Hybrid working is here to stay. But what does that mean in your office?

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Dan Schawbel, Managing Partner, Workplace Intelligence

• Both employees and the C-suite recognize the benefits of hybrid working.

• Companies plan to define hybrid working arrangements in many different ways: according to specific time commitments, work type, and worker categories.

• Co-working spaces can provide a refreshing alternative to home and office environments.

As the pace of US vaccinations continues to accelerate, employers are slowly beginning to reopen their offices and resume normal operations. However, many are realizing that when it comes to how, where, and when their employees work, “normal” may be a thing of the past. Over the past year, employees have proven that they can be just as effective while working remotely, and most want to continue enjoying this benefit even after the pandemic subsides.

How badly do employees want to hold on to the ability to work remotely? A study by Robert Half found that one-third of professionals (34%) currently working from home due to COVID-19 would quit if required to be in the office full-time. Nearly half of respondents (49%) said they prefer a hybrid work arrangement, where they can divide their time between the office and another location.

New research from WeWork and my firm Workplace Intelligence sheds more light on how the hybrid model will reshape the world of work after the pandemic. Our study found that post-COVID-19, employees want to split their time almost evenly between three types of spaces: corporate offices, their home, and other environments like co-working spaces or cafes. Companies are also on board with this approach: 79% of the C-suite say they will permit their staff to split their time between corporate offices and remote working, if their job allows for it.

The strong support for the hybrid model owes to the fact that it offers important benefits for workers and businesses alike. In our study, employees cited better work-life balance, greater schedule control and less stress as key benefits. Meanwhile, the C-suite highlighted that the hybrid approach increases productivity and engagement, lowers real estate costs, and helps attract and retain talent.

Both groups agreed that while working from home has its advantages, having access to an office space is critical – not only for building relationships, but also so people have a space to go to when they need to focus on their work. In fact, employees miss having an office so much that nearly two-thirds (64%) would be willing to pay out of their own pockets for access to an office space.

Employees envisage an almost even split of time between home, office and other work spaces
New research suggests that employees now want to split their time evenly between the office, home and other work spaces. Image: WeWork/Workplace Intelligence

The hybrid spectrum

Whether or not an organization can offer a hybrid work model depends on several factors, most notably industry or job type. Gartner estimates that nearly two-thirds of employees, mostly knowledge workers, can work remotely at least some of the time.

However, companies adopting a hybrid model have often decided to take very different paths. Some are taking a decidedly more flexible approach. For example, at IBM how often an employee goes into the office will be determined by work deliverables or the need for team collaboration. Meanwhile, Ford’s office workers will need to be on site for certain meetings or projects, but they’ll be permitted to stay home for independent work.

Other companies like Uber, Citigroup and H&R Block are requiring a specific number of days in the office, typically two to three per week. And on the other end of the spectrum, a few employers will place workers into categories or tiers. For example, Salesforce will have three tiers: flex (in the office one to three days per week), fully remote, and office-based (in the office four to five days per week). Similarly, TIAA will group employee roles into four categories: fully remote, mostly remote, mostly on site, and fully on site.

Getting hybrid right

As companies transition to a hybrid model, they’ll have to consider many factors, from COVID-related safety to workforce management considerations. To address safety concerns, companies like Adobe will allow employees to make reservations for office desks on the days when they go in. Prudential, on the other hand, is redesigning its offices with more open space and meeting rooms, so people can safely use these spaces for interaction.

Companies should also encourage employees to take advantage of work environments other than the corporate offices or their homes, for example co-working spaces. These environments provide a refreshing change of pace that can boost creativity and collaboration, as well as other workplace outcomes. In fact, our study with WeWork found that employees who are more satisfied and engaged want to spend much more time in these “third spaces” after the pandemic.

Effective workforce management is also critical when it comes to getting the hybrid approach right. Businesses need to set clear guidelines for what tasks need to be done in the office versus at home. And it’s important that managers approach their hybrid plans with both empathy and fairness in mind. This means understanding what works best for each employee, but also ensuring that remote work accommodations aren’t being provided to some workers more than others (e.g. parents versus those without children).

In addition, managers will need to evaluate whether they’re recognizing and truly being inclusive of their remote employees. Recent research from my company and Achievers found that nearly one-quarter (23%) of employees aren’t being recognized frequently enough. The study also uncovered that recognition is a key driver of employee inclusion and belonging, and being recognized makes people feel more connected to their teams and their manager.

As organizations look ahead to “what’s next” after the pandemic, many have landed on the hybrid approach as the way forward. Business leaders who take steps to ensure that they’re making hybrid arrangements as effective and fair as possible will be well-positioned to succeed in the post-COVID era. And the sooner employers devise a hybrid plan that works for everyone, the sooner we can all begin a smooth transition into this “new normal”.

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