amazing resources on the net. Search for interviews, workshops, and articles from companies like Buffer, Doist, and GitHub. All three of these have information and tips on the best way to implement good remote practices.

Once you have created your new remote work policy, distribute it to your teams and make it compulsory to read. This makes sure that everyone is familiar with your new processes and also gives them accountability.

Invest in technology and infrastructure 

This is one of the most important points to take care of. Your teams are going to have to rely much more on hardware and software to complete their working day. Laptops must be provided, as well as company-wide access to communication and collaboration tools. If you don’t have these already, then you may need to invest a significant amount to set up your remote hybrid model.

Consider your office space needs

Depending on how many people will be using your office, you may not need such a large space. If your employees spend a certain amount of days working remotely, then you might be able to downsize and implement a “hot-desk policy”. This involves the same space being used by multiple employees depending on who is in the office.

Rearrange your meeting spaces for more individual use 

It’s commonly known that a meeting that contains remote employees and other team members working in the same physical space is not optimal. It’s much better for everyone to be individually connected to a call. Your team members working in the same office will, whether they mean to or not, end up dominating the conversation and collaboration.

Encourage and incentivize communication

Once you have some people at home and others in the office, communication can start to degrade. Remote employees can find themselves more isolated and missing out on key conversations and meetings. Both environments need a free flow of communication to make sure everyone is on the same level. To do this, find communications tools that will actually be used by your employees by asking them what they would be happy to implement. 

Make sure that conversations are happening by creating incentives for people to talk. Development at work can be directly tied to being visual and letting others know what you are doing.  

Support your culture actively

Some of the activities and culture building that happens naturally in an office will need to now have an online element too. While you can still have your office-based social events, you’ll need to incorporate remote aspects too. Remote team-building with a budget for employees to order in food and drink always goes down well.

If you have perks, make them more flexible for those who are working from home. Digital service subscriptions, online training courses, and gift cards are simple and easy ideas to implement. While they do take up some budget, they give back in ways that you can’t put a price on when it comes to company culture.

Have a dedicated person in charge of remote practices.

Appointing someone to look at remote policies, methods, and practices will help centralize decision-making and take some pressure off the executive level. You could even look to find a part-time Head of Remote or consultant who can work ad hoc. If your teams or employees have any issues with remote work specifically, there then is someone they can go to directly rather than just general HR. 

Closing thoughts

A remote hybrid setup is an attractive one that seems more achievable now after the past year. With a lot of teams working fully remotely, a gradual return to some aspects of the office seems almost inevitable. The big leap that companies have to make has already been made for them. 

The key issues to tackle aren’t however so much the logistics, but more the cultural, collaborative, and communication changes that have to be made. The wealth of options available do however make it certain that there is a solution for all.

Hybrid-remote work policies benefit from the fact that they are by their nature flexible. Going fully remote is quite a huge change for any company. Going hybrid, however, can be as big or as small as you need.

Remote-how organizes The Remote Future Summit, the largest virtual conference on remote work. The company is also the creator of the world’s leading, exclusive community for remote work experts. Remote-how constantly educates the market by offering remote work certification programs for managers & HR professionals, all delivered by seasoned practitioners.

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