The future of hybrid work

By

Max Shepherd-Cross

·

March 1, 2022

The tech research experts at Gartner dubbed the Covid-19 pandemic “the biggest experiment” in the history of work. While the experiment is far from over, Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index Report indicates employees want flexibility in when and where they work, as well as more face-time with their colleagues.

Employees don’t just want remote work, though —  they actually want a mix of remote and in-person. In short, employees want hybrid work.

The exact definition for hybrid working may vary slightly from one workplace to another, but generally, hybrid is a work arrangement where employees have the flexibility to work from home or remotely for a few days a week and from the office for the rest of the week. One Accenture report identifies hybrid as the ability to work remotely 25% to 75% of the time. Also, as a tool that facilitates hybrid work, we think the most successful hybrid work arrangements allow employees to choose their hybrid schedule.

Hybrid models allow you to reap the benefits of remote and in-office work while boosting employee satisfaction and productivity.

The format for in-person work is well-established, and there are plenty of guides for remote work, but there’s no real playbook for hybrid work — how to get started, how to manage hybrid teams, and how to navigate hybrid work logistics. This guide is the ultimate resource for employers and employees new to the world of hybrid work who are ready to adapt to flexible work options.


The State of Hybrid Work: What Do Employees and Employers Think?

Various research studies show that employees support hybrid work. But few employers are fully equipped to make hybrid working a success in their organization in terms of updating policies, providing infrastructure, and communicating with employees.

Employees want hybrid work to stay but need better resources when working from home

Findings from multiple surveys show employees believe hybrid work is the future, but they’re not fully satisfied with the technology and infrastructure provided by companies for working from home, which makes the hybrid work environment inconsistent and unproductive.

As Gartner’s report found, workers globally value the ability to choose when, where, how much, with who, and what work they do. In an Accenture study, 83% of workers support a hybrid work model.

However, a Microsoft survey found that many employers don’t provide adequate resources to staff working remotely. Even after a year of going remote, 42% of employees said they lacked essential office supplies for their home office. What’s more, 46% of employees said their employer didn’t provide any help with remote work expenses.

Employers anticipate the demand for hybrid work, but few are prepared to implement hybrid work in their office

In multiple surveys, employers said they expect hybrid work to be more common, but they don’t have the infrastructure or policies in place to implement hybrid work successfully.

Only 21% of employers in a Deloitte survey expect employees to return to the office full time post-pandemic. And a  McKinsey study also found employers expected to reduce office space by 30% in anticipation of hybrid work.

But Deloitte’s survey revealed that only 51% of employers have formal policies in place to implement hybrid work. Further, almost half of the respondents had no clear plan or strategy for employees’ return to the office or managing their work schedule, while only 6% had plans to redesign their office space to suit a hybrid work model.


What are the Benefits of Hybrid Work?

Hybrid work benefits both employers and staff because it offers employees greater flexibility while also reducing strain on company resources. Additionally, workers are more productive and report better interdepartmental communication.

Better work-life balance

Hybrid work allows employees to go into the office when needed and also gives them the flexibility to work from home when personal events arise.

Fully on-site workers often feel as if they’re “stuck at work,” even during personal commitments like parent-teacher meetings. It’s no wonder hybrid workers are likely to be “thriving and energized” while onsite workers are likely to be “disgruntled and fatigued.”

Remote workers grapple with work-life balance too. Even though they get to accommodate personal events in their work schedule, remote employees may feel like they’re always working, as they find it difficult to unplug from work. The benefit of work-life balance is highlighted by a McKinsey finding: employees with young children are most likely to prefer flexibility at work. Its also likely that employees with crowded homes, older kids, and pets might find it difficult to separate their personal and professional life and value a space to work away from home.

Optimal use of office space and resources

With only part of an organization’s workforce coming in to work each day, businesses can downsize their offices and save money on resources like power and maintenance. In fact, more than 90% of companies in a survey reported cost savings due to remote work.

