Nearly 70% of organizations foresee a hybrid workplace. The consensus is that the near- and medium-term future of work is based on a hybrid model, with employees working both remotely and in a physical location, potentially in the same week, according to findings from our own report, Reworked’s 2021 The State of the Digital Workplace

It ultimately comes down to a new realty: how we work has fundamentally changed, and the office workplace will likely never go back to a traditional 9-to-5, in-office schedule, according to Mark Grinis, Ernst & Young (EY) real estate, hospitality and construction leader. "While some companies are slowly migrating employees back to the office, there will be no return to ‘normal,'" Grinis said. "In fact, 87% of companies say the pandemic has changed the role of the office for their organization. Among office-based organizations, 72% are now working with a hybrid remote/home/office approach and 75% of respondents anticipate they will not have any one dominant work location going forward.”

That hybrid-work reality has taken shape for many companies in 2021, with government shutdowns all but lifted and COVID-19 vaccines readily available.

We caught up with a couple of organizations that have lived through the reality of hybrid work post-pandemic: Iboss, a cloud security company based in Boston with more than 330 employees, and Scriptorium Publishing Services, which has fewer than 10 employees and is headquartered in Durham, NC.

Iboss Hybrid Work 2021

Offices Began to Open in June

Eileen Heller, senior vice president of people at iboss, shared iboss’ employee-numbers for its hybrid workforce strategy:

  • Office locations: Headquartered in Boston, with offices in Orlando, San Diego, Plano, Texas, London, and Clark, Philippines.
  • How many remote: 245
  • How many hybrid: 55
  • How many fully in-office: 30

“As a company that provides security via a software as a service (SaaS) offering, we felt comfortable with remote work even before the pandemic,” Heller said. “We actually offered many positions with the option to be remote, well before 2020. Considering our technology supports dispersed workforces, our organization’s transition to pandemic-related remote work in early 2020 was relatively smooth. We started opening our offices up as an option in June of 2021 for London and Philippines and in September of 2021 for the US, for those who preferred working in the office but still offer our employees remote and hybrid options.”

Does iboss have a formal hybrid work policy? The future of work is anywhere, Heller said, and the company adopts to what’s best for its employees' well-being. “This includes,” she said, “offering employees with positions that do not require in-person presence the flexibility to remain remote, come into the office or a hybrid.”

Related Article: HR Leaders Share Their Employee Retention Strategies Amid the Great Resignation

It’s About Working Where They Work Best

How does iboss go about determining who is in office, who is remote, who is hybrid? The majority of positions do not require in-person presence, and for those roles, employees aren’t expected to work from the office every day, according to Heller.

“A productive employee knows where they can produce their best work,” Heller said. “We want to facilitate this by empowering employees with the flexibility and autonomy to choose where they work best. That being said, we are also maintaining our office spaces and welcome employees to use them to enable teams to safely collaborate and socialize.”

Leadership Providing Communication, Recognition

Communication is key as iboss works through its hybrid work program. This includes both clear direction from leadership about the company’s long- and short-term goals and objectives, as well as having the right tools in place so employees feel they can collaborate and communicate well with each other on a day-to-day basis, according to Heller.

“There are a variety of cloud-based apps, like the Microsoft 365 suite, that our employees use to ensure they have what they need to do their jobs efficiently,” Heller said, “but we also encourage teams to meet regularly and have employees connect with peers daily on calls or on messaging apps.”

Many daily wins happen throughout the workday, and being remote may cause those to go unnoticed, Heller added. “We have a robust reward and recognition program to ensure employees feel appreciated and seen,” Heller said. “Virtual volunteering events, employee contests, and team-building exercises are also great ways our teams build camaraderie and stay connected.”

The Future of Work Is in the Cloud

Iboss plans to continue to adopt what’s best for their employees’ well-being by offering flexibility for work location, Heller said. “The pandemic has taught us that daily physical presence in an office is not a requirement to do our best work,” she said.

The future of work is in the cloud, she added, with employees regularly using cloud productivity apps such as Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 and Zoom. “And, as a result,” Heller said, “we’re also seeing an increase in digital transformation. Organizations ranging in size from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies are quickly migrating their networks and security to the cloud to support a variety of remote and hybrid workforces.”

