If orange (or fuschia or green) is the new black, then hybrid is definitely the new normal, at least when it comes to work. Over the past year and a half, we’ve all learned to deal with more than our fair share of change. But along with the headaches and extra stresses came new solutions and a revamped look at how, and where, we work.
We already know that being able to rapidly adapt is essential for survival. Now, instead of playing defense, we get to go on offense, use what we learned, and actively adjust to a hybrid work model for an invigorated future.
What is a hybrid work model? It's all in the blend
On the surface, a hybrid work model is what happens when you blend in-person work (blue) with remote work (yellow) and get a mix of the two (green). In practice, adjusting to a hybrid work model can mean choosing a specific hue from the mix or offering a range of options that best facilitates your team’s needs.
When it comes to making a hybrid model work, the goal is adaptability, fluidity, and understanding what blend leads to the highest level of productivity, creativity, and innovation for your business.
Rather than “back to the way it was,” living and working post-pandemic is more a “new normal.” And facilitating flexibility at work is a major factor. In fact, a recent study conducted by Envoy and Wakefield Research found that nearly half of surveyed employees like the hybrid work model so much they’d leave a job that didn’t offer one. For these team members and the companies busily adopting this model, a hybrid culture can:
Boost productivity: When schedules are flexible, employees can better utilize their own naturally productive hours. Some of us do our best work in the morning, others do better in the afternoon, and hybrid work models let us take advantage of that.
Encourage a better work-life balance: Life can be complicated, and we all have unique circumstances that tug at our attention and demand our time. With hybrid work, we can better manage all of our responsibilities and wants, both professionally and personally.
Reduce exposure to illness: This is a big one. Afterall, it’s why so many of us went to remote work to begin with. And while the pandemic has ebbed (and, unfortunately, flowed), the days of forcing yourself into the office with a cold are long gone.
Reduce real estate expenses: For companies, a hybrid work model also means a hybrid work space. With fewer people in the office at a time, there’s money to be saved in downsizing and seeking out physical work environments that better accommodate this fluid approach.
Expand the talent pool: Say your office is located in New York City and the absolute best candidate for an open position is in North Dakota, or Alaska, or Taiwan. While accommodating non-centralized team members isn’t new, hybrid work models make it a lot easier. Now, companies can assemble the exact right team regardless of location.
In the end, adjusting to a hybrid work model doesn’t need to feel overly confusing or like reinventing the wheel. Instead, think of it as a new, better way of doing the things that already worked. Now, we can take what we learned and turn it into lasting structural changes for improved productivity and well-being.
Hybrid work model structures: A new color palette
When it comes to hybrid work models, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. In the past, we’ve asked businesses and individuals alike to all fit within one common structure. But now we know that isn’t always the most effective way to get the work done. Instead, flexibility—either a little or a lot—can improve employee efficiency, inclusivity, and even loyalty.
For leaders adjusting to a hybrid workplace, that can mean following one of these models:
Office-Centric: This is when a company prefers its team members to work in a central location most of the time while employees may choose to work remotely on occasion. In this situation, typically all of leadership works in-person while only a handful of employees work off-site.
Fully Flexible: The rainbow option, this one allows for the highest level of individual choice. Writing for Inc., organizational physician and entrepreneur Rebecca Hinds cites Ford Motor Company, which “recently decided to give salaried office employees maximum flexibility by adopting [this] model.” When adjusting to this structure, leaders must be intentional in their organization and plans for collaboration in order to avoid scheduling confusion and the development of inequities and unwanted status tiers based on biases.
Office-Occasional: This one, ideally, sits comfortably in the middle. Workers are asked to come into the office a few times a week which allows for a blend of in-person collaboration and solo remote work. For some companies, this can mean offering a “menu” of work options to their teams. For others, this means shaping schedules around the specific needs of the business.
Remote-First: For those companies and employees that thrived remotely over the past year and a half or were transitioning even before the pandemic, this one is the way to go. The difference here, as Rebecca Hinds writes, is “between empowering employees to work remotely and merely allowing them to work remotely.”
Overcoming the hybrid work model's problems: Coloring within the lines
Adjusting to a new work structure comes with uncertainty. And while we’ve all had plenty of practice with adversity lately, leaders should prepare for the common complications that come with adjusting to a hybrid work model. Follow these tips to keep your team coloring within the lines.
Set the standard: Lead by example. You already know this, but it bears repeating because it’s always important. Where and how leaders work makes a huge impact on how your team members follow suit. If you’re attempting to shift to a remote-first model yet you’re in the office four days a week, your employees will think they need to be there, too. Walk the walk, talk the talk, and the rest will follow.
Avoid in-person vs. remote divisions: Whenever we create more options, we create more opportunities for division. With a hybrid model, this can turn into a “grass is greener” situation, with remote workers envying in-person workers and vice-versa. To solve this (or, better, stop it before it starts) equality and connection are key. Make sure not to express preference for one form of work over another while also creating plenty of chances for all your employees to bond and to be recognized, regardless of where they work.
Strive for consistency: With an irregular structure, this may sound like an oxymoron. But consistency doesn’t just refer to your team’s work model. While schedules may not be consistent, leadership must be. Regardless of an employee’s hybrid schedule, communication and attention must remain stable. And with today’s technology and hard-earned know-how, maintaining dependability as a leader is more achievable than ever.
Change is hard. Many of us understand that better now than ever before. But we also know that even during times of upheaval and rapid adaptation, we can learn how to thrive. By adjusting to a hybrid work model that best suits your business and teams, we can embrace this “new normal,” whatever color it may be.