A hybrid work model is an operational arrangement that lets employees work from multiple locations, including their home, the office, and other company sites. This article talks about the three types of hybrid work models, their benefits, and challenges they present, and outlines key best practices for successful hybrid work.
What Is a Hybrid Work Model?
A hybrid work model is no longer just a workplace benefit – it is a necessity for companies as they return to the office after the pandemic. Hybrid work combines the best of both worlds, allowing employees to work flexibly while ensuring in-person collaboration and availability in the office. For these reasons, employees and employers worldwide have shown an overwhelming preference for hybrid work models.
In India, 80% of IT companies and global capability centers (GCCs) are likely to adopt a hybrid work model, as per a BCG report. Deloitte also found that Gen Z and millennials in India prefer this work arrangement since it provides them the opportunity to improve work-life balance. In the US, a survey indicates that 85% of the workforce, across senior, intermediate, and entry levels, want to go hybrid. This necessitates a clearly articulated and effective hybrid work model that will govern when, where, and how employees will work.
Definition of hybrid work model
A hybrid work model is defined as an operational arrangement that accommodates employees logging in and working from multiple locations (including the office, their home, customer locations, and other company sites) so as to optimize productivity, costs, and employee satisfaction. Typically, hybrid work models are characterized by:
- Autonomy – Employees, team leaders, and/or managers have the freedom to decide how much time is to be spent in a shared workplace.
- Balance – A hybrid work model strives to find the right balance between office and home-based working, without overdoing either one.
- Uniqueness – The model is typically tailored for each organization, depending on the nature of work and business goals. It may also be personalized on an individual employee level.
- Technology focus – Hybrid work relies heavily on technology to enable collaboration, coordinate schedules, and support the delivery of work.
- Virtual operations – Several HR functions, like employee training, onboarding, engagement activities, recognition, etc., are done virtually in a hybrid work model so that everyone can be included, no matter the location they’re in.
- Agility – Employees must constantly adapt to new ways of working, as they switch from collaborating with colleagues in person to work remotely from home.
Before the pandemic, most companies had some provision for hybrid work in order to accommodate employees who could not come into the office for exceptional circumstances. Occasionally, the model also helped make overseas hires and work with top talent who could not relocate. But today, it is a business must-have since many employees are used to working from home, and comapanies have seen that remote and hybrid working also unlocks productivity gains.
Before we look at these benefits of hybrid work models, let us understand the different types of this model that companies may choose from.
What Are the Types of Hybrid Work Models?
A hybrid work model can be loosely defined as a mix of work-from-office (WFO) and work-from-home (WFH). The onus is on the company to decide the model that is most suitable for them, the scheduling system they want to follow, the environment they want to build, and the policies they lay down. Companies can choose from three types of models when switching to hybrid work:
1. The flexible or “at-will” model
In this model, there is maximum flexibility as to when and where employees will work. Either team leaders or team members decide which location is most conducive to productivity. They may also be able to choose their best productivity hours, logging in outside of the usual 9 to 5. The benefit of this hybrid work model is that it allows employees to come into the office at will, and arrange their work schedules around their personal obligations. However, it can turn into a logistical nightmare for the company unless there is close coordination and full transparency, since different teams and employees may want to follow vastly different schedules.
2. The remote-first hybrid work model
As the name suggests, this hybrid work model focuses on working from home, which means that employees still work remotely most of the time. There are several advantages to this approach – companies can save on utility bills, employees enjoy a good work-life balance, and there is a fixed schedule of when people are expected to come in. However, this hybrid work model can result in a breakdown of collaboration and employee engagement, unless it is closely monitored. Moonlighting (or employees taking up second jobs) is another risk. Recently, companies like IBM, Infosys, and Wipro have spoken about this issue arising from hybrid working from home.
3. The office-first hybrid work model
Here, employees spend the majority of their working hours at the office and can choose their preferred work location the rest of the time. Importantly, they can choose to come into the office on non-office days as well. There are several hybrid work model examples that demonstrate this approach. For example, Google mandates that workers must come in at least three days a week, and this could be more depending on the specific nature of the job. Tesla is another example that requires employees to come into the office at least 16 days a month.
The office-first model is suitable for jobs that hinge on in-person presence, such as serving the customer in person or constantly meeting with vendors, partners, regulatory authorities, etc. However, without the right work environment, employees may quickly get frustrated and start looking for new opportunities. Indeed, a survey of 32,000 workers across the US, India, the Netherlands, and other countries found that 64% of respondents would consider quitting if they had to return to the office full-time. Achieving the right balance, therefore, is essential with an office-first hybrid work model.
