Let’s be honest, we spent the past year and a half talking about how the pandemic was unprecedented, but we didn’t focus on how the pandemic would change the professional work environment as we know it. Hybrid work has entered the chat and it’s here to stay for many of us.
What exactly does that mean? For years employers have been discussing the opportunities of a hybrid workforce, but the necessities of a pandemic workforce accelerated the discussion into reality. In the last year and a half, employers learned that employees could actually work from anywhere. A release from traditional in-person office environments fueled a talent flight from more dense urban areas to more rural communities, as employees embraced their newfound flexibility. The hybrid workspace is here to stay, so what can you do to help make your new workspace thrive?
If you’re reading this article, you’re either planning to go hybrid or have recently gone hybrid and are trying to optimize this relatively new workplace environment. Obviously, there is stress associated with implementing change, like structuring a new hybrid workforce model, but we’re here to help break it down for you.
In this article, you will learn what a hybrid workforce is, what to look out for as you transition to a hybrid workforce, ways to connect your hybrid workforce, and five distinct benefits that a hybrid workforce can have for your team.
So, What is a Hybrid Workforce?
You’ve heard the buzzword “hybrid a lot,” but what exactly is a hybrid workforce? A hybrid workforce consists of empowered employees who can work from different locations that include, but are not limited to, the home, the field, co-working spaces, satellite offices, embedded with customers, and the traditional office. For many, the past year may have been the first exposure to hybrid work environments, but the idea itself is not new. For example, many companies with large sales teams routinely employ a mix of in-office and field-based employees, while some large distributed organizations and startups have operated teams spread out across multiple locations.
Pre-pandemic, the prevalence of flexible work environments was slowly trending up, but that trend became a necessity when mandated shutdowns and social distancing protocols were implemented in March 2020. According to Statistica, over 73% of employees desire more remote and flexible work options, and 66% of business leaders are considering redesigning their workspaces to accommodate. As we emerge into this post-pandemic world, it has become apparent that hybrid workplaces are here to stay.
A hybrid work model favors creativity and goal completion over attendance and total hours worked. Most companies have noticed that a hybrid work environment has contributed to a surge in creativity, team morale, and goal attainment.
More and more employees are beginning to consider flexibility and remote work availability when choosing a career. From an employer’s perspective, understanding the benefits and risks of a hybrid workforce before or during the transition is crucial.
Potential Obstacles of a Hybrid Workforce.
A lot of conversations surrounding the transition to a hybrid workforce have been about logistics, like hot desking and health guidelines, but there hasn’t been a lot of discussion about workplace equity. Proximity bias is a potential (but not commonly discussed) issue for hybrid workforces. Protocol.com defines proximity bias as “the idea that employees with close physical proximity to their team and company leaders will be perceived as better workers and ultimately find more success in the workplace than their remote counterparts.”
Essentially, there are two playing fields rather than one, with preference given to employees working in a traditional office environment. This bias can be subtle. For example, face-to-face interaction with management, last-minute meeting scheduling, and accidental silencing during Zoom meetings. Teams need to be aware of proximity bias and work to find equality across the hybrid working environment.
Proximity bias in a hybrid workplace may seem overwhelming, but it can be recognized and addressed with some preparation. No surprise, but keeping folks connected is at the top of our list. Building loose social ties and a larger supportive network at work is the key to helping teams thrive.
Create an Equitably Connected Workplace by Staying Aware. Producing an equitable hybrid workplace takes work, dedication, and the patience. It means experimentation and iteration, both in terms of work policies and people policies.
On the work side, it’s essential not to let any bad habits from before the pandemic creep back into the day-to-day. Be intentional about posting transparent updates in Slack, documenting decisions in Notion or another wiki tool, create structured new hire onboarding processes, set meeting agendas, etc. Some of these habits came naturally through the past year and a half, but as the world shifts once again, it can be hard to maintain them without intentional planning.
When thinking through people policies, it’s vital to preserve that sense of humanity and empathy that we accessed throughout the pandemic. We’re all human, which means life happens. When we’re not all in the same space, it’s even more important to treat each other with respect and empathy for the inevitable time zone snafus or moments where family life needs to be balanced with work life. Working together to set up norms and systems that encourage interpersonal interactions even if we’re not in the same space is worth the investment of time and resources.
One thing that’s been helpful to our team is focusing on the importance of equity and communicative meeting documentation. We learned quickly that small updates and decisions should be documented transparently in Slack for everyone to access asynchronously, and to save synchronous meetings for strategic planning or culture building. When you do hold synchronous meetings, employ a “one person per camera” rule, and use the Record button liberally. We also like to share post-meeting recaps in a Slack channel, whether it’s a selfie after a Donut meeting or a punch-list of takeaways after a strategic meeting.
5 Hidden Benefits of a Hybrid Workplace
One of the major takeaways from last year is that we’re all humans and our lives exist outside work. We (e)met families and pets, and had the opportunity to support each other as we navigated an entirely new reality. More than ever, balance is important. Folks spent the last year getting comfortable with an entirely different work remote environment—and though change may be in the air once again, there’s reason to be excited.
Here’s why hybrid work might have some surprising benefits for your team:
- Qualified Employees: Great employees live across the world and are in various stages of life. The traditional in-person workspace has not allowed many opportunities for those who may not live in your company’s location or cannot commit to an in-person job. By offering a hybrid workforce, you open your company up to qualified employees in any part of the world. You may be surprised how loosening location requirements can increase the quality and diversity in your talent pool, which brings us to our next benefit.
- Team Diversity: Flexible work locations allow employees with different backgrounds the opportunity to contribute without the commitment of driving to and from the office. Having a diverse team allows different perspectives, which helps drive innovation and fosters out-of-the-box ideas to propel your company forward. Additionally, if you have people on different time zones or schedules, you have work completed throughout the week and don’t get pigeonholed to success between 9 am and 5 pm in your time zone.
- Creativity: A hybrid workforce allows employees to save time and energy on commutes and allows them to expand their creative energy when they choose. Having some control over their schedule (or more time to themselves that used to be spent in traffic) can help with relaxation and stress management. When employees feel less pressure and become relaxed, they have the opportunity to create on their own time and terms. More employers are finding that this leads to better time management and quicker goal achievement.
- Happy Employees: Commutes can take up hours of someone’s day. Without having to worry about the commute or only having to do it 50% of the time, you open up the possibility for your employees to enjoy more work/life balance, which helps them stay more relaxed. When employees feel more relaxed, they enjoy their jobs more. Increase engagement translates into better retention and higher productivity.
- Easy Idea Tracking and Communication: If more communication and idea planning is happening over Slack and other online communication channels, it’s easier to track down ideas or clarify requests. Things that were once scribbled on the back of someone’s notepad can be flagged in a chat and turned into actionable tasks instead of fleeting ideas. Brainstorming sessions can take place casually over a few days instead of in a sit-down hour-long session. This allows employees to have more time to think creatively and bounce ideas around.
Although the transition into hybrid work can be daunting, the upside is pretty clear. Hybrid workplaces can help foster community, creativity, and productivity—not to mention better work-life balance.
Qualified employees will be placing more value on flexible scheduling post-pandemic, and by offering a collaborative, inclusive, and hybrid environment, you attract employees that are ready to make your company grow while helping limit turnover and new hire costs.
When you’re ready to transition to a hybrid work model (or if you’ve started the transition already), check out our hybrid-friendly templates for easy-to-implement ideas for connecting your team, no matter where they sit.