1. In the aftermath of COVID pandemic lockdowns and enforced home working across a large fraction of the population in 2020-2021, traditional distinctions between on-site working and remote working are increasingly blurred.
2. Hybrid working is a model which can combine the best of both options while mitigating their risks. With the right structures and culture, a hybrid office model carries advantages for both employers and workers, potentially saving everyone money and time while boosting workforce engagement and productivity.
3. Alongside its benefits, the hybrid working model also presents challenges for executives, HR leaders and workers alike, with its inherent flexibility and choice, having the potential to cause uncertainty and disruption unless well planned and supported. It may not be the right workforce model for every company.
4. Businesses who depend on a single defined approach to workplace presence may decide to remain entirely onsite or entirely remote, or with rigid rules around which workers are allowed to work in individual locations (e.g. companies which have little or no office space by design, companies which require physical input to tasks).
5. To make a success of hybrid working, it’s important to have understanding and buy-in from senior executives and the workforce, along with full integration of reliable IT, and a shift in corporate culture and systems to accommodate location flexibility while eliminating old stereotypes around on-site vs remote workers. A hybrid workplace strategy can help ensure a smooth transition and implementation.
Hybrid working may be the new normal for many businesses but does require intelligent planning and tailored corporate support structures to deliver full potential benefits. The shift to hybrid working may be a natural progression for some companies who have already embraced a shift to partly or entirely remote working during the COVID pandemic, but won’t suit every business.
If you’re wondering whether a hybrid working model might be right for your business, our article can help you start thinking through the issues you need to consider.
What is the hybrid work model?
Traditionally there has been a clear distinction between on-site working in an office and remote working from home or virtual workers in another external location. Each working model carried its own set of apparent advantages and disadvantages.
On-site working model
Physical presence with co-workers naturally promoted collaboration and creativity. On-site workers were more visible to senior management in terms of personal presence and work value. Proximity bias meant that they often enjoyed greater inclusion and access to development opportunities, along with the promotion and pay benefits that flowed from this.
On the down side, presentee-ism, commuting and the long meeting culture could eat into the private life, productivity and mental health of those based entirely in an office.
Remote workers could avoid commuting time loss as well as minimising office distractions and stressors (e.g. extraneous meetings). This could mean more opportunity for deep thinking and focused working. With a proportion of the workforce fully remote, businesses could pay less for renting office space, paying utility bills etc.., as well as being able to tap into a wider pool of diverse talent, not tied to office geography.
However, lack of human contact, exclusion from team discussions and social events, and less attention from senior management, could be depressing for remote workers as well as leading to lower pay and fewer promotion opportunities.
The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown responses around the world in 2020-21 radically shook up the world of work, normalising remote working and raising long-term questions about the future of on-site working, with many innovations including remote team-building opportunities. The enforced large scale remote working experiments we’ve seen during this period have proven a great success in some areas.
A number of major companies have already chosen to allow remote working on a permanent basis and others are following, with the hybrid working model often a natural match for those with a distributed workforce, a four-day workweek or asynchronous working practices. As well as boosting resilience to further COVID outbreaks, companies may aim to save money on renting office space and maximise their access to worker talent by loosening geographic constraints.
Other business leaders are keen to recall all workers to the office and return to their pre-COVID working model as far as possible, fearing a loss of team and corporate coherence, fewer opportunities for brainstorming and collaboration, and the chance of poor performance going unnoticed for longer.
In 2022, many businesses and workers are still trying to reconcile the opportunities and risks associated with either on-site or remote working. An increasing number are coming to the conclusion that the answer lies doesn’t lie at either end of the pendulum’s swing but somewhere on the line between the two, with the concept of hybrid working.
The hybrid working model combines aspects of both remote and on-site working. Sometimes, people refer to a hybrid model as a ‘remote-friendly‘ working environment (as opposed to ‘remote first’). This could mean workers splitting their time between home and office 50/50 (or any other agreed proportion of time), or committing to be in the office for specific activities (e.g. brainstorming and client meetings) while completing other work activities remotely.
What are the advantages of the hybrid work model?
Hybrid working has the potential to combine the benefits of both remote and on-site working while mitigating the potential negatives associated with each. For example:
- Lower commuting stress and fewer wasted hours for workers not attending the office every day
- Integrating remote working options allows for a wider, more diverse talent pool, with all the benefits this can bring
- Hybrid teams can potentially cover a wider range of hours and activities than fully remote or fully on-site teams
- Businesses can save money by renting and maintaining smaller office spaces which aren’t designed to accommodate their full workforce at any one time
- On-site working time can foster fast information flows and informal collaboration opportunities, while remote working time can be used for periods of deep, uninterrupted work
- Work-life balance can be more easily achieved, leading to greater employee engagement and productivity. For this reason, employees often list hybrid working as one of the most appealing non-mandatory benefits an employer can offer.
