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How to decide if hybrid work is right for your company

Whilst the return to the office seems on hold for now, for HR professionals trying to navigate what the future of the office looks like in the long term, one option that has recently come to the forefront is the hybrid office.

The hybrid office effectively allows employees to choose to work flexibly between the office, their home, or a coworking space near their home - or to work from one of those options exclusively.

A Hubble HR survey in July of over 1,000 UK employees found that ‘hybrid’ was the most popular choice of future work style among respondents, with over 86% of respondents wanting some sort of a mix between work from home, work near home (in coworking spaces or cafes), and work in-office in the future, whilst 15% would like to work from home entirely remotely in the future.

Does that mean the hybrid office is the right thing to do for your company? And what are the factors you should consider when making the decision?

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The most obvious case for hybrid work is that it is what employees want, and therefore allowing them the freedom to choose where they work should lead to higher staff retention levels, increased productivity, and lower hiring costs as your company attracts talent who value the benefits of hybrid working.

To add to the employee benefits of hybrid work, there are financial incentives for both companies and employees to move to a hybrid work environment.

So on paper the case for a ‘hybrid’ approach to working seems strong. But what are the downsides? The primary downside is that in order for a hybrid office to work, you need to change your company culture.

A hybrid office approach takes a company from having one type of employee - an office worker - to having up to seven different types of worker, from fully remote employees to fully in-office employees, to employees working in a local co-working space, to everything in between.

As Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of fully remote startup Gitlab argued in Wired, this raises the danger of a "worst of both worlds" scenario, where office-based employees form their own culture and vent their frustrations at the slowness of reply from their remote comrades, versus the ability to pop a desk or two over to ask a question.

Over time, this results in full and part time remote workers feeling isolated and undervalued, and staff churn - or a reluctant return to the office.

In order to head off this culture meltdown, hybrid organisations need to answer two questions:

  1. How do we create a fulfilling, inclusive and equitable experience for all our colleagues?
  2. How do we create a scenario where there are no advantages or disadvantages in working remotely

The answer to these questions is to build a remote first organisation.

Leaders building a hybrid work culture need to ensure that they:

  • Build remote first best practices into the DNA of the company
  • Treat remote working as the default way of working
  • Create an environment where remote employees feel as much a part of the team as those in the office and where everybody experiences the culture in the same way
  • Work more from home or a co-working space than they do in the office

This is a huge commitment. So when deciding whether or not hybrid is right for you, ensure you understand the implications and it’s relative importance to your company.

Survey your employees to see what they would prefer. Ask the finance team to model the financial savings of going hybrid. Explain to the C-level team how the company culture would need to change and what would be required.

If the hybrid office approach is done well, it can be a huge positive for employees and employers alike - but it must be approached with a full understanding of the risks.

Brett Putter is founder of the consultancy CultureGene.