Is Hybrid (Really) the Future of Work?

working from home vs office

The Coronavirus pandemic has irreversibly altered the landscape of work across the world. Thousands of employers, many that would never have previously considered operating their businesses remotely, have been forced to make the switch from on-premises to fully remote.

As cautious optimism for an end to the pandemic grows, these businesses are considering how they might operate when the working world settles into a new normal. Will they remain fully remote? Will they return to the office full-time? Or will they settle on a mix of both?

What is a Hybrid Work Model?

The hybrid work model refers to a work structure that is partly remote and partly on-premise. This might mean that some employees work remotely while others work in an office, or that individuals work some days at home and other days in the office.

These sorts of work styles might have seemed far fetched to some just a year or two ago, but they have become much more common since the outbreak of Covid-19. With the pandemic as a forced trial-run, employers now have a much better idea of which departments and employees operate best on-premises and which are thriving working from home.

Reverting to a hybrid model might seem like a natural choice for businesses that had never tried remote before the pandemic and still have office space to return to when the dust settles, but reverting back to on-premises work, even partially, will come with new challenges.

It may not be worth it to try to put the remote work genie back in the bottle now that it has gotten out and granted the wishes of so many. The fact that so many have truly enjoyed the remote work life means that forcing a return to offices is likely to ruffle some feathers.

In a recent study from Buffer, 94 percent of employees who started working remotely as a result of the pandemic selected that they would like to work remotely for the rest of their career.

What Does Hybrid Work Look Like?

Hybrid work can take a few different shapes. As an example, businesses in the post-Covid world might elect to have one or a handful of departments work from the office, while other teams within the business operate completely remotely.

This strategy prioritizes in-person collaboration for the business segments that benefit most from it, while also allowing those departments that are well-suited for remote work to continue working from wherever they choose. It makes room for many of the positives of both working from home and working remotely, while mitigating some of the cons.

Another option for implementing a hybrid work model is to designate certain days of the week as onsite days and others as remote days. This style of hybrid work allows businesses to batch collaborative work on office days, like meetings or training, and independent work on remote days. 

In practice, the fact that the post-Covid world will be very different from the pre-Covid world means that any return to the office, even in a hybrid model, would likely need to occur in stages due to safety concerns.

Since the pandemic has evolved differently across different regions, it’s unlikely that there will be a standard best practice for the implementation of hybrid work. Plans to make a return will need to include clear guidelines on how it will be rolled out and what will happen if there’s a Coronavirus outbreak in the office or local community. 

Just as remote work protocols were planned and adjusted over time, so should hybrid work plans. Once a hybrid model is in place, employers should continue to communicate closely with employees not just about expectations, but also about how they feel about the new work environment. 

Hybrid Beats a Return to the Office, But Falls Short of Fully Remote

The benefits of working from home have become obvious over the course of the pandemic. The data from the proof-of-concept that was 2020 show that remote work has been both well-received and far more advantageous than most would’ve imagined.

Numerous studies show that two thirds of people want to work from home, 36 percent would choose it over a pay raise, and 80 percent consider it a job perk. In addition, more than two thirds of employers have reported that remote workers exhibited increased productivity and major companies like BestBuy and Dow Chemical have seen productivity increase as much as 35 to 40 percent in remote workers. 

Employees are more satisfied and more productive when working from home.

hybrid work employee

Despite the general consensus of data supporting the effectiveness of remote work, not every business owner feels comfortable operating at 100 percent remote. For some, a hybrid work model may serve them better than a fully remote one.

In those cases, hybrid work will allow businesses to cultivate employee interaction, collaboration, and in-person connection while also capitalizing on some of the pros of remote work and mitigating the cons.

There may be danger in moving to a hybrid work model as a reactionary response by those who are afraid of making the permanent switch to remote work. It’s likely that some of the same employers that were against remote work before the pandemic will be resistant to the new normal when the pandemic is over, and therefore will settle on hybrid.

While it may feel to them like they are getting the “best of both worlds” and recapturing the feel of pre-covid normalcy, it’s more likely to be a half-measure that feels forced and ultimately upsets a workforce that has become accustomed to the joys of working from home. 

Pros of the Hybrid Work Model

When compared to a full return to on-premises work, there are a lot of pros to choosing a hybrid work model. 

Employee Satisfaction

There’s a reason that so many workers prefer the option of remote work to strictly on-premise work. They like it.

Studies show that having the ability to work from home increases employee satisfaction. This is thanks to things like reducing the daily commute, reduced stress, and more time for fitness.

Working from home eliminates some of the on-premises inhibitors to a healthy work-life balance and allows employees to spend more time doing the things they most enjoy outside of work.

Productivity

While it may come as a shock to some, working from home does in fact increase productivity.

Studies show that 45% of workers are more productive working remotely. Respondents to a recent survey said that they had less distractions at home versus in the office.

According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), increases in productivity can be as much as 15%-40% and a 15% increase in productivity equates to getting 74 new employees at no cost.

Employee Retention

Since employees that are able to work from home are happier and more productive in their work, they’re also far less likely to leave their employers in search of another.

A Stanford University research study found an overall decline in attrition of 50 percent among employees working from home. Another survey showed that 79% of workers would be more loyal to their employers if they had flexible work options, including remote work.

Reduced Costs

Fewer people in the office means less office space is required. By allowing a portion of the workforce to operate from their own homes, businesses can downsize their office space and reduce overhead expenses.

Businesses can save an average of $11,000 per employee per year when remote work is allowed just half the time.

Cons of Hybrid Work

Just like on-premises and remote work models, hybrid work has its drawbacks. As a mix of both, it has the cons of both.

Personal connection between colleagues may be diminished by departmental separation, creating an environment of differences might breed animosity, and new cyber-security threats emerge.

Cost 

Even though hybrid work offers some cost savings compared to on-premises work, it’s still far more expensive than remote work models. The $11k per employee per year mentioned above is half the $22k saved with fully remote work.

In addition, employees can expect to pay $2,500 to $4,000 more individually when splitting time between home and the office versus simply staying remote. 

Inequality of Remote Bandwidth

Not all employees will be able to pull off hybrid work. Although the benefits are huge for some, they can be detrimental to others for the same reasons.

Those with limited access to resources or with extenuating circumstances at home may actually see reduced productivity. Office is a much more level playing field for those that don’t have an adequate work space or connectivity at home.

Employee Disconnect and Polarization

Without direct, onsite access to colleagues, personal connections are bound to falter. While this isn’t necessarily a universal truth of remote work, the hybrid model can exaggerate it.

Separating the business into departments of on-premise and remote can create an atmosphere of other. Those who are asked to work from the office, but would prefer to work remotely, may feel slighted. The same goes for remote workers that would rather work in the office.

This polarization can be toxic to work culture.

Cyber Risk

Operating in a remote setting makes it more difficult to ensure cyber security. Any work from home done on unsecured networks increases the risk of cyber threats, which means businesses will need to hire more cybersecurity experts.

The lack of internal supervision also makes businesses more vulnerable to internal data security issues. 

the future of work

So, is Hybrid the Future of Work? 

That depends.

Although it might seem like a logical choice for some businesses currently locked into an expensive office lease, it may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Remote work has proven to be so beneficial that anything less will likely be viewed by most employees as a poor substitute to the happier, more productive work lives they’ve been living while they were fully remote.

Most of the data that has been gathered throughout the course of the pandemic shows that remote work is the ideal working environment for most people and businesses. It makes employees happier and more productive and it saves employers tons of money. Although hybrid may seem like a reasonable option for the near-future of work, it remains to be seen whether it will be a sustainable choice for the long-term.

 
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