Hybrid offices represent a bright post-Covid future for both employers and employees. They are flexible, combining the benefits of remote work and office time which becomes a mutual benefit.
Hybrid offices remain mostly unknown and misunderstood, yet they can be one of the big positive changes to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the world of work changes, there is a great opportunity to adapt and be ahead of the curve.
Hybrid offices are cheap, desirable, safe, and attractive to employees. It just needs a slight paradigm shift. This article explores the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid offices, along with different working models that can be implemented.
Hybrid Offices for a Hybrid World
We live in a hybrid world. Covid-19 has upended our lives and forced us to shift away from the norm. They call it the new normal, but what does that mean? It’s just a hybrid world, where we must make concessions and converge on new ways of living and working.
Before Covid-19 there was a path that most employers and employees followed. Now there is something else. Remote working became the norm during the pandemic and of course there were complaints. It was something new and it’s only natural to make complaints in the midst of a challenging and confusing pandemic.
As Covid-19 continues it’s increasingly obvious that future success depends on being flexible, at work and at home. The future is hybrid, using a little of something rather than a lot of everything, remaining fluid and ever ready to pivot. So enter the hybrid office.
On one side structure and sociability, plus physical roots and orientation. To the other, employee independence and flexibility. And they converge at a price point impossible to ignore. Hybrid offices are not only more efficient and productive. They’re significantly cheaper than big traditional offices.
Realising the Big Advantages of Remote Working
All the surveys and studies indicate an increased demand for remote working, or regular working at home. This was true long before the pandemic. Hundreds of millions of employees have since enjoyed remote working for the first time – most do not want a permanent return to the office.
Remote working has many benefits for employees. Absenteeism is lower and employee retention increases 20 -50%. Morale is higher. Productivity is higher. Communication skills are improved. There is the freedom of working from anywhere and structuring the working day around other interests and commitments.
Remote working saves employees a lot of time and money, most notably because employees no longer need to commute. Their carbon footprint is minimised. There’s a shift towards valuing achievement and outcome, over a set number of hours per week. Dozens of studies prove that remote workers actually work more.
Plus it’s so much cheaper for businesses to operate without a massive office space. They have lower overheads (and pay lower salaries). So what’s the catch? Why does the entire world not work remotely?
Realising the Advantages of a Traditional Office Space
Some people like the office. And what about the impromptu conversations around the coffee machine? What about getting to know your colleagues socially? What about the important mini conversations that help business progress each day? Detractors always point to these issues with communication and inclusion.
For many employers, especially those from the old school of business practice, offices have a very practical purpose. They are where employees communicate and everybody operates within a clearly defined structure. While some employers have pivoted to fully remote work, most still value physical presence, notably for orientations, team building and new projects.
It’s also important to value the needs of employees who want and need their office time, at least some of the time. A big central office is also where company culture is defined and decimated, from the leaders down. And let’s be very honest here – even if the future of work is remote, the office is not going away.
Different Hybrid Office Working Models
Much of the discussion around hybrid offices has centred on the physical office space. It’s true that office revamps are much needed. Very few employees enjoy cramped cubicles. Many are overwhelmed by completely fully open-plan offices. And it’s time to think beyond the need for every employee to have a desk that cannot be used by anybody else.
The general feeling is that hybrid offices need to keep conference rooms and places for employees to meet, then massively cut down on the cubicles and rows of desks. But physical layout is not the most efficient place to start. To create a great physical layout, balancing the needs of employer and employee, it’s essential to think first about the hybrid office working model.
The Basic Hybrid Office
To marry the benefits of remote working and the office it’s important for colleagues to be together at the same time. The basic hybrid office designates certain days for in-office collaboration and meetings, then the rest of the week is flexible for either in-office or at-home work.
This can be expensive if all employees are in the office on the same day. If everybody turns up on the same day you can’t save on office space, especially if there are any Covid-19 imposed restrictions. And on other “empty” days, the big empty office is not a productive space. Managing the basic hybrid office requires smart HR. Different teams will need to be present on different days. They can then interact with colleagues from other teams.
Another downside to this approach is that office regulars may have the edge over regular home workers. It can entrench power and decision making into the office, which can slow down projects and bring up other common disadvantages of traditional office structures. Some employers are countering this by pushing flexibility, so employees have more choice over when they come in, rather than every Tuesday and Thursday.
The Hybrid-Plus Office
Almost every worker, anywhere in the world, divides their time between discussing the work and doing the work. There is collaboration and then there is actually doing. Most office workers do a lot of both in a single day – they discuss projects and do some of the work. A hybrid office model moves towards collaborating on fixed days and working on remote days.