Related Article: Hybrid Office: Digital, Smart and Real

Scriptorium Publishing Services Hybrid Work 2021

Hybrid Workplace Is Nothing New

What has hybrid work been like for a much smaller company?

Sarah O'Keefe, CEO of Scriptorium Publishing Services, said her company was hybrid before the pandemic, with a couple of long-time fully remote employees and the majority of the staff in the Durham office. Remote staff would come to the Durham office roughly once a quarter for all-hands meetings and face-to-face meetings and team building.

“We had the infrastructure needed to support a hybrid operation: no local servers, lots of cloud-based systems,” O’Keefe said. “Slack is our main communication channel. Local employees had the option of working from home, but it was irregular and usually based on personal errands.”

Learning Opportunities

Pre-COVID, the company was an office-based company with a couple of fully remote employees. Now, O’Keefe said, it is a remote company that has an office. “The distinction between ‘local’ and ‘remote’ employees has blurred,” O’Keefe said. “I believe that this is positive for the long run. The biggest downside is that our office space strategy is obsolete. We moved into our new space in February 2020 and had plans for the meeting spaces. Our office space needs are totally different today.”

When COVID hit, the company was able to leverage its previous investment in hybrid operations to go fully remote. This transition was surprisingly smooth, O’Keefe said, adding the team just took its existing support for remote people and extended it. “There was a flurry of equipment moves,” she said. “Relocating office chairs and extra monitors to home. Several people discovered that their Internet connection wasn't up to supporting fully remote work.”

Back to the Office: April 2021

The company went back to the office in April with fully vaccinated staff and has established a cadence of working in the office Tuesdays and Thursdays. “We ask people to prioritize internal meetings and collaboration on those days,” O’Keefe said. “Our principals have prioritized providing a framework that supports work without location requirements. We want to enable our team to do their best work. A year of all-remote work proved that office presence is not a critical factor.”

As for its vaccination policy, Scriptorium asks employees to confirm that they are fully vaccinated, and its office policy says that unvaccinated employees must work at home and not in the office.

The Tuesday/Thursday approach came out of a few things, according to O’Keefe. The company wanted to establish a cadence that supports in-person collaboration.

“Our weekly staff meeting is Tuesday mornings -- because many holidays fall on Mondays,” she said. “We then wanted a second day for potential meetings, but not two days in a row. That left Thursday or Friday, and Friday are often holidays or vacation days. So the core of the week made sense to us.”

Durham County, where Scriptorium’s office is located, did in August reinstitute a mask mandate for businesses. It’s still in effect as of the week of Nov. 8, and the company is making adjustments.

Conclusion: Hybrid Shows Gains, But It's No Easy Road

EY’s Grini said according to recent research from his company there are four significant business areas that have improved by pre-COVID measures: productivity, culture, well-being and operations and processes.

About 57% of respondents say productivity has increased over pre-pandemic measures. Rather than using the disruption as an excuse for stakeholders and shareholders, companies have found ways to enhance output using different working models, Grinis said.

Between 70%-85% of EY survey respondents say their employees indicate that culture and personal well-being are improved over pre-COVID conditions. Of those respondents, 83% report that fewer than half of their employees are in the office full-time. Nearly 60% of companies say the health and wellness of their employees has improved since before COVID-19.

Meanwhile, small to midsize companies are finding it easier to adapt and thrive in a hybrid workplace; 77% of small companies that say culture is better today than pre-pandemic. “Smaller organizations are particularly well placed to maintain or even enhance,” Grinis said, “corporate culture by leveraging effective hybrid location models.”

Not that hybrid work is an automatic panacea for workplace culture and communication. Dion Hinchcliffe, digital workplace analyst for Constellation Research, noted in an October blog post that the biggest concern about hybrid work is the "divide."

"If we look at what top leaders are seeking in hybrid work — I’ve spoken with dozens of CIOs since all this started and many CHROs as well — and if you look at their top goals, there’s a real concern about connecting office workers with remote workers," Hinchcliffe wrote. "Connecting them together equitably is widely believed to be a very hard yet important challenge. Some organizations are in fact just saying, 'we just can’t do it. We’re going to favor the office workers.' A lot are tacitly doing exactly that. And that will really be leaving behind some of their most valuable and most dynamic workers. But many would still prefer not to."