The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed how we will work in the future. When we fully return to the workplace, we should expect it not to be quite the same as we left it before COVID-19.
Crowded meetings, hallway conversations, and handshake greetings will most likely be a thing of the past. Instead, we can expect greater spacing between desks and changing presences of different employees and staff depending on the day of the week.
The changes to our physical work environment are only part of what’s new. As many employees have spent months in the home office, their work-life balance expectations have evolved. Some may be happy to return to the office, others will choose to spend more time working at home, and still, others may not return to the office at all.
This new working landscape is called hybrid working and many organizations are currently grappling with adopting hybrid working models as standard.
What are hybrid work models?
Basically, this work model means a combination of mobile working, semi-mobile working, and office-based working.
That may sound like another name for a flexible work model. However, there is a clear difference. With hybrid working, employees are given the choice of how, when, and, crucially, from where they work best. This allows them to balance the demands of their professional and personal lives as they need to.
“The rise of the hybrid work model can be attributed to the fact that in the post-pandemic world, many want to return to the office, but not full-time,” explains Rick Kershaw, Peakon’s Chief People Officer. “In the curfew, many employees have realized the benefits of the home office. They spend less time commuting, focus better on their work, and have more autonomy over their work schedules.”
“Hybrid work models could be an effective solution in this changing situation,” he adds. “Many organizations have adopted a flexible work culture. They now want to expand that and move to a scenario that is more hybrid and offers that increased flexibility.”
“Clearly, many employees and workers still need the office as a central place that connects us through work. However, much of the need to come into the office comes from presenteeism so others can see you’re busy,” he says. “A hybrid workplace could do away with that and instead focus on work outcomes and what value they add.”
Hybrid work models may be an effective solution for organizations as we move into the next phase of work. But working must work for all employees that mean the CEOs as well as executives and freelancers.
A solution for the future of work will look different for every organization. It will also depend on finding the right balance between giving employees a place to do their best and driving the success of the business.
Communication and trust are essential for hybrid work models
As many organizations make the move to hybrid working, clear communication and mutual trust will be essential to mastering it effectively.
“First and foremost, it’s about staying connected,” Dave advises. “Employees and co-workers need to feel like they are part of something bigger and have a connection to the organization. The most important thing in this transition to different ways of working will be how organizations maintain a connection with their employees regardless of whether they work in teams or alone.”
“For this way of working to work, employees need to feel that they are trusted enough to do the work in the way that works best for them. It can’t be judged,” Dave adds. “Everyone in the company needs to understand what they are working toward, and there needs to be clear goals and processes. Both of those things happen when there’s a corporate culture based on transparency and dialogue.”
Managers play a central role in the successful implementation of this approach. As an essential bridge between the organization and its employees, they can make a significant contribution to increasing autonomy, motivation, and trust in their teams and for this, they need the support of the company.
In addition, Dave addresses the point of equal opportunity that is, providing all employees with the conditions to do their best under the circumstances. This is also an important component of the process. Those who work from home quickly feel excluded or have a different employee experience than their colleagues in the office. This is something companies need to realize and think about before introducing a hybrid work model.
“Flexibility is not felt the same way by everyone,” notes Dave. “That’s why it’s so important that companies considering a hybrid model have a framework within which employees are free to make decisions as they see fit. Depending on the position, that might mean just coming into the office for a quarterly meeting or setting objectives and building an expectation toward that.”
Reflections on the topic of hybrid work models
Creating a culture of trust
Successful implementation of a hybrid model depends on a corporate culture built on mutual trust between companies and their employees. This refers to both directions: Employees must trust the organization to provide for their safety and security. Equally, they then expect the organization to trust and support them to do their jobs in the way that works best for them.
Focus on communication
As mobile or partially mobile working takes hold in teams, companies will need to improve their communications to ensure that each individual is reached. They will also need to invest more in technology to enable their teams to collaborate effectively regardless of where they work from.
The relationships that managers build with their teams will also become more important in this context. In doing so, managers will need to trust their team members to do their jobs independently.
“Employees and staff need to be comfortable with their relationship with their manager and understand what outcomes are expected of them,” Dave says. “If there’s ambiguity there, then employees and staff become insecure.”
We all work differently. Hybrid work models require companies to give employees the freedom to decide how, when, and where they can be most productive and perform at their best.
“Some employees may share their home with their partner or children,” notes Dave. “Others may be very productive working from home. In the future world of work, we need to offer our employees the freedom to balance these different needs and work in a way that works for them.”