Even companies that are partially remote or hybrid can expect some of the savings with practices like hot desking, an arrangement where employees use desks on a rotating basis, that can reduce the overall need for office space. Businesses can also repurpose saved desk space for activities like collaboration or quiet work.  

Greater levels of productivity

Hybrid work gives employees the flexibility to work when and where they want (in-office or remotely) and choose the activities they want to perform at home and in the office. Such levels of flexibility boost overall employee productivity.

Employees prefer coming to the office for collaboration, training, and spending time with colleagues while they can complete admin and individual tasks at home. But fully remote or in-person models don’t give employees the flexibility to choose a work location as per the task’s requirements.

Better collaboration and communication  

Some in-office time, as provided in a hybrid model, facilitates chance encounters at the watercooler or before and after work meetings and helps employees network outside of their immediate work team. This may lead to higher levels of innovation and better collaboration within an organization.

However, one survey found that while working remotely, most employees’ connections to their immediate work teams strengthened, but their interactions with distant networks diminished.  As lockdowns eased and employees started returning to offices, communication with distant networks improved.

How to Create a Productive Hybrid Workplace

You can’t transform into a hybrid workplace overnight — you need to weigh the decision carefully,  implement the right processes and policies, and prep your office space for the change, too.

Assess Your Organization’s Current Level of Readiness for Hybrid Work

While several surveys point to a growing demand for hybrid work, you’ll first need to consider what your employees want, if you have the resources to go hybrid, and if there are any legal issues to think about.

  • Are your employees ready for hybrid work? Run surveys before you impose hybrid work to understand employee preferences. Tackle any employee concerns upfront, and alleviate anxiety by openly sharing proposed changes and plans.
  • How will your leadership demonstrate support for hybrid work? Ask leaders if they’re willing to work from home part of the week to reinforce support for hybrid work. If not, employees might still believe the office to be the center of important conversations and opportunities.
  • Are there any legal requirements you need to fulfill as a hybrid employer? Think about remote work laws that may also apply to hybrid. For instance, ask your legal team if you need to reimburse employees for home office equipment and commutes and how to deal with overtime work laws, if they apply in your state or country.  
  • Which hybrid work policies will you need to implement? Consider issues like reimbursements, equality between in-office and remote employees, health and wellness stipends, and code of conduct. (We’ll cover these in detail below)
  • What will your company’s hybrid work schedule be? While employee-led hybrid scheduling works best (we’ll explain why), you can also choose to mandate company-wide in-office days or ask team managers to schedule in-office days for their teams.
  • How will you manage communication as a hybrid company? Think about how you’ll manage company-wide announcements and updates, culture-building conversations (games and happy hours), and collaborative conversations (meetings and brainstorming) so all employees feel included and updated.  
  • Will you need to redesign your office for hybrid work? Consider the activities your employees will use your office for, like collaboration or deep work, and the spaces required to accommodate these needs.

Prepare for Common Hybrid Workplace Management Challenges

Hybrid workplaces often suffer from problems like communication silos, inequitable distribution of opportunities between remote and on-site workers, and inefficient workspace scheduling. To reap the benefits of a hybrid workplace, plan an environment that’s prepared to face those challenges head on.

Get rid of communication silos:

  • Default to public online communication channels, like open Slack groups for updates, announcements, and even praise.
  • Nudge employees to use team channels or forums for questions or sharing information that benefits everyone.
  • Record work-related meetings like standups, monthly all-hands, and updates. Then make the videos available for everyone.
  • Assign one channel for each type of communication. For instance, Slack for quick updates and questions, email for weekly updates, and Front for client-facing communication.
  • Use specific documentation platforms like Tettra or Notion to help employees quickly find company information like policies and procedures.

Encourage more informal interactions:

  • Proactively communicate with employees and encourage them to come to the office at least once a week.
  • Host in-person happy hours or games.
  • Use apps like Donut (a Slack add-on) to facilitate random watercooler chats between employees, no matter where they're working.

