Key Considerations for a Hybrid Work Environment

Over the past year, the term “hybrid workplace” has been all over the news:

  • Microsoft announced a plan in which its employees can work from home, choose flexible hours and potentially relocate elsewhere in the country.
  • Google has granted 85% of employee requests to transfer locations or work remotely.
  • The employment website Indeed is giving its 10,000 employees the option to work remotely on a permanent basis.

Companies large and small are talking about the future of the workplace, but what does hybrid work mean for your organization?

What exactly is a hybrid workplace?

A hybrid workplace is defined as a mix of remote and in-office work. But this still leaves many details to figure out. For example, the following are just some of the possible hybrid work arrangements:

  • Employees can choose how many days they want to work remotely or in the office, from five days a week to one.
  • Employees work in the office three days a week and remotely two days a week, and the choice of days is up to them.
  • Employees work in the office two days a week and remotely three days a week, but all employees are required to be in the office for the same two days.
  • Depending on job classification and personal preference, some employees are fully remote, some are fully in office and the rest are a mix.

As you consider different hybrid work arrangements, start by:

  • Defining what hybrid work means for your organization
  • Remaining flexible and open to change
  • Reassessing how you measure productivity
  • Viewing your work model through the eyes of your customers

There are a few must-haves for any organization that is moving to a hybrid work environment, including:

  • Virtual collaboration tools — Create digital spaces where people can instant message, audio and video chat, and share documents.
  • Information technology enhancements — Make sure your employees have the internet connectivity and speed they need to complete work efficiently. You may need to enhance cybersecurity protocols and training to prioritize the safety of your business data and employee and customer privacy.
  • Home office policies — Hybrid workers can transport a laptop between the home and the office, but you will need to create policies regarding monitors, printers, phones, etc. Will you provide extra equipment? Will you offer a stipend to some or all employees? Who pays if equipment gets damaged at home? You’ll want to address these questions before widespread implementation.
  • Supervisor training — Management training is beneficial in any setting, but it will likely be a new area of focus as supervisors seek best practices for managing remote employees.
  • Transparency and oversight — Establish and communicate clear parameters for remote and office work in terms of expectations, output, and accountability.

Explore the reasoning behind hybrid work

Before you define your organization’s hybrid work model, reflect on why your people want to be in the office, remote or hybrid. Survey your leadership and employees to spot similarities and differences.

Common reasons for wanting remote work include:

  • More flexibility
  • Better work-life balance
  • No commute
  • Fewer distractions
  • Cost savings (gas, tolls, workplace attire, etc.)

Common reasons for wanting to be in the office include:

  • Better access to company resources
  • Ability to better enjoy the organization’s culture and perks
  • More collaboration and social interaction with colleagues
  • Face time with leaders
  • Fewer distractions (for employees who don’t live in a quiet environment) 

The reasons above don’t have to be the exclusive territory of remote work and office work. For example, you can increase flexibility from an office environment, and you can build a strong culture in a virtual setting. But it’s important to research what people want from each environment as you seek to combine the best of both.

Once you decide on a broader model and establish the necessary tools to move forward, begin hashing out the details. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Will you set core hours for all employees?
  • Are there certain times or days when you need full availability?
  • How will you accommodate employees in different time zones?
  • What type of workday flexibility will you offer? Will employees have autonomy, or will they need supervisor approval for each request?
  • Will you provide or reimburse home office equipment and supplies?
  • Do you need to update your attendance or sick day policies?
  • Does your employee benefits package support the needs of remote employees?
  • Will you expand your hiring pool to additional states and/or countries?

Don’t set your policies in stone

As you consider transitioning to a hybrid work model, remember that you’re doing so during a time of heightened stress. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows levels of depression and anxiety are nearly four times higher now than before the pandemic.

So give yourself and your employees time to adjust to new work environments. Here are a few tips for remaining flexible:

  • Decide on an evaluation period — perhaps three, six or 12 months, depending on your business and workforce needs.
  • Ask for employee and supervisor feedback throughout the evaluation period.
  • Reexamine your mental health benefits to make sure they can meet the needs of your employees as they continue to experience change and uncertainty.
  • If you need to make adjustments (for example, implementing core hours or increasing in-office days), be sure to communicate them to your employees before, during and after the change.

Adjust how you measure productivity

Switching to a hybrid work model could mean changes in how you measure workplace productivity. The Digital Workplace Alliance suggests moving away from traditional metrics of productivity, such as time spent in the office or number of emails sent or read, because they could be measuring superficial busyness without measuring accomplishments.

Instead, consider actions like:

  • Asking individuals and teams to define and align their goals
  • Basing productivity metrics on output rather than time
  • Rewarding quality of response, not speed (especially on evenings and weekends)
  • Regularly checking in with employees on their progress toward goals instead of monitoring their activity levels through software tracking tools or micromanagement

It’s also important to be aware of unconscious bias in the treatment of remote versus in-office employees. Research suggests that in-office employees are being rewarded based on face time rather than productivity. For example, a Stanford University study of travel agency employees found that remote workers were more productive than their in-office colleagues but were promoted at half the rate.

If remote workers are being passed over for promotions, remote work could amplify unconscious biases against women and minorities. Many workplaces, including the real estate platform Zillow, have indicated that women are more likely than men to seek full-time remote work. And the communication platform Slack reported that its hiring of minority employees increased by 50% for remote roles.

To help combat these biases:

  • Create informal gatherings for remote workers so they get a chance to make personal connections.
  • Hold important meetings on virtual platforms, even for in-office workers.  
  • Offer training and professional development programs online.
  • Examine your hiring, salary, and promotion data to spot and remedy any biases.
  • Ask company leaders to embrace changes to your work model so that your employees don’t feel pressured or left out. If you define your hybrid model as three days a week in the office, then executives and supervisors should also work remotely two days a week.

Remember your customers

As you explore a hybrid model for your employees, also think about what it would mean for your customers.

Questions to ask include:

  • How do they interact with you?
  • How do they conduct their business?

If your clients primarily do business with you over email, phone or virtual platforms, then a hybrid model shouldn’t impact the relationship. But if you regularly entertain them in the office or at community events, then these in-person interactions should be a defined expectation for your employees. Likewise, if clients like to stop by your office unannounced to visit and see employees in action, you may need more in-person requirements.

It’s also worth exploring your customers’ business models. Whether they are fully in office or remote could inform their larger views on workplaces, including yours. Depending on your relationship with your clients, you may want to have an open conversation on their expectations.

Communicate these findings to your employees. They are more likely to understand and accept your decision on hybrid arrangements when you explain the business reasons behind it.

Build a strong foundation

Asking the right questions now will help you decide whether and how to move forward with a hybrid workplace.

Talk to your insurance broker or benefits adviser. They’ll be able to help you devise a plan around your unique business needs.

This content is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing professional, financial, medical or legal advice. You should contact your licensed professional to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.