What Are the Benefits of the Hybrid Work Model?
As discussed in the previous section, there are several benefits of hybrid work models when implemented correctly. This includes:
- A rise in employee morale – Multiple research reports have shown us that employees overwhelmingly prefer hybrid working to other models. Even when they come into the office, employees would like to choose the time and work hours as per their convenience. As a result, hybrid working models can lead to more satisfied employees who feel valued by their organization. They also meet in person occasionally to strengthen team bonds. Together, these factors can cause a rise in employee morale.
- Access to top talent anywhere – This is one of the biggest benefits of having a hybrid work model. Companies hire top talent no matter their location without putting pressure on employees to relocate immediately. Employers also enjoy the flexibility of hiring across different time zones, since hybrid working can also accommodate asynchronous shift hours. To enable this, HR needs to have a strong remote hiring and virtual onboarding capability.
- Opportunity to build an inclusive workforce – Discrimination due to proximity bias is one of the challenges of hybrid working. However, this type of work arrangement also opens up new ways to promote inclusivity. For example, new parents, particularly women, who would be excluded from the workforce otherwise, can now continue to be gainfully employed. Those from disadvantaged economic backgrounds no longer need to undertake the cost of relocation. By hiring across locations, companies can build a diverse workforce.
- Savings on rent and utilities – For employers, a hybrid work model can translate to significant operational savings. Some companies may be able to scale down their office premises. Others can simply switch off utilities like the lights or ventilation and air conditioning systems when employees are not in the office. The Global Workplace Analytics and the Design Public Group found that companies could save approximately $11,000 per year per employee working in a hybrid model.
- Increased agility – Another important benefit is increased agility. Once companies switch to hybrid working models, they become adaptive to situations that may once again interrupt business as usual (BAU). For instance, in case of inclement weather or challenging road conditions, employees will continue to work remotely. In fact, the pandemic has proved that a hybrid work model is an essential part of business continuity planning.
- Higher productivity – While the hybrid work experience varies from one person to another, most employees report an increase in productivity. As per PwC, 57% of companies witnessed a productivity uptick due to hybrid and work-from-home models. Further, 6 in 10 respondents in a global Cisco study found hybrid working models to be better for productivity. As a result, companies may witness greater output and improved business results when they adopt a hybrid work model.
- Stronger organizational culture – In the long term, a hybrid working model can improve organizational culture by opening up the lines of communication, encouraging transparency, empowering workers, and supporting diversity and inclusion. These are fundamental pillars for a positive culture, which, in turn, improves employee engagement and retention.
8 Hybrid Work Model Best Practices You Must Follow
To unlock the benefits of hybrid work models, organizations need to follow eight best practices:
1. Ask for employee input when designing the hybrid work model
Too often, companies implement hybrid work policies without consulting with their workforce. Research suggests that an astonishing 66% of companies have designed, or, are designing, post-pandemic policies with little to no input from employees. This can cause major problems later on, such as employees feeling dissatisfied due to hybrid work models not aligned with their personal requirements, or a decline in productivity. Therefore, it is a hybrid work best practice to conduct thorough research – through company-wide surveys, employee focus groups, and limited pilots – before implementing a full-scale model.
2. Be honest about business needs
A company may have many reasons for switching to a hybrid work model, but this does not always match business needs. For example, a technology company may feel compelled to go hybrid on an at-will basis, simply because it is the norm among competitors. However, it could be that the company is very young, and teams need an office-first approach for a few quarters until the initial release deadlines. Therefore, it is a best practice to always consider one’s unique requirements when selecting a hybrid work model, ranging from long-term targets to quarterly goals, and external stakeholder dependencies (like checking in with regulators).