Provide equal advancement opportunities:

  • Announce new work opportunities in public channels or as part of company-wide updates, so remote employees can see them too.
  • Track how often employees are promoted and their corresponding in-office time to identify instances of unfairness.
  • Send anonymous surveys to collect employee feedback on this issue.

Design an office suited for hybrid work:

  • Send employee surveys to find which activities employees expect to use the office for.
  • Reduce the number of individual desks and add more private rooms for calls, conference rooms for meetings, and casual seating for brainstorming.
  • Keep quiet spaces for deep work, too, so employees can be productive in the office.

Make workspace scheduling efficient:

  • Use desk booking software like Officely to allow employees to book desks and spaces in advance.

Implement Hot Desking Successfully

If only part of your workforce comes to the office each day, it makes sense to have employees use desks on a rotating basis instead of giving everyone an assigned space. This practice is called hot desking.

Your employees might be averse to hot desking due to the loss of personal space or a perceived desk shortage. Addressing employee concerns and using desk booking software are two ways to make desk sharing a success in your office.

  • Share hot desking plans to garner support. Inform employees about the need for hot desking, the potential benefits, the rules, and the tools you plan to use to manage desk sharing.
  • Use advanced desk booking to avoid a desk shortage. Assign numbers, colors, or other criteria to desks in your office. Ask employees to log the days they’ll be in the office and the desk type they’ll use. Use software like Officely to automate desk booking.
  • Set rules around desk etiquette. Ask employees to avoid eating at desks and to keep workspaces clean. Employees should also leave workstations as they find them and with all equipment intact.
  • Design workstations to accommodate health and equipment needs. Provide equipment like double monitors for employees who need them. Ensure all workstations are designed to prevent issues like back pain, eye strain, and headaches.
  • Provide lockers to store belongings. Allow employees to store keepsakes like photo frames and calendars to make their temporary desk feel like their own.

Write A Clear Hybrid Work Policy

Clear policies for both remote and in-person work will build equitability in your hybrid workplace and help you communicate additional employee benefits designed specifically for hybrid work.

  • Explain hybrid eligibility for different roles in your office. Mention scenarios where onsite or customer-facing roles might request to work from home.
  • Set your hybrid work model and schedule. Specify the number of remote workdays per week allowed in your office. Also specify if employees can pick their work-from-home days or if managers will set the schedule.
  • Discuss employee compensation if salary will be affected by an employee’s location or work preference.
  • Add additional wellness and health benefits to help employees thrive in a hybrid environment, like virtual health consults, on-demand stretching and yoga, and free mental health counseling.
  • Summarize IT security measures, like strong passwords, antivirus software and virtual private networks (VPNs), and blocking suspicious websites.
  • Explain how you’ll track employee performance in a hybrid environment. Define success in terms of output or performance instead of input or hours worked. For example, “success for a content writer means X articles produced in X weeks.”
  • Emphasize equitability among workers, with measures like tracking employee promotions and announcing advancement opportunities publicly.
  • Develop communication guidelines, like what channels and tools to use, the expected response time, and who to contact for questions.
  • Review reimbursements to support hybrid work, like equipment for home offices.

Read more:

How to Successfully Manage Hybrid Teams

Managing hybrid teams can be tricky because managers need to cater to two sets of employees — in-office and remote — while providing them with a consistent work experience.    

To support your employees in a hybrid environment, provide sufficient remote resources, give employees the flexibility to set their schedule, and offer opportunities for feedback.

Provide Consistent Benefits and Resources

To keep employees’ experience consistent irrespective of location, provide the same equipment — laptops/computers, internet connection, firewall — for their home office too. You can also provide a monthly or one-time stipend to cover work-from-home expenses.

If you provide in-office benefits like gym rooms or childcare, offer similar monthly stipends for employees to access these remotely.

