How do we make hybrid work sustainable? That’s the key question many of us are asking as we envision the possibilities in a post-pandemic world. And, it’s the question we’re exploring in this blog post.
Here’s what you’ll learn in a nutshell:
- What hybrid work is and why experts are calling it “the future of work”
- The surprising reason many employees have reported anxiety and burnout during the pandemic — and the steps you can take to address it
- What “microtransactions” are and how they can transform hybrid teams (including yours)
- Why you can’t talk about the hybrid workplace without talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion
- How to use artificial intelligence (AI) to support your hybrid work environment
Ready to make the hybrid work model work for you and your company? Keep on reading.
But first, what is hybrid work?
Under a hybrid work model, employees split their work hours between the office and home (or wherever they choose to be on remote days). There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid work. Instead, there are various hybrid work arrangements that companies can choose from and adapt in ways that make sense for their industry and their workforce.
For example, some companies may require their team members to be in-office three days out of the workweek, while other companies allow team members to work wherever (and sometimes whenever) they please. GitLab refers to these variations of the hybrid work model with the following names: the office-centric hybrid approach, the flexible hybrid approach, the remote-friendly hybrid, and the virtual-first approach. But, it’s common to come across different names for these hybrid work options.
What are the benefits of hybrid work?
Only a few months after COVID-19 shuttered buildings across the globe, it became clear that hybrid work would become — to use the catchphrase of the pandemic — our “new normal.” But, what exactly makes hybrid work better than the traditional model and better than full-time remote work? Let’s break it down.
- Hybrid work can help with work-life balance.
When you aren’t commuting five days a week, that frees up more time for self-care, personal hobbies, quality time with loved ones, caretaking responsibilities, healthy home-cooked meals, and more. In one study of 1,000 full-time workers conducted by Ergotron, 75% of respondents reported an improvement in work-life balance as a result of hybrid or remote work. Last year, for Owl Labs’ 5th Annual State of Remote Work report, 84% of respondents said working remotely after the pandemic would make them happier.
- Hybrid work can save employers money.
Let’s not forget about the economic impact, as well. According to Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and an expert in the future of work, companies can save an estimated $11,000 a year — for every employee who works remotely for half the workweek. Most of those savings come from productivity gains, reduced office space, and lower absenteeism rates.
- Hybrid work can be great for employees’ wallets, too.
While we’re on the subject of money, hybrid employees also get to save. In the same study mentioned above, researchers found that half-time remote workers can save an estimated $600 to $6,000 a year. Think: less money spent on buying gas, maintaining your car, eating out, and stocking up your wardrobe with real pants. With inflation pushing consumer prices higher, hybrid work can help to alleviate those expenses.
- Hybrid work can attract talent and improve employee retention.
Given the perks above, it’s no surprise then that hybrid work gives companies a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring and keeping employees. A study by Slack found that 63% of knowledge workers prefer the hybrid work model, especially younger people and those with less tenure. Gallup found that 38% of hybrid employees and 54% of fully remote employees would seek new jobs if their employers took remote work off the table.
Okay, now that we’ve covered the what and why of hybrid work, let’s explore how. Actually implementing a hybrid work model can feel like a whole other ballpark — and that’s because it is. It takes a lot of trial, error, and intentionality to create a hybrid work environment that allows employees and the business to truly thrive. Thankfully, nearly three years into this worldwide experiment, we know a lot more now than we did pre-pandemic. Which brings us to:
4 key ideas to incorporate in your company’s hybrid work strategy
1. Devise a plan.
This one might seem a little obvious, but research tells us that many organizations have yet to hammer out a comprehensive strategy. A long-term hybrid work strategy will likely look a lot different from what we improvised in the face of lockdown. McKinsey surveyed 100 executives and found that, “Although nine out of ten executives envision a hybrid model going forward, most have at best a high-level plan for how to carry it out—and nearly a third of them say that their organizations lack alignment on a high-level vision among the top team.”