What are the disadvantages of the hybrid work model?
Hybrid working is a collection of working model variants rather than one single definitive model. The multi-faceted, versatile and flexible nature of hybrid working is both an advantage and disadvantage.
If not properly managed, hybrid working can accidentally lead to increased rather than reduced stress and fatigue for workers. Maintaining both an on-site and home office can lead to an erosion of the distinction between home and work which leaves a worker feeling “always on”, and responsible for managing two workplaces instead of one. This can be a fast-track to burnout, and is sometimes known as ‘digital presenteeism‘.
The hybrid office concept can also introduce unpredictability and lack of structure into the corporate environment, sweeping away old certainties over who works where, and how they work. Managers might find it harder to task, monitor and support workers shifting between locations.
For HR teams and estate management, having no standard location for a “normal” worker can be challenging. For example, location- or commuting-linked allowances, loans or benefits may have to be calculated individually (for more on these non-wage benefits check out our article on in-kind benefits and our guide to implement fringe benefits). Those managing and maintaining office spaces and equipment will need to do more work to establish how many people are likely to be present regularly in a given location and what furniture, IT kit and stationery supplies will be needed.
How to implement a hybrid work model
To get maximum benefit from hybrid working and avoid potential pitfalls, managers and teams need to be fully committed to a hybrid model. Business goals need to be met and workers need to be able to operate on a a level playing field regardless of location, while preserving a good work/life balance.
In many cases, business and HR leaders will want to develop a functional hybrid workplace strategy, aligned with any existing remote working policy and overall workforce strategy. This will look different across companies of different shapes, sizes and sectors but will generally:
- Explain the rationale of hybrid working and its benefits for the company and workforce,
- Integrate and reflect the views and preferences of the workforce,
- Ensure that corporate systems (communications, IT, information management, HR etc..) are designed and structured to support hybrid working,
- Promote a culture and processes which integrate hybrid working (e.g. flexible on-boarding, rationalisation of meetings) and support work-life balance for all.
Areas for action may include:
1. Clear leadership
Senior leaders must agree and communicate a hybrid working policy effectively so that workers are in no doubt about the company’s culture and ways of working. Business leaders must be clear about the things that matter (e.g. delivering key business goals, on-site attendance at client meetings) and those that don’t (e.g. being at a desk at 9am, physical attendance at all team meetings).
2. Quality, diversity and inclusion
In effective hybrid working, remote, virtual and on-site workers should be treated equally, especially in terms of pay and recognition for equivalent work. Practices which discriminate unfairly should be reviewed and replaced, with the focus on high-quality working and delivery of business goals rather than hours worked or personal familiarity with senior management.
3. Staff wellbeing and mental health
Managers need to set and enforce clear boundaries around both home and office working to discourage presenteeism or “always on” mindsets, either of which can exhaust workers and undermine productivity. Measures might include banning non-emergency emails and calls after normal work hours, setting reasonable deadlines for projects, and maintaining a clear overview of workstreams in order to spot problems early and prevent teams unnecessarily working long hours.
4. IT provision
Hybrid working can only function if a workforce has the hardware and software needed to deliver business goals to a high standard regardless of location. Workers will need laptops etc.. that work equally well in home and office environments, access and training for relevant collaborative working platforms, high quality broadband in both home and on-site offices.
5. Resetting of corporate defaults
Corporate practices may need adjustment to allow for workers moving between both on-site and remote modes. An obvious move may be to ensure that all normal meetings can be attended virtually. Setting up login details for remote access should become standard practice rather than an optional add-on.
Horizons has extensive experience of supporting hybrid work models through its international PEO and payroll solutions. Get in touch today to discuss your company’s hybrid workforce needs and obtain a tailored quote.
Frequently Asked Questions
A hybrid workforce strategy should flow from and link directly to any overarching workforce strategy, remote working policy, and other relevant corporate planning. It should also integrate and reflect the views and ideas of the workforce in order to ensure their buy-in and the strategy’s compatibility with workstreams in reality.
Hybrid working integrates the key features of both on-site working and remote working, allowing location flexibility in line with worker needs and preferences. In a hybrid office environment, staff may choose to regularly work partly from home and partly from the office or vary this according to their schedule and business demands.