3. Invest in an efficient digital workspace
A digital workspace is at the heart of a successful hybrid working model. This is where employees gather, regardless of their location, and speak with one another on a daily basis. The digital workspace also serves as a place for data gathering, documentation, work delivery, and knowledge management. In fact, the platform acts as a window to the entire company and its facilities when an employee is not at the office. That is why it is so important to invest in a powerful platform for collaboration, video calling, and hybrid work from home, which prioritizes:
- Integration of various tools in one place
- Minimization of shadow IT (i.e., the use of unauthorized tools)
- Connected workflows between different tasks
- Productivity analytics to monitor hybrid work success
4. Digitize employee experience management
While employees use digital tools for their work, the same capabilities must be available to HR. Organizations must remember that HR departments, too, are working in a remote or hybrid manner. Therefore, they need robust cloud-based software that can be accessed anywhere, and that can help manage the various facets of employee experience digitally. For example, Darwinbox HR software enables the end-to-end digitization of people processes, from payroll and time & attendance to employee engagement and rewards. This allows a hybrid working model to thrive since HR can support and optimize essential processes for hybrid employees as well as for themselves.
5. Factor in individual employee preferences
An effective hybrid work model must make room for individual needs and preferences. Does a specific team member work better over the weekends? Does another employee, who is a new parent, need to start work slightly later in the day? Would it be difficult for an employee under tremendous work pressure to come into the office for the mandated three days a week? The work arrangement must be able to take such variables into account. Typically, employees should convey their needs to a direct manager so that the hybrid work schedule can be tweaked accordingly.
6. Complement the hybrid working model with asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication is another hybrid work model best practice to remember in 2022, and it is relatively easy to implement. Managers should not insist on real-time communication all the time, since this would erode the notion of flexibility. The goal of a hybrid work model is to empower employees and give them autonomy, which means that they should not have to sit glued to their desktops from 9-to-5. Instead, workers can be available for a stipulated set of collaborative working hours. The rest of the time, they can use asynchronous communication tools to share their thoughts and deliver work – whenever it is most convenient for the sake of productivity.
7. Lead by example when it comes to work-life balance
Depending on how it is implemented, a hybrid working model could either promote or negatively impact work-life balance. In certain worrying scenarios, hybrid work can create the expectation of being “always on” and constantly available, as the lines between office and home are blurred. That is why managers, team leaders, and senior executives should lead by example. They should demonstrate that it is okay to disconnect after work hours and draw healthy boundaries when one is unavailable. They can also lead by example in other areas of well-being, such as being vocal about and seeking help for mental burnout.
8. Establish a strong collaboration between IT and HR
The last hybrid work best practice for 2022 is the stronger collaboration between IT and HR. Switching between different work locations and staying flexible requires the intervention of powerful, easy-to-use digital tools. The organization must have a solid cloud infrastructure that employees can access from anywhere. IT and HR departments must be able to work together to deliver essential employee services (e.g., benefits disbursal, payroll, self-scheduling, etc.) on a daily basis. Therefore, companies should encourage communication and collaboration between these two teams and train them together on hybrid work policies.
The Challenges of the Hybrid Work Model, and How To Handle Them
Hybrid working models have pros and cons. While the benefits are obvious, it is equally important to be aware of a few challenges.
First, a hybrid work model may prove to be challenging for new hires who have just joined the company. Business leaders fear that it will be difficult for new hires to integrate into the organization (66%), that personal relationships may deteriorate (43%), and that there could be a dip in creativity (37%).
As a solution to this problem, organizations can invest in cloud-based HR systems that can adapt to hybrid working models. This also brings about a cultural shift, as HR departments realign their people processes and strategies to operate in a location-agnostic manner.
Second, hybrid work models can increase the risk of employee burnout, so organizations should tackle this head-on. There could be an implicit pressure to remain “always on,” and switching between work environments can also cause stress for some employees. Breakdown of communication is another factor that negatively impacts mental health and may lead to burnout.
As a solution, companies must communicate their hybrid work policies very clearly and set boundaries restricting employee availability and manager expectations. They can also incorporate modern performance management systems into the hybrid working model to reduce appraisal-related stress.
Finally, hybrid work models could lead to discrimination, if not implemented correctly. In the UK, for instance, 55% of hybrid workers fear that they will be discriminated against and that organizations will favor those who spend more time in the office. As a solution to this problem, companies embracing hybrid work need to publicly commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). They should also provide DEI training, set up inclusive collaboration systems that do not leave anyone out, and focus on performance alone and not working hours or physical presence.
Ultimately, the success of a hybrid work model comes down to communication and having the right support systems in place. The work experience must be without friction, and companies must be transparent with their workforce as to the reasoning behind each policy. This will ensure widespread adoption, and eventually the success of your new working model.
To learn how cloud-based people management software can help establish and manage a hybrid work model, ask for a Darwinbox demo today.