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Returning to the Office: How to Make Hybrid Work

As the world rapidly evolves, many employers and employees are wondering what tomorrow's workplace will look like. The trend points towards remote work, but this may change with time as companies start figuring out how to handle their post-Covid future. This is especially true as most surveys from 2021 conclude that employees want to have the freedom to work from anywhere, but also want the benefits of in-person collaboration. This article sheds light on the best way to approach returning to the office and how to make hybrid work successful.

What is a Hybrid Working Environment?

Essentially, the hybrid work meaning is - used to describe a work arrangement where an employee works part-time in the office and part-time from home. Most hybrid work from home arrangements nowadays were born out of necessity when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Companies were forced to keep as few employees as possible in one office space to curb the spread of the virus.

Almost two years later, however, hybrid work is now the norm for many reasons, including increased flexibility and improved work-life balance.

The Hybrid Working Model Explained

Hybrid work is an umbrella term that can mean different things for every company and person involved in it. Essentially, it combines two or more methods into one with the goal of giving flexibility to the employee without sacrificing productivity. When done right, it's a win-win situation for employers and employees.

Other hybrid WFH models:

  • Flexible Working Hours - Depending on the role, employees have the option to pick their schedule.
  • Location Independent - Employees have the option of where to work. This is the most common hybrid setup where people can work in the office or at home at any given time.
  • Job-sharing - Companies allow two employees to share the responsibilities of one role.

Learn more about the different setups: What You Need to Know About the Flexible Work Model.

The Hybrid Working Paradox

One challenge that you might encounter heading back into the office is the hybrid working paradox. People love to work wherever they want. However, there's one big disadvantage: isolation. According to a 2021 survey of 2000 remote employees in the US, 7 in 10 reported feeling isolated and almost 40% of the respondents miss face-to-face meetings and after-hours gatherings.

This brings us to the hybrid working paradox: employees want the freedom and flexibility of working anywhere at any time they want, but also the inspiration and connection of working in a physical office space.

So, how do leaders solve this paradox?  More on this a bit later on.

The Hybrid Working Principles

Principles, not policies. You probably heard this phrase about hybrid work. That's because it's absolutely one of the best ways to adopt and implement a hybrid work model for your organization.

To make it more accurate, the phrase should be "principles first before policies." Before bringing up your yellow legal pad and talking to your legal team about the rules of when and where your employees work, it's critical to ask the question: Why are you adopting a hybrid work model?

Having the right mindset is the blueprint that will guide all of the decisions that you'll make in the future, especially in times of crisis.

So, how do you exactly build a principle-based approach?

Here are a few ways to get started:

Lead with compassion.

It's so easy to say, "Everyone needs to work in the office Mondays and Tuesdays. You can work from home the rest of the week." Yes, this is still a hybrid work model, but it lacks compassion and doesn't take into account the voice of the employees. Additionally, this kind of thinking might work in the short term but is not sustainable in the long run.

Think long-term.

What does your company look like five years from now? What changes can you make today that lead to the future you've imagined for your company and employees? Microsoft, for example, envisions that the office will be a combination of virtual and real-life interactions. They are investing in redesigning their workspaces to merge these two worlds.

You might not have the resources that Microsoft has, but it's critical to think about your employees' experience and how your hybrid office would look based on your principles.

Make health and wellness a priority.

According to WeForum.com, "A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September of 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation." After experiencing an instant shift to a flexible work environment during the pandemic, many professionals are getting crystal clear on their priorities, and not settling for anything less than what’s in alignment.

Companies that treated their employees poorly have higher attrition rates while companies that have invested in their employees' health and wellness enjoy higher employee satisfaction ratings.

Support decisions with data.

While it's critical to lead with compassion, your decisions as a leader should also be backed by data.  Refer to trends to give you a bigger picture, but make sure to survey your own employees, so you can create a hybrid working policy that works specifically for them.

The Hybrid Working Policy

When you have solid principles in place backed with data from your own workforce, you're in a good place to create your own hybrid working policy. A big reminder though: your policy is not a one-and-done deal. It is an evolving policy that will change depending on many factors (most times, factors that are outside your control). In fact, Microsoft has created a guideline to help their leadership teams make decisions depending on specific situations.

How to Create a Hybrid Working Policy Template

  1. Decide which hybrid work model to start with.
  2. Draft a policy that states who qualifies --not all positions can be done remotely some of the time.
  3. Make sure to create clear and specific guidelines on when to work remotely or when to work at home.
  4. Provide a deadline to the current policy, so that everyone gets a chance to execute, experience, and provide feedback.

👉 Ready to draft your policy? Here’s a hybrid working policy template that you can edit to make it easier for you to navigate the shift. It may not cover all industries, but it should give you enough details to help in creating your own.

Most Optimal Hybrid Work Schedule

The first and best step to take is to create a work hybrid calendar. Try to have a vision for the whole year, but create a specific plan per quarter. That way it’s easier to make changes depending on other factors, such as location-specific lockdowns. Depending on your industry, there are months or seasons with higher work volume. Make sure to take this into account, so you can plan the optimal hybrid schedule that works for your employees while making sure you’re not short-staffed.

Leading Teams in the Digital Age - How to Make Hybrid Working Successful and Solve the Paradox

What makes hybrid workplace challenging, especially in the beginning, is that there are many factors to consider. But if you can only focus on three things to make hybrid work successful, choosing the schedule and the right tools is the best place to start. Plus, everyone needs to commit to a hybrid work schedule that can provide the right amount of location independence and in-person collaboration.

Choose the optimal schedule.

The easiest way is to find common days to ensure that everyone is around to meet. For example, everyone works in the office Mondays and Tuesdays while the rest of the week, they can choose to work wherever they want. This is a great solution, especially if you have plenty of desk space.

👋 Bring your hybrid team together

There’s a better way to schedule your days in the office...right from Slack!

However, this doesn't provide your employee's full autonomy regarding their schedule. Most hybrid setups start this way and eventually evolve into something more flexible once everyone understands their new work habits.

Invest in the right tools.

Find a tool that lets HR or the Office Manager easily plan the logistics around desk space while allowing each employee to see who's around in the office to encourage meetups. Tools like ‘Where’ make it incredibly easy to do that because everyone can set their status on Slack and see who's working in the office and when. This makes it convenient to set up coffee meetups or in-person meetings.

💡 Read more about our recommended tools for hybrid teams.

Everyone needs to commit.

You can have all the policies and tools in place, but if no one wants to commit and make an effort to meet, everyone will end up stuck in the hybrid work paradox. That’s why it’s critical to have guidelines and incentives in place to ensure that teams get the chance to meet and collaborate in person. You can also redesign your hybrid office to boost excitement around meeting in the office.

👉 Ready to level up? Leading Teams in the Digital Age: Where Most Get it Wrong and how to bring your team closer in a hybrid setup.

A New Take on a Flexible Work Environment

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to adopt a flexible work setup, it was out of necessity. But as the nature of the hybrid working world evolves after almost two years, companies are beginning to understand that this is no longer a trend and goes beyond identifying when and where employees need to work. If you truly want to make hybrid work successful, leaders must lead with empathy while using data to support their decisions. And as always, “Principles first before policies.”