A hybrid-plus office structure segments the time more definitely. Workers come to the office for one week a month (this can be adapted to a different length of time). They collaborate on projects, report on progress and achieve what corporate executives would refer to as “steering.”
Ideas are shared, plans are made, reporting is completed, governance is clarified, issues are raised, and there’s a clear road map for moving forward. Then the employee returns home or travels someplace else and does the “work” for the next three weeks. Some communication is required but the important communication and decision making takes place at the same time.
This model also enables employers to access a wider talent pool. Some businesses, such as Kissflow, pay for their employees’ accommodation for one office week a month. Employees can work remotely from anywhere in between. Power is centralised at the head office, however, every employee has the same physical presence in the office, avoiding the creation of bias.
The Remote Hybrid Office
For some employers, the sudden shift to remote working has exacerbated existing inequalities. Not everybody has the luxury of a home office or the space to work productively from home. Some people function best with a fixed routine. But then other employees prefer zero routine and want to work remotely all around the world, completing shunning a fixed base.
It is very possible to have a hybrid office without owning or renting any office space. Employers provide a stipend for their employees to rent a coworking space and operate a basic hybrid model, so employees are available for online collaboration at fixed days and times. Yet every employee can ultimately work from anywhere. So some may be travelling around the world as others find respite from a challenging at-home work environment.
This remote office still presents opportunities for employees to meet in person. One employee can visit another employee for work. There is no central office and the egalitarianism approach remote workers desire.
The Not-So-Hybrid Hybrid Office
Some people claim hybrid offices can turn employees against each other. Some have an opinion that it is harmful rather than helpful, neither here nor there and not able to please anyone. Most of the perceived negatives centre around when employees are in the office. For example, visible office regulars are preferred over more remote counterparts.
This not-so-hybrid office is held back by company culture and entrenched in a very traditional way of working. A good hybrid office should not demand everybody works the same hours, whether in or out of the office. Adapting to remote working means accepting a flexibility in both place and time of working. Changing where people work is an improvement that will naturally bring up inequalities – adapting to where and when people work will better leverage the advantages from both sides.
Best Practices for Hybrid Office Environments
The challenges and drawbacks of hybrid offices are more similar to traditional offices than to remote working. Number one is communication. Fully distributed teams are masters at balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication. But it’s been a steep learning curve for companies suddenly thrown into remote working.
To avoid conflicts in any hybrid office setup, it’s essential employees communicate in the same way. For example, if some team members are working from home, the team meeting should take place on every employees’ own device. Mixing the boardroom and people dialling into Zoom doesn’t work.
To avoid inequalities and miscommunication, set clear guidelines and expectations of when employees are in the office. There should be flexibility so each employee can find an optimal balance, both in and out of the office. Expectations should cover the amount of time employees are in the office as well as when they are expected to be available at other times.
Promoting Company Culture
As employers lurched into remote working there were big complaints about a lack of social contact. For example, where were the meetings with colleagues over the water cooler or for lunch? There is no reason this cannot still exist in a hybrid or fully remote office environment. You can host a virtual lunch every Thursday or use the Donut plugin for Slack, so employees are encouraged to reach out.
Ultimately, culture comes from the top. It’s not for employees to adapt but for employers to effectively and efficiently improve office culture. Whatever the office model, whether fully distributed or traditional, employers need to be transparent, champion employee autonomy, promote a team atmosphere and reward contributions.
Cut Down on Meetings
Meetings are great to get people working together on the same project, but they also put unnecessary commitment and stress on hybrid office employees. Meetings force employees to work at a specific time, or specific time and place. They also take up so much time. Add up the hourly salary of everybody in a meeting and ask yourself, will that meeting bring such revenue to the business?
Slashing down on meetings is one of the big benefits of moving away from a traditional office model. A hybrid office model is leaner and forces you to think about why a meeting is necessary, who really needs to be there, and the outcomes.
Increasing Productivity With the Hybrid Office Model
The pros and cons will be viewed differently by every employer and employee. Ultimately, hybrid offices give more choice to employees. And it’s long been proven that employees with choice are more loyal and productive. Of course, everybody has their own way of working and there is a learning curve when implementing a new way of working. Switching to a hybrid office will not be an overnight success. But is your existing way of working a complete success? A thriving hybrid office is inclusive, cost efficient and flexible to meet 21st-century challenges. It’s the future.