This article is part of our Distributed Enterprises Series
A distributed enterprise model can vary on many levels. Companies that adopt such a strategy may differ significantly since so many of the business’ characteristics must often be adapted, or even reshaped, to function under a model that isn’t 100% office-centered. Much like snowflakes, there aren’t two companies alike.
The expression hybrid model, or hybrid work, basically refers to a work dynamic that isn’t entirely based on office work but also isn’t altogether remote. Supporters of this labor dynamics will say that it offers the best of both worlds, as it grants employees flexibility and affords several advantages in terms of costs and logistics to the company itself.
In fact, a special report prepared by Prudential Financial as part of their The Pulse of the American Worker survey dubs hybrid work as the work model for the future. Focused on building the future of work, the research found that one-third of workers that remained remote during the COVID-19 quarantine period expect their employers to adopt a hybrid work model. Not only do these workers want to go back to the office for a fixed number of days per month, but they also want these days to vary, indicating the importance of flexibility and dynamism in their work relations.
No matter how the schedules are shaped, hybrid work seems to be the model of choice for the more significant part of employees, as shown in Accenture’s The Future of Work report: 83% of the respondents identified the hybrid model as being optimal in the future. That is a staggering figure that proves this model must not be overlooked by companies with their staff’s best interests in mind.
Incidentally, if we look at the company side, we will also see interesting figures. Research summarized by jobs website Zipppia shows that 74% of US companies are either already using or planning to implement a hybrid work dynamic. Additionally, 63% of what’s called high-growth companies actually use a hybrid work model based on workers’ productivity. Under this philosophy, it doesn’t really matter where you work, as long as you remain active and productive.
Therefore, it’s not surprising to see so many companies adopting this organizational paradigm. Some of the most notable examples include Microsoft which, as of March 2021, has started reopening its office spaces and has instituted a hybrid work policy aligned with the employee’s activities and managers’ demands.
Spotify also announced early last year that workers and managers were allowed to decide on the most suitable combination of office work and working from home. Energy giant BP followed suit and announced, also in March 2021, that 25,000 office-based staff members would start to work from home for two days a week. And the list doesn’t stop there, as it also includes names such as Infosys, Ford, British Airways, Apple, Citigroup, Adobe, Uber, American Express, UBS, Cisco, Intel, and Ericsson.
Not All Hybrid Models Are the Same
As you can imagine, all of these companies have their own way of dealing with the specifications of a hybrid work dynamic. It would be impossible to envision such large and different enterprises, each with its own processes and inner workings, adopting a one size fits all approach.
The number of employees, staff distribution, infrastructure dimensions, technological requirements, and even the type of relations established with suppliers and business partners can all affect the most suitable hybrid model a company should adopt. Let us review some of the main ones.
An office-centric approach to hybrid work has a company’s physical installations as the core location for working. Companies that opt for this model will make a point of having most if not all of their staff present for at least more than 50% of the time. In some cases, the frequency can add up to 80% or 90%, with employees working from home or somewhere else no more than one day a week.
This may be the most exciting strategy for companies whose employees rely heavily on collaboration and have less autonomy, as it allows them to resolve tasks that require everyone to work simultaneously or constantly go back and forth on the same project.
Albeit preferred by traditional managers and old-style companies, this model can put a heavier strain on staff. That’s because many employees worry about the daily increase in expenses that inevitably comes with working at the office, as well as the amount of time spent in either traffic or commuting to and from work.
A balanced hybrid work model takes into account the staff’s needs and desires to craft a strategy that verges on the equilibrium between days spent at the office and days when the employees are free to work from different locations.
Perfect distribution of days between the two dynamics is evidently impossible, considering that the workweek has an odd number of days. Therefore, the focus here must be on finding the most convenient arrangement for workers and managers alike so that productivity doesn’t decrease. At the same time, no one should feel like their trips to the office are useless and unpurposed.
Several companies, including some that we already mentioned, seem to be finding the 3×2 arrangement ideal. Google, Uber, Citigroup, and experience management company Qualtrics have all communicated their hybrid work plans as 3 days spent at the office and 2 days when the employees can choose from where they want to work.
Selecting a human-centric approach means that your employees will be completely free to choose how many days a week they want to work physically present at the office, or if they even want to come in at all. Obviously, this isn’t about forbidding access to your company’s premises but granting staff 100% autonomy to decide what works best for them.
