Is a hybrid work model right for your organization?

Having spent the last few years in the throes of a pandemic, it’s very likely you or someone you know has moved or is moving to a hybrid work model. While we’ve previously discussed the pros and cons and guidelines associated with working remotely in general, there are other specific factors to consider with an ongoing hybrid work model.

Defining hybrid work, hot desking and hotelling

A hybrid work model is one that provides a blend of onsite and remote working arrangements. While organizations differ in how they set these up, many are starting to implement hot workspaces and hotelling.

Hot workspaces are those that are either allocated on a rotating basis or are first come, first served (or perhaps booked on the day of only). Hotelling workspaces are those that are reservable up to a few weeks in advance using a booking app or system.

Benefits of a hybrid work model

Depending on the nature of your work and organization, there are several benefits to a hybrid work model. They can:  

  • Facilitate employers to be more progressive and agile
  • Attract future and retain existing employees; a Gallup study found that over 50% of employees would change jobs for more flexibility in how/where they work  
  • Promote diversity and equity for those with family responsibilities, physical and mental health disabilities, limited nearby housing options, or other diverse needs
  • Support the wellbeing and health of employees by supporting their lifestyles
  • Minimize economic and environmental impacts of commuting and parking
  • Increase productivity and reduce mistakes, with the appropriate communication, resources, and parameters in place
  • Support your organization’s bottom line; research done by Harvard and Stanford Universities found that remote work options can save an organization an average of $11,000 per employee per year

Potential pitfalls of a hybrid work model

While there are clear benefits, there can also be challenges with a hybrid work arrangement. These can impact employees in varying and inequitable ways. These include:

  • General issues associated with any remote arrangement (e.g., access to appropriate resources, space and technology, distractions, being ‘out of sight, out of mind’, etc.)
  • Impact on mental health; for many employees, the workplace is their primary social source and, without having others around regularly, they can suffer significantly
  • Employees not having the opportunity to get to know one another in meaningful ways
  • When some employees are physically together in a meeting room and some are working remotely, meeting effectiveness can be a challenge (consider a tool like Owl for this)
  • IT resourcing and costs for equipment/set-up can be significant, depending on circumstances
  • Impact on privacy, personal and quiet space, storage, ability to accommodate specific needs, and efficiency in getting oriented to a new space each time with hotelling and hot desking
  • Potential for inequity and proximity bias when leaders (who are often male, dominant culture) spend more time in the office than their female counterparts or other employees
  • Inconsistency of the full team’s ability to work remotely, including those who must be in the field/on worksites, as well as those who need to regularly be in the office (e.g., to greet visitors)

How employers can facilitate successful hybrid work models

While there are potential downsides to remote and hybrid work arrangements, there are many ways employers can mitigate these challenges – and reap the benefits. As with all initiatives and practices, start with your workplace culture and intent. Who are you as an employer today, and who do you want to be? What is your purpose for shifting to a new way of working? What are your employees’ needs and wishes, and have you asked them? From there, develop and communicate a transparent and detailed set of guidelines and be sure leaders set the example.

Depending on your specific situation, hybrid work model policies should address some or all of the following:

  • The degree of flexibility and autonomy individual managers, employees, and teams will have in selecting the most effective schedule
  • What your expectations are in terms of number of days onsite versus remote
  • Positions/teams that must be onsite regularly or more frequently, and a consideration of how that impacts equity overall
  • How requests and approvals will work
  • Expectations for those who wish to relocate and whether you can/will consider accommodating fully remote arrangements
  • General guidelines and considerations regardless of where folks work (e.g., expected hours, availability, access to resources, interruptions, confidentiality, OH&S, etc.)
  • Parameters for check-ins, performance expectations, productivity, and communication
  • How you’ll allocate desk and office space onsite, particularly if you have limited space (e.g., permanent desks for those in the office frequently, who need a confidential or other specific space versus hotelling and hot desks)
  • How workspaces will be booked for those who don’t have a permanent workspace onsite
  • What equipment and resources you will provide or subsidize (e.g., laptop, monitor, keyboard, etc.) and what employees will need to bring when working onsite
  • Whether you’ll provide subsidies or allowances for phones, internet, chairs, etc.
  • Practices employees/teams will be expected to carry out in-person (e.g., new hire orientations, some aspects of training, regular/occasional team meetings, etc.)
  • Whether it will be ongoing or for a set timeframe (e.g., initial one year term), and how it will be evaluated

The benefits of hybrid work models can certainly be realized if leaders, working with their HR teams or HR consultants, do the intentional work first and set an example. Accordingly, leaders and managers need to double down their efforts to build and foster strong relationships with one another and their teams.

Jouta’s HR consultants can help you develop your hybrid work model policies and practices