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Planning a "Hybrid" return to the office? Here are some tips.



Establishing a Hybrid Workforce

Until COVID-19 forced businesses to go remote in March 2020, most employers offered work-from-home as a choice on the rare days when employees couldn't physically be in the office. For the most part, engagement, interaction and training happened in the building itself when everyone was together. When the entire workforce began operating remotely, the working environment changed permanently. Many employers are still trying to find what works for them, whether that’s full remote, in-office or a hybrid model.



A Quick Look at the State of the Workforce

Even as states ease restrictions and businesses reopen, more than two-thirds of organizations plan to shift employees to remote work permanently. Big tech is leading the way, but they’re not alone. According to Forbes, in the next few years most of the workforce will work remotely at least five days a month.


COVID-19 also changed how business is done. A McKinsey study analyzed the disruption to 10 different work environments based on the degree of human interaction; 100 represents workforces with the “highest overall proximity” to other coworkers. Computer-based office work scored 68 out of 100. According to McKinsey, this is exactly the type of industry that will be most disrupted going forward. “Nearly all potential remote work is within this arena,” the study concluded. In the next few years, expect to see a rise in all-remote offices as employers figure out that staff can be located anywhere and still meet deadlines.


Though the value of remote work is here to stay, most executives believe that strong company culture is only possible if employees are physically present at least some of the time. Yet, returning to the way things were pre-pandemic is just not an option. Most employers support a hybrid model long-term but returning to the office can quickly become complicated. For their part, employees expect to return to the office slower than what

employers might want.


Benefits of a Hybrid Workforce

A fully functioning hybrid workforce can be the best of both worlds if it’s done correctly. There are several benefits to the arrangement, such as:

  • Increased flexibility

  • Expanded access to a wider talent pool

  • Less physical real estate and potentially lower operating costs

  • Better employee productivity

  • More inclusive workforce

Yet, a hybrid model doesn’t necessarily supply these benefits automatically. For employers to assume that they can open their doors and figure it out as they go, they stand to lose employee trust and talent. There is still a significant amount of anxiety surrounding return-to-work policies, especially when it comes to a hybrid model.


Strategies for a Successful Hybrid Workforce

There are several considerations to keep in mind as new employment policies and office designs are developed.


Start with a clearly defined purpose for a physical office.


Keep in mind that employers and employees both have differing views on this; a PwC survey found that employers’ top four reasons for returning to an office are:

  • Employee productivity

  • Client meeting space

  • Employee collaboration

  • Company culture

Whereas employees view the priorities as:

  • Collaboration

  • Secure access to documents and equipment

  • In-person meetings

  • Training and professional development

When crafting the hybrid work policy, ensure that employee needs are met and clearly communicate in-office expectations. Most employees now view their work/life balance as more integrated and will need their employer to match those needs accordingly. On the same hand, employers need to provide value for the in-office experience.


One option is to reserve in-office days for collaborative activities, like brainstorming sessions, a project kick-off or team-building exercises. Then, on remote days, employees can work at their own pace.


Make the work experience and access to information as close to being in the office as possible.


Now that employers have had time to think through processes and better understand employee needs, they can ramp up investments in virtual collaboration tools, IT security, in-office connectivity and manager training. Be clear about what it means to be productive and engaged.


Job roles may also need to be redesigned.


Jeff Schwartz, author of Work Disrupted: Opportunity, Resilience, and Growth in the Accelerated Future of Work, says “A job used to be your job description. And training gave you a way to follow a career ladder. COVID-19 flipped that model on its head. COVID-19 recovery will focus on the importance of creating work environments where potential is a valuable skill.”


The hybrid work model gives employers an opportunity to revamp how work is done and help employees develop skills in a future-ready environment.


The physical layout may need to change if it hasn’t already.


An office that was once made up of cubicles or desks in close proximity probably won’t work post-pandemic. Consider how to reconfigure work and meeting spaces to promote collaboration while also considering employee health and safety.



Be Prepared for Employee Anxiety

The hybrid model may not work for everyone; take the time to learn how employees perform their best and meet them where they are. Additionally, expect there to be differences in how employees want to work; some may value a full in-office workweek while others don’t. To best meet employee needs and retain top talent, employers need to make hybrid work policies in collaboration with their employees. A successful hybrid workforce will only work if the employees are on board.

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