Let Employees Set Their Hybrid Work Schedule

Employee-led hybrid work schedules maximize employee productivity by allowing them to choose their workplace depending on their tasks for the day. Employee-led scheduling also offers employees autonomy and ownership over their work and encourages work-life balance.

To make the most of employee-led hybrid scheduling:

  • Use desk booking software, so employees can book space in advance and avoid overcrowding the office.
  • Schedule specific times for social interactions to encourage team bonding.
  • Ensure employees have access to meetings and events, irrespective of office presence (more on this later.)

Make Hybrid Meetings the Norm, and Design Better Meetings

Hybrid meetings allow all employees to be part of decision-making and brainstorming, regardless of where they’re working. As an added perk, hybrid meetings also offer complete flexibility for employees with their hybrid work schedule since employees don’t have to be in the office for meetings.  

To host better hybrid meetings, first get the hybrid meeting tech set up right. If there are only three to four people in the room and the rest of the participants are remote, in-office attendees can connect from a single laptop, and it should be sufficient for everyone to see and hear each other clearly. However, meetings with a large number of in-person participants might need additional equipment to boost audiovisual clarity.

Specifically, you’ll need:

  • external cameras
  • microphones
  • speakers
  • a screen

Follow basic rules to keep your meeting productive — set an agenda, stick to your start and end time, and assign a time limit to each item on the agenda. Additionally, explain where the cameras, microphones, and screens are placed in advance so attendees know where to look and how to speak.

Assign a moderator or facilitator — someone other than the meeting host — to keep an eye on comments from remote participants and cues like hand-raises or someone unmuting themselves. In large meetings, moderators can also relay feedback and questions from in-room participants to virtual attendees and vice-versa. To encourage remote attendees to participate, open questions and discussions to them first, and then to the room.

Use interactive tools like Poll Everywhere (phone-based polls), Miro (virtual brainstorming), and Google Docs (collaborative documentation) to replicate meeting activities virtually and allow everyone to participate.

Host Interactive and Engaging Hybrid Events

If done poorly, hybrid events can feel like recorded webinars to remote attendees. A good hybrid event is packed with enough opportunities for both sets of attendees to participate and contribute.

We’ve already gone through the tech set-up for hybrid meetings, but for hybrid events, you’ll likely need more equipment, like multiple large screens or cameras.

To make your hybrid event equally engaging for remote attendees:

  • Deliver event food and accessories to virtual attendees too. Use tools like Grubhub, Swag.com, and Gifts for the Good Life for delivery.
  • Use a hybrid event platform to manage event registration, Q&A sessions, and host networking sessions. Popular hybrid event platforms include Socio and Bizzabo.
  • Assign multiple moderators for discussions and Q&As, so remote attendees can easily voice their opinions.
  • Provide opportunities for both sets of attendees to network with each other. Set up online chat rooms, discussion groups, and virtual breakout rooms (like in Zoom) for one-to-one interactions. Host games like escape rooms and scavenger hunts using tools like Elevent.

Read more:

Your Hybrid Work Tech Stack: All the Tools You Need

Whether onsite or remote, your employees will need technology to enable collaboration, productivity, and communication.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of tools for hybrid teams, but it’s a good starting point to help you work more efficiently.

Desk Booking Software

Desk-booking software helps avoid a shortage of company resources like desks, amenities, tools, and conference rooms. Employees can reserve needed office space and equipment in advance, and managers can track attendance and manage capacity.

What to Look For in Desk Booking Software:

  • Compatibility: Consider if the software can accommodate the size of your team and the locations you need to manage.
  • Features: Apart from desk booking, look for the ability to log attendance, send health surveys (important during Covid-19), and track office usage analytics. Also consider if it allows employees to book only desks or other amenities too, like conference rooms and parking spaces.
  • Ease of use: Check if your shortlisted software is easy to learn, navigate, and use on a regular basis. Ideally, the software should fit into your employees’ day-to-day workflow, so they use it consistently. For instance, Officely is available as a Slack add-on, which means employees don’t have to download or learn another app.

