With a return to the office on the cards for many, what are the upsides and downfalls of a hybrid working model?

Darren Hill

Pragmatic Thinking co-founder Darren Hill.

Early-to-mid 2020 will go down in history as one of the most powerfully disruptive eras for modern workforces. As businesses scrambled to navigate the effects of COVID-19 on their people, a new way of working swept the globe almost overnight. 

With organisations making the move to remote work due to government-mandated lockdowns, it irrevocably changed two things.

  1. Our beliefs relating to flexible and remote work practices and the productivity that can be achieved with them.
  2. The speed of change required for major people and culture initiatives. No longer is 6-12 months required to get things off the ground.

With a series of successive aftershocks happening throughout 2020 and predicted to continue into 2021, changes to the way we work are set to continue as we look towards the new year.

With no signs of slowing down, the adoption of flexible working practices continues to spread across the globe, putting multinationals and startups on more of a level playing field than ever before.

The last 12-plus months of uncertainty and rapid change have revealed to organisations the multitude of benefits of remote work.

But with organisational requirements and roles suggesting an eventual return to the office, leaders and their teams are set to transition into a new way of working yet again. Its name? Hybrid. 

Hybrid workplaces offer the best of both worlds. Employees are able to enjoy the flexibility of designated remote working days alongside alternating face-to-face interactions with colleagues when working in a co-located fashion.

The hybrid working experience

In preparation for the move to a hybrid workforce, organisations need to determine which employees will continue working remotely full-time, which employees will work partly remote and partly from the office, and finally, which employees will be working on-site from a shared office space at all times.

While this may be predetermined to some degree by roles and responsibilities, there may also need to be a more formal process of determining this new team structure. 

In order to work effectively in hybrid teams long-term, you’ll need to ensure there’s clear visibility across both co-located and remote working teams to ensure that tasks are spread evenly.

In this environment (especially if team leaders are working from the office) new tasks and projects can tend to be allocated in majority to team members working in the same office space.

This is due in part to physical presence as well as natural human biases.

Hybrid work downfalls

The truth is, hybrid teams won’t work for every business, in every industry.

Obviously, areas such as bricks-and-mortar retail, healthcare and hospitality are examples of workplaces that will require people to co-locate to effectively perform their job.

But for many, hybrid work will be a revelation. 

That said, hybrid does come with some teething problems and it’s worth exploring them.

1. Critical announcements

A communication conundrum that can arise in a hybrid team is when important announcements are made at different times.

What can tend to happen is those who are working co-located will be brought into a meeting room or shared space to hear of an important announcement. That piece of information is then shared hours or even days later to those working remotely, often in the form of an impersonal text-based update. 

This can create a perception of co-located team members being more important, so it’s crucial to do what you can to involve all team members in important announcements.

Yes, it may take extra time and planning, but it’s worth the preparation.

2. All about the work

We can quickly become transactional with our coworkers without the water-cooler talk.

Making sure we set time aside for social interactions is important in a hybrid working environment.

This could be through semi-regular team catch-ups, a casual conversation Slack channel or even through the use of randomising apps that assign coworkers to each other for an impromptu chat.

3. Deeper bonds

Relating to the previous points, knowing and understanding the people we work with plays a role in maintaining the culture of a team.

Obviously, a hybrid team will spend less time together, so it makes the case for well-chosen events or offsites to be given extra thought.

Your organisation may want to choose a regular date each quarter for your teams to gather to connect, set goals and socialise.

There may even be a dedicated company-wide event (at the beginning of the year, for example) where you set the tone for the time ahead and create a shared vision of the future.

Looking ahead

All in all, the next 12 months are sure to see businesses across the globe continuing on the path towards working from anywhere.

What this will mean for real estate, the job market and economies is yet to be seen.

If there’s one thing we can be sure of though, it’s that remote work is here to stay for the long haul.

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