COVID-19 leaves in its aftermath a world much different from the one before. Organizations as well as people are now scrambling to adapt to this “new normal.” A world where colocation within the same office space, five days a week may never occur again. Hybrid workplaces have emerged as the solution for many companies, although the rules and intricacies that guide such an approach are still being established.
In this article we explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of the hybrid work environment as we continue to work towards adapting it.
Defining Hybrid Work
Let's start by understanding what we mean by hybrid work environments. A hybrid workplace brings together employees working from remote locations and those working in a central office. It’s the best of both worlds if managed well by employers and employees alike.
A recent survey conducted by Envoy and Wakefield Research shows that “almost half of employees (47%) would likely look for a job if their employer doesn’t adopt a flexible working model.” Thus, adapting to and planning for a hybrid work environment has become an imperative and organizations need to ensure that there is equity and inclusion as well as efficiency in the system as we move forward.
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Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hybrid Work Environment
Some of the advantages of the hybrid work environment include:
Flexibility: Most employees have thrived in an atmosphere of flexibility where they have been able to balance work and life, spend more time with family and friends and manage their work commitments along with personal responsibilities.
Reduced Commute Times: Increased productivity as a result of diminished commute times is a huge advantage — so much so that most people do not ever want to return to sitting in hours of traffic. This has not only led to an increase in overall productivity but overall well-being due to decreased stress and better rested individuals.
Ability to Work From Anywhere as Needed: Employees, clients and companies alike have used this to their advantage in working from across the globe. While employers saw reduced spending on office spaces, employees thrived on the ability to travel as well as work.
Cost Reduction: The ability to work remotely has led to overall savings of commuting and parking cost for not only employees but the employers as well as they have seen immense savings in facilities and building costs. Many organizations have forsaken satellite office spaces and modified existing spaces for hoteling.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work environments and they come with their own unique challenges. As organizations focus on Diversity and Inclusion, studies have shown that virtual work environments have left a number of employees feeling marginalized and isolated. It is challenging to build an inclusive work environment over Zoom calls and Webex links. Companies are still trying to figure out ways and means to provide for ongoing collaboration so the mix of people working remotely and within the office can collaborate optimally. The lack of boundaries between work and home have increased stress levels as people find their working hours bleeding into the rest of the day, with limited breaks. Employers and employees need to work together to establish norms that promote employee well-being, mental health and work life balance.
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Planning for a Hybrid Future
How can leaders implement an integrated hybrid work policy that benefits both employees and employers in the long term? Below are a few things that are critical to start planning:
No Employee Left Behind: Foster a culture of inclusivity, where remote and office workers can work in tandem. A huge challenge for hybrid work environments is the unintended marginalization of the remote workers. A thoughtful approach to planning hybrid collaboration sessions and meetings will help promote a culture where remote and office employees remain in sync.
Personalized Work Plans: A hybrid approach is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Organizations will need to work with every individual to create a personalized work and performance management plan, while being mindful of scaling this approach for larger organizations.
Continuous Collaboration: The work environment should promote collaboration through personalized communications, regular touchpoints between employees and managers and encourage frequent online interaction. While remote workers cannot enjoy an onsite gym or subsidized cafeteria, they can be invited to company-sponsored local gym membership or the occasional lunch delivery.
Technology Is Key: Picking the right tools and building out the infrastructure is key to success in a hybrid world. Lessons learned in large transformations have taught us that any large-scale organizational change needs to happen in conjunction with technology to be successful and vice versa. As hybrid work environments scale up, the digital collaboration environment will inevitably become the one constant that ensures everyone is connected and up to date with progress, whether they are in the office, at home, in the field or traveling.
The basic terms of employment are undergoing a major disruption. Organizations that don’t want to be left behind need to plan permanent policies for remote and hybrid work. It is an imperative in a workplace where employees are rethinking their careers and exploring the art of the possible within work and life. A well though out hybrid plan can provide the edge needed as organizations race for the best talent in the post-pandemic world.
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