While some companies have embraced a fully remote and distributed workforce, others still see value in convening in a physical workplace. Still others are choosing to leave the decision to their employees.
Enter the hybrid workplace. While not new, the concept of a workplace combining remote and on-site workers has picked up steam over the last two-plus years of pandemic working. But as it evolved over that time, hybrid work has come to mean different things to different people, particularly when put into practice at the team level.
Some companies require teams of employees to come to the office on the same days of the week. Others give employees flexibility to choose when and if they work on location. Inside those broad outlines, there's further variety. Some organizations are offering more remote time and limiting office days to twice a week. Others are implementing more rigid rules.
As companies explore hybrid work, there’s a growing need for a better defined structure for managing on-site and remote work. According to the 2022 Microsoft Work Trend Index, 38 percent of hybrid employees struggle with knowing when and why they need to be in the office, and only 28 percent of leaders have established policies for hybrid teams.
So, when does it make sense for workers to come in to the office? And should companies make hard rules or leave it up to teams?
The Different Flavors of Hybrid Work
Identifying the ideal structure for a hybrid workplace is a concern for many leaders. In a 2021 report based on PwC's US Remote Work Survey, 68 percent of company executives advocated for working in the office at least three days a week. The majority see the office as vital in fostering company culture, employee collaboration and hosting client meetings.
A Gartner report cited four scenarios to structure collaboration in a hybrid world:
- Working together, together: Having teams co-located and attending meetings together.
- Working together, apart: Taking part in virtual meetings although teams are dispersed.
- Working alone, together: Working together in shared spaces but not simultaneously.
- Working alone, apart: Individuals work alone, away from teams.
When many companies are still only contemplating the return to the office, the best strategy remains unclear. Time will tell, and it's likely to be highly dependent on company culture and industry.
Related Article: Why Hybrid Work Policies Need Flexibility
Building a Team-Based Hub for Work
Many employees have become comfortable with remote work, but some leaders worry the absence of physical proximity does not provide the same level of camaraderie or culture as a traditional workplace. Having a hub where workers can congregate and collaborate can help fill that gap.
"The role of the office is still relevant but offices should be a perk, not a requirement,” said Shishir Mehrotra, co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based collaboration software company Coda. While remote work has proved effective for making important business decisions, it hasn’t had the same effect on fostering human connections, he said.
Mehrotra suggested teams hold off-site or informal meetings occasionally to establish trust and build bonds between team members. Even companies operating with a distributed workforce across multiple regions are finding the importance of establishing in-person contact between colleagues and have begun exploring or actually budgeting for hubs or workspaces.
Related Article: The Wrong and Right Way to Convince Workers to Return to the Office
Rethinking (and Replacing) the Corporate Office
Many employees still prefer working remotely and believe they are more productive that way. Forcing a return to an on-site location can have a negative impact on morale. One solution being discussed is for businesses to adjust their real estate strategy to consolidate offices and open up more work areas in other locations.
Gilles Bertaux, co-founder and CEO of Paris, France-based video communication firm Livestorm, said executives should offer a fair approach to hybrid work by offering a travel budget to employees who want to come to the office or meet colleagues elsewhere but are too remote geographically to do so.
At his company, management has set up an equipment budget so that everyone outside of the Paris office could work in a comfortable environment. That includes a work-from-home setup equipped with a MacBook, a second screen, a keyboard and headphones. The company also intends to set up offsite meetings and engagements that will bring employees in similar locales together.
“If everyone is subject to the same rules, there is no concern about fairness and everyone can make their own choices," Bertaux said.
Related Article: Is a Return to the Office Right for Your Company?
Support Both Synchronous and Asynchronous Work
While it can be a good idea to have team members in the office on the same days of the week, employees will grow dissatisfied if there is no flexibility or choice. Organizations need to consider that not all employees may be present in the same time zones or have similar working conditions.
To Mehrotra, this means companies should prioritize a structure that supports synchronous and asynchronous work. For instance, providing the right tools to enable seamless collaboration in and out of the office is key.
“If you have processes in place to seek input at various times and from various team members, you’re likely to communicate better and make better decisions,” Mehrotra said.