A long and empty workplace hallway - Hybrid Workplace Concept
PHOTO: Unsplash/NRD

Over the past few weeks Microsoft announced that it plans to let more workers work from home post-pandemic. The Redmond, Washington-based company unveiled plans to adopt a "hybrid workplace" environment as it copes with the coronavirus crisis. The company said part of its strategy is to permanently offer employees greater flexibility once the outbreak subsides.

Enterprises Working Remotely

"Flexibility can mean different things to each of us, and we recognize there is no one-size-fits-all solution given the variety of roles, work requirements and business needs we have at Microsoft," Microsoft Executive Vice President Kathleen Hogan wrote in a blog post Friday: "To address this, we have provided guidance to employees to make informed decisions around scenarios that could include changes to their worksite, work location, and/or work hours once offices are open without any COVID-19 restrictions."

Most of Microsoft's employees have worked remotely since March. After the health crisis is over, it will be normal for most roles to remain remote less than 50% of the time with manager approval, the company said. Microsoft is not exceptional in this case as many other companies have decided to do the same. Both San Francisco-based Twitter and Square have said more of their workforce can work from home permanently while in May Facebook it would eventually begin allowing most of its employees to request a permanent change in their jobs to let them work remotely.

None of this precludes people working in the office too and what is likely to happen is that many enterprises will enable the emergence of hybrid digital workplaces where the physical and remote workplaces co-exist. So, is this the way of the future?

Flexible Work Policy

Katie Casaday is a marketing content writer at Lehi, Utah-based eFileCabinet. She says that more and more potential employees are looking for jobs that offer greater work flexibility to work where and when they want. If you do not have a work flexibility policy, you maybe losing out on top talent in your industry.

Twenty years ago, it was difficult to make a viable work-from-home policy or to make work flexibility part of the company culture. The technology just was not there yet. Now between Slack, email, and document management systems like Rubex by eFileCabinet, being able to work from home is now not only possible, but in certain circumstances, it might be the better option.

“Whether we’re talking about a pandemic, a natural disaster, or a personal life event, sometimes coming to work in the office just isn’t reasonable, even if you can carve out the time and effort to do your work,” she said.

Having the right technology stack (and teaching your team how to use it properly) is one of the most important steps towards creating an effective work flexibility policy for your company because, as long as people know how to work and communicate from home, you can trust them to do it.

She said: “It’s worth revisiting your work-from-home policy from time to time to see what is and isn’t working. Ask for feedback and ask for what problems it is causing people. Always be sure to iterate and test new ideas out to see if you can improve upon the policy that you have.

Related Story: Why Remote Learning and Online Learning Are Not the Same

Purpose of Work

The current health crisis has most certainly redefined the approach to work. We are witnessing a gradual shift from the concept of work as a place towards its purpose, Pete Sosnowski, VP of people and co-founder at Puerto Rico-based Zety, told us. The economy lockdown has shown that real change to the remote environment requires not only equipment and removing all technological barriers, but a change in an aspect of work culture.

A vast majority of companies around the world were able to experience this new reality and had plenty of time to learn how to adjust to it and, eventually, see the advantages of it. “When the pandemic outbreak subsides, we will face a new future — the future flexible environment that combines advantages of remote and in-house work and meets the needs of all employees, giving them a sense of freedom and fulfilment at work at the same time.

For Austin Texas-based Mark Hammer, CEO of Bloomfire, the future of work is flexitime — a structure that empowers employees to work successfully when, where, and however they can be most productive. "If this pandemic has taught me anything as a leader, it is that flexitime is not a concession but a solution. My team has been at least as productive — and in many cases more productive — since we all started working remotely in March. I cannot imagine going back to a normal routine;" he said. “I still envision the need for an office for meetings in which face-to-face communication is deemed necessary, but new tools are being developed every day that make even that scenario more manageable in a distributed environment."

Fishers, Indiana-based Formstack develops a workplace productivity platform. Chris Byers is the CEO. He says that offering the option to work from home or the office gives employees the option to be able to design a work environment that suits their needs and offers more flexibility for family time or anything else they might want to do outside of work. A hybrid workplace that allows this freedom is the workplace of the future, but for it to be successful, companies must provide employees with proper support and effective modes of communication.

Working for Productivity

The driving force behind the decision to go hybrid or remote should be for employees to be able to work where they feel most productive, comfortable, and healthy, whether this is at home or in the office. Many companies may try to work remotely to cut back on office costs, but this can ultimately lead to workplace inefficiencies.

In order for hybrid and remote workplaces to be successful, companies must invest heavily in HR and onboarding, set clear expectations for employees, and acknowledge that all employees need to meet in-person occasionally, even if they’re fully remote. When these things happen and companies invest in the decision to give employees more freedom, both the employees and the company can flourish. There are three things he suggests companies consider:

Invest in HR and Onboarding

Giving the option to work fully or partially remote allows for companies to tap into a larger pool of talent, as new employees are not required to relocate. Yet, starting as a new employee at a company that works primarily remote can also feel isolating and overwhelming. Proper onboarding can ease some of those concerns and make new remote employees feel prepared, empowered, and more connected to their teams.

Remote Working Goals

Working from home allows for more flexibility, but you do not want your workplace to feel "too flexible." Setting clear expectations between managers and their teams on working hours, project updates, and the best modes of communication helps to build trust and establish boundaries so we are setting everyone up for success.

Meeting in Person

Companies should schedule meetups for our remote employees so they can meet face-to-face and get to know each other outside of work. Additionally, we have found that there are some tasks that are more streamlined in-person. Slack and Zoom are great tools to help teams connect, but when you have projects that require a great deal of brainstorming and idea generation in real-time, it can be more productive to meet up in person, if possible.

What's Driving the Hybrid Workplace

Sammy Courtright, the co-founder and chief brand officer of New York City-based Ten Spot workforce engagement platform agrees, but he says that COVID-19 is not the driver. The truth is the modern workforce has been trending toward becoming a hybrid workplace for years. COVID-19 drastically accelerated its progress, making the hybrid workplace our current and future reality. Here are a few reasons why:

Enabling Distributed Teams

Technology can facilitate effective communication for distributed teams. Additionally, it is facilitating effective communication for today’s students as well. With this in mind, we are already grooming a new generation to step into a hybrid workplace and accept it as the norm from day one.

Commuting and Productivity

While working from home during COVID-19 employee productivity has been just as good, and in some cases better, as when employees were working from the office every day. In fact, not having to commute every day – without increasing or reducing the time in one’s workday, is estimated to result in a 13% increase in productivity.

Financially Viable

It is more affordable for companies to hire employees that 1) do not need to commute and 2) do not have to live in expensive, urban markets. No longer limited to competing for talent locally, companies can now gain immediate access to more and better talent that knows no geographic bounds. Additionally, it makes it easier for them to retain talent by being open and able to accommodate employees that want or need to move out of the area.