Can hybrid work really boost productivity and improve work-life balance? We take a look at some of the benefits and challenges of the hybrid work model.

When the pandemic struck in 2020, companies had to find ways to continue operating as they moved their office-based employees to remote working overnight.

But far from being a crisis-led interim measure, the switch away from the office has revolutionised the way businesses manage their workforces.

Once the initial excitement and shock wore off, business leaders and managers began to evaluate not just the problems the shift to remote working raised but also the gains. And there are plenty of them.

According to a 2021 PWC survey, 83% of employers report that remote working has been a success. And from the point of view of employees, a survey by Poly found that 64% of hybrid workers across Europe and the UAE believe office culture has changed forever, with 82% intending to work from home at least one day a week, and 54% planning an even split between home and office.1

This success stems from various factors and not by simply dividing people into either on-site or remote working. Thanks to a mix of necessity, digitisation, the availability of increasingly affordable tech, and faster and more widely available internet, hybrid working and a distributed workforce are here to stay.

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What is a hybrid work model?

What is a hybrid work model?

And what could it mean for the future of work? First of all, there are several hybrid models. What links them is that they're fundamentally employee-centric.

  • Groups or teams rotating – designated groups of people spend alternate days or weeks in the office using a fixed timetable. This allows companies to keep teams and workstreams together.

  • Working by arrangement – "at will" hybrid working involves people negotiating which days they will work remotely and which in the office daily. Teams manage this formally or informally, using digital calendars and collaboration tools to help employees stay connected and updated with tasks and progress. It's the most revolutionary and employee-centric model and is highly effective in maximising employee safety, productivity and well-being but can be challenging to manage.

  • Office first or remote first – companies decide which model they will prioritise. Adopting an office-first approach means organisations won't have to move too far away from traditional working methods. A remote-first approach, where employees are mainly based off-site, allows you to cut down office costs.

  • Hybrid scheduling – on-site and remote working are scheduled by split or alternate weeks.

But what work should you do remotely, and what's best on-site? Asynchronous work – that is, work that's done alone without needing to be in the same space or time zone as other people – may be best done remotely. But synchronous work, which involves real-time collaboration with others, may be best done when people are together.

Ideally, organisations should accommodate both types of work in both situations – so having quiet areas in offices and the right collaboration tools for effective online meetings, for example.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid work?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hybrid work?

Advantages of hybrid work

Hybrid work has many pluses. These include:

1. Job satisfaction

According to Workplace's International Insights Study, carried out with BCW, 62% of employees say that they feel more productive and more connected to their coworkers since the start of the pandemic, while 60% have enjoyed a better work-life balance. Parents in particular, have benefited from the better balance hybrid working brings, according to a survey by Hibob.2

2. Greater productivity

Hybrid working gives people the chance to get their heads down without distractions such as interruptions from other team members, background noise and water-cooler conversations. Working at home, especially where a business has provided the right equipment, can offer much-needed peace, and a more relaxing and familiar environment in which to concentrate.

Allowing people to plan their own hours means they can schedule work for the times they feel most productive, without having to stick to the traditional 9-5. And of course, it frees up the time previously spent commuting.

3. Lower office costs

With a significant chunk of the workforce working remotely at any given time, businesses can downsize their office space. They can also save on the associated costs, like furniture, business levies, insurance, and service charges. This has also led to a rise in the availability of shared offices and multi-use workspaces.

4. Access to talent

With an array of hybrid options to offer, businesses gain access to a wider pool of potential employees. As hybrid working becomes the new norm, companies offering flexibility will have the edge when it comes to attracting and keeping the best people. The flexibility hybrid working offers can help parents carry on working, and make it easier for people with disabilities to work alongside their coworkers. Plus, businesses are less restricted by location when it comes to hiring.

5. Health, safety and well-being

Fewer people in offices, and therefore on public transport, makes social distancing considerably easier. In increasingly congested cities, remote working can also be seen as an opportunity to reduce exposure to harmful pollution, traffic accidents, and delays, leading to hours lost and build-up of stress.

Health and safety considerations still apply to remote workers though, and businesses and their managers need to make sure that team members working off-site are supported in terms of safe equipment, and knowledge of good working practices.

Disadvantages of hybrid work

1. Difficulty in maintaining equity

Successful teams are united in the pursuit of common goals, where members share the belief that they have a significant role to play. Fairness and equity need to be maintained not just in practice but in perception, and this can be difficult to achieve where the workforce is divided across multiple locations.

There's a risk of creating a division between 'haves' and 'have-nots.' If hybrid work isn't an option for everyone, people may fear that they'll miss out on learning from their peers when working from home, or that they could be discriminated against or treated differently.

2. Lack of cross-team communication

Where employees work remotely, they may become task focused, rather than involved with the whole company or team, and their access to other areas and functions of the business may be limited. This has implications for their career development prospects, as well as the risk of missed opportunities for fresh ideas and valuable brainstorming across departments or teams.

3. Blurred boundaries between work and life

Working from home or other remote locations can lead to greater productivity and more freedom to plan a positive work/life balance. But it also creates the risk of blurring the boundaries between work and home, and can lead to pressure, where the employee feels always "at work" and unable to relax or switch off.

Working remotely, either entirely or remote-first can lead to feelings of isolation and distance from the team, with a perceived loss of support and exclusion from workplace culture.

4. Cost

Although there are obvious savings to be made in reducing office space, making a hybrid workforce more productive, happier and more sustainable, may lead to costs as we move on from the pandemic.

The budget previously used for renting and equipping the office now needs to cover more versatile meeting and collaborative spaces, accessible and faster Wi-Fi, storage spaces for employees not currently on site, and increased security across remote locations.

Although hybrid workers will often be using their own heating and lighting, companies will need to provide the right tech for them to do their work, as well as ergonomic furniture and office equipment.

How to maximise the benefits of hybrid working

How to maximise the benefits of hybrid working

Hybrid and flexible working are part of the future of the workplace. Managers can avoid the downsides and maximise the experience for their businesses and their workforces in a number of ways:

  • Make sure all the members of your team know they're supported and trusted to manage their own time and productivity

  • Be clear in what you expect in terms of work, productivity, performance, and contributions to the business and the rest of the team

  • Provide the best possible technological and digital support

  • Involve remote-working employees in non-work team and company activities, to encourage relationship-building and teamwork

  • Plan and schedule work and teams so everyone knows where the other members of the team are and what they're working on

  • Create and maintain plenty of opportunities for mentoring, support, catch-ups and check-ins

  • Invest in effective data security to protect the business and the employee

  • Look at redesigning the workspace to accommodate changing use by team members when they're in the office

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1 "Poly: The Evolution Of the Workplace", Poly, 2021
2 "Return to work study: Flexibility Drives Employee Happiness", HiBob, 2021
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