This will require constant communication to make sure no one is left out of the loop and tasks don’t get lost along the way. It’s also important to be certain that your workers are sufficiently organized for this kind of autonomy to not turn into a trap. For some people, there is such a thing as too much freedom, and that is OK. Just make sure that those individuals have an office waiting for them on the days they want or need to be physically present.
The Advantages of Hybrid Work
There are several advantages to choosing either one of the hybrid work models available. Evidently, the possible improvements will depend on many factors, such as the size of the company, the number of employees, the physical installations, and even the kind of work. Here are some of the most notable advantages:
One of the most obvious (if not the most obvious) upside from reducing physical operations comes in the form of the enterprise’s bottom line. Reducing the number of staff physically present means less need for office space, be it for the actual desks and communal area or for computers, servers, pantry, human resources, and IT departments personnel for which some physical space is indispensable.
Flexibility for Employees
No matter which hybrid work strategy you choose, it will most likely grant your workers varying degrees of increased flexibility. It’s important to take that into consideration when devising your strategy.
Since staff isn’t physically present, it’s impossible to know at exactly what moment they’ll be sitting at their desks and at what moment they’ll get up to brew a cup of coffee for a much-needed shot of caffeine. And that is more than OK. What’s important is that the work is being done and that productivity remains at the same level, or even increases. This brings us to the next topic.
Some people prefer to get up early, even before the sunrise, and enjoy an energetic morning. Others start off slow but profit from a boost of disposition closer to mid-afternoon. Free from the shackles of a strict work schedule, these different employee profiles can make subtle adjustments to their days in order to work when they’re at their best. This means more productivity and motivation and less time procrastinating while trying to get into the rhythm the job requires.
Depending on the flexibility the company enjoys with its hybrid model, managers and decision-makers will see themselves no longer tied by geographic boundaries. Employees who work from home, after all, don’t need to be situated in physical proximity to the office – unless they desire it.
This means hiring talent from virtually anywhere becomes an option. Keep in mind, however, that this will restrict these employees from eventually working at the office unless the company happens to have a location in the same city they reside.
Hybrid Model Challenges
As with almost everything in business, the use of the hybrid model also has downsides. Some of them can be resolved by adapting some of the daily processes, while others may only be partially offset and still pose a challenge to managers and workers alike. It’s the job of the decision-makers to analyze if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages if they consider implementing a hybrid model impractical.
One of the key takeaways from the COVID-19 quarantine periods is the important role human contact and interaction play in the lives of many people. This holds true when we’re talking about hybrid or remote work. Every employee who used to work 100% of the time at an office up until 2020 was almost instantly thrown out of the workplace dynamics and into a computer screen. And despite our best efforts to hold virtual gatherings and happy hours through video conferencing, it’s just not the same as an in-person interaction.
Greater Need for Communication
Exchanging and collaborating with others in an office setting is easy. Sometimes you just glance over at someone to see how they’re doing and you hurry over to their desk to iron out details of a project or get a mix-up straightened out. When different working locations come into play, things change considerably.
One of the most evident downsides of adopting different models of hybrid work is the extra effort the whole team will have to put into communication. Not only demands need to be clearly explained and detailed upfront, but also managers mustn’t be afraid of conference calls and video meetings This way, not only it’s possible to minimize the risks of misunderstandings, but the issue of isolation can also be partially mitigated since no employee will spend their whole week without seeing another human face or hearing someone else’s voice.
Safety and security
This is possibly one of the most serious and urgent items on this list. One of the advantages of centralized office operations is making sure that everyone follows the same security protocols in order to protect the company, the customers, and everyone’s data.
Ever since the pandemic started, enterprises had to learn to do that remotely. Some resorted to tools such as site blockers and time trackers which, despite closing a few possible security gaps, may at times make employees feel like they’re being surveyed. Others had the IT department remotely configure each and every piece of machinery provided to the workers.
Different companies can profit from different security strategies and there’s really no right answer when it comes to it. What’s important is to have a strategy put in place or the whole operation can be jeopardized.
As cyberattacks become more sophisticated and aggressive each day, a company can never be too safe. We intend on focusing on that in our next article on the Distributed Enterprise series.