Not only does a lack of alignment make it more difficult for hybrid teams to perform effectively, but McKinsey also found that employees whose organizations lack a clear vision about the future are more likely to feel anxiety and experience burnout. The key takeaway? It’s time for business leaders to craft and communicate a plan.
Here are some preliminary questions to get you thinking:
- What are the new communication norms? For example, when should an employee communicate in real-time and what can be asynchronous?
- Will your model be fixed or flexible? For example, will employees work from home four days a week? Or, will they switch between the office and home as they please?
Resolving any ambiguity will not only bring alignment across your organization, but will also resolve any uncertainty and anxiety that employees may feel. Having a solid yet flexible plan demonstrates to your employees that you’re being intentional about the type of environment you’re co-creating with them. In other words, it shows that you care!
2. Make the small moments count.
One of the most notable findings from the survey by McKinsey reveals the importance of microtransactions, which the writers define as “small connections between colleagues—opportunities to discuss projects, share ideas, network, mentor, and coach, for example.”
It’s easy to see how these microtransactions can forge better relationships and therefore create a more collaborative company culture, but that’s not all. The survey also reveals that, out of the companies that reported an increase in productivity during the pandemic, two-thirds reported an increase in microtransactions. Could there be a relationship between these microtransactions and productivity, too?
3. Integrate your DEI and hybrid work strategies.
As companies begin to craft and lay down the foundations for a more sustainable hybrid work model, DEI needs to be top-of-mind. What do diversity, equity, and inclusion have to do with hybrid work? The answer is, well, complicated.
As we wrote in a previous blog post, flexible working introduces more variables to the workplace — and more variables make it harder to maintain an even playing field. Not everyone has a quiet home office. Some employees do their best work when they get to collaborate in-person. In this article for Harvard Business Review, Alexandra Samuel and Tara Robertson invite us to consider which employees are spending the majority of their time in-office and who’s spending more time at home. They write, “remote work may become an intervening variable — if, for example, men spend more time working in the office and thus advance more quickly. From past research on bias against working mothers who request flexibility, we know that this is more than a hypothetical possibility.”
On the other hand, hybrid work can make the work environment more inclusive when we think about people with disabilities and people with caregiving responsibilities, as well as when we consider different personality types (i.e. introverted and extroverted) and working styles. In those respects, a flexible work arrangement does allow for a more inclusive work environment because individuals can create a more tailored employee experience.
Because there are so many factors at play in creating an inclusive and equitable workplace, data is important. Encourage regular feedback, create surveys, really get to know your people, their unique needs, and what’s working or not working for them.
4. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be major components.
Any hybrid ecosystem won’t be complete without the proper technology. From messaging apps to video conferencing and beyond, tools with AI capabilities are transforming the way people work.
We created Clockwise to transform the way people manage their work schedule. Even in pre-pandemic days, meetings (that is, scheduling them and attending them) have always been a tedious part of the workday. Throw in Zoom fatigue and the fact that many of us are now on different schedules — it’s harder than ever to spend time in a meaningful way. Clockwise uses machine learning to automatically resolve scheduling conflicts, find the best times to meet, and schedule Focus Time for much-needed deep work.
Clockwise is the best way to manage your video conferences, in-person meetings, productive time, and more as you navigate hybrid work.
We’re no longer guessing what the workforce will look like in the post-pandemic world. It’s clear that hybrid work will be the preferred model moving forward. How you implement it, however, is completely up to you. Here are the biggest takeaways for creating a sustainable hybrid work model:
- Alignment is everything. Devise a detailed plan and communicate it across your organization.
- Remember that microtransactions matter. Create moments of meaningful connection to strengthen company culture and boost productivity.
- Create a broader understanding of inclusion in the workplace. Use data to understand your workforce, and integrate your hybrid work and DEI strategies.
- Enhance hybrid workspaces with the right technology.