Examples of Desk Booking Software:

  • Officely: Offers desk booking, booking for amenities like parking spaces, contact tracing, office analytics, and automated scheduling. All in Slack. See how Officely compares to other desk booking software.
  • Robin: Features include desk booking, health surveys, analytics, room booking, and schedule management.

Tools for Hybrid Events and Meetings

While you don’t need new tools to make your hybrid meeting or event successful, some software and hardware built specifically for hybrid events can add to audiovisual clarity and make your event successful.

  • Tools like Meeting Owl Pro are equipped with a 360-degree camera, speaker, and mic, so everyone in the room is clearly visible and audible to remote attendees.
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  • Portable speakerphones like Jabra Speak can be placed at the center of a conference or boardroom, so in-person attendees’ voices are clear to remote participants.
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  • Hybrid event platforms like Socio help you manage event registration, onsite badge printing, check-ins, set up video breakout rooms for networking, and allow participants to access event details like agendas and updates from a single platform.
  • Virtual games platforms like Elevant let you host virtual games like escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and quizzes, as well as online cooking classes and yoga sessions.

Communication and Collaboration Tools

Communication and collaboration are key in a hybrid team, so you don’t end up with silos or bottlenecks. Pick one specific communication tool each to discuss quick thoughts and questions, share updates, and meet and collaborate virtually.

Tools for chat or instant messaging:

  • Slack: Real-time communication tool for remote and hybrid teams. Allows teams to set up channels to discuss different topics and projects. Also offers add-ons like Donut, which are helpful to facilitate social interactions between remote teams.
  • Loom: Video tool to create short, 2-3 minute videos with screen captures for walkthroughs or collaborative presentations. Helpful for departments like sales, engineering, customer support, and design. Maximum video length ranges from 5 minutes to 6 hours, depending on your pricing plan.  

Email tools:

  • Front: Customer communication tool that lets team members assign incoming emails to each other and draft responses to customer emails together. Employees can simply tag teammates to keep them in the loop or ask them to respond to a message.
  • Gmail for Business: Professional email tool to create a corporate email account associated with your domain for all employees. Also offers file storage and sharing as well the ability to start voice and video calls.

Software for hosting meetings or events:

  • Zoom: Software to host meetings with up to 1,000 attendees. Offers breakout rooms as well as instant and pre-scheduling of meetings, screen sharing, file sharing, recording, and team chats.
  • Microsoft Teams: Meeting, chatting, and calling tool for teams and one-on-one calls. Allows up to 10,000 participants to join a video conference call and offers file sharing and polling.

Documentation tools:

  • Notion: Allows teams to build a company wiki or an internal knowledge base. Can use Notion to store employee information, policy documents, company goals, and manuals.
  • Tettra: Allows teams to organize their company information — departments, rules, processes — in one place. Offers Slack and MS Teams integrations, so employees can easily find relevant information in Tettra through apps they use.

Video Tools:

  • Soapbox by Wistia: Webcam and screen recording tool for Chrome to share videos with your team. Allows teams to explain processes and tasks to employees or clients.

Read more:

Before Your Adopt Hybrid Work, Find Out What Your Employees Want

Employee support is critical to the success of your hybrid workplace, so be sure to rally employee support before you adopt hybrid work.

Find out what your employees think about hybrid work first as you mull over your return to work plans. What challenges do they anticipate? How do they think it will impact their productivity? Do they have the tools to work from home successfully ? Use our return to work survey questions to gauge employee readiness and concerns.

Based on how employees feel about hybrid work, think about the policies and processes you’ll need to ensure employees can transition to hybrid work successfully. Next, create a return to work plan to bring employees back into the office safely.

At every stage, communicate with employees to garner support and alleviate concerns. As methods for handling organizational changes recommend, proactive communication is the best way to prepare and win over employees for a big change like hybrid work.

Max Shepherd-Cross

Max is one of the cofounders and CEO of Officely.

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