Building a Hybrid Workplace
Many companies and their employees are exploring the long-term feasibility and implications of adapting to the hybrid workplace model. What was meant to be a short term solution has found quite a bit of popularity across several industries world-wide. The hybrid workplace model is defined as a model in which organisations adopt remote work combined with in office hours. Given that there is no fixed methodology in the way that companies balance on premise hours with remote hours, it may vary significantly between companies. One of the key justifications behind adopting such a model is that it affords employees with an opportunity to schedule work around their lives as opposed to working a set 9 to 5 hours in an office environment. Over the past couple of years organisations who have adopted the model have had to ensure that employees have access to the necessary resources in order to preserve their productivity while attaining organisational goals. With that being said, the question arises, how do companies make the most of the hybrid workplace model and what are the benefits for all stakeholders?
Understanding the needs of digital natives
It is no secret that today’s labour force is a lot more digital literate compared to a couple of decades ago. One could argue that this phenomenon is a result of the ubiquitous nature of technology and the fact that advancements in technology have disrupted the way we communicate and achieve organisational goals. Communication platforms such as the ever popular Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams have pretty much rendered office meetings a thing of the past. That is not to say that face-to-face meetings do not bring value to teams, however if the main objective of team meetings is to establish weekly or monthly goals while reflecting on those goals then it becomes quite evident that virtual meetings are a great substitute for face-to-face meetings. An industry report by Lifesize (2019) found that 78% of teams rely on video conferencing tools for team meetings. The report also suggests that 51% of employees believe that as technology continues to advance video conferencing tools will be as equally or more important than artificial intelligence. It goes without saying that the modern workforce must be readily equipped to engage with these technologies in order to maintain collaborative efforts within an organisation.
The impact of the hybrid model on productivity
One of the most interesting insights of the model is its impact on employee productivity. According to a survey by CoSo (2015) 77% of employees reported being more productive while working from home and are 52% less likely to take time off from work. It’s easy to assume that the onset of the recent pandemic may have significantly increased these figures. Further to this Atlassian (n.d.) a popular software company which specialises in developing software for project management purposes, notes that 76% of employees avoid working in office when they need to concentrate on getting important work done. Golden & Gajendran (2019) posits that this is especially true for employees with highly complex jobs who require minimal interaction with stakeholders.
Costs associated with the hybrid model
A key aspect of implementing a hybrid workplace environment is assessing the nature of expenses for both employers and employees. For employers, the incentive is to reduce costs on an infrastructural level. A typical example is that the need for massive office spaces would naturally decrease as a result of having a portion of employees work from home instead. This directly impacts building expenses such as the cost of rent. If companies are able to maintain overall productivity within smaller office spaces which tend to be more affordable, they would realise increased profits that could be reallocated to more meaningful assets. This allows for companies to achieve greater economies of scale. For employees who work from home, there is a similar benefit to be gained in that the need to travel to work is not always a requirement. CoSo (2015) reports that 30% of employees who work remotely are able to save more than $5000 on an annual basis without the expenses associated with on-site work and travelling costs. On the other end of the spectrum, a study by Buffer (2019) highlights that not all companies cover the costs of remote employees in co-working spaces.
The cons of the hybrid model
It is all good and well to highlight the benefits and trends of implementing the hybrid workplace model, but it would not be a fair assessment if one does not consider the flaws in such a model. For starters, there are social implications for employees who spend a vast amount of time working from home. Buffer’s (2021) most recent State of Remote Work report found that 26% of employees working remotely find it difficult to unplug from work even when at home, 17% of respondents noted that the onset of loneliness was also a challenging factor, while 16% of respondents highlighted that their biggest challenge was due to distractions at home. Sijbrandij (2020) points out that there is often a divide between those who work onsite and those who work remotely. When production and outputs are not met based on company expectations, those who work on site may be of the opinion that those who work remotely are often to blame, which suggests that the view of onsite employees is that remote employees are less productive.
With companies all around the world investing in the hybrid workplace model, it is hard to ignore the benefits realised and weighing those benefits against the drawbacks can be quite subjective in nature. One thing is clear, companies are less inclined to transition back to the legacy models of onsite only work environments. A plausible solution moving forward would be to ensure that there is an optimal balance within companies that adopt the hybrid model. That is to say that employees should be provided with adequate resources to ensure productivity and team morale remains high. Apart from this social support should also be considered as a valuable resource to remedy some of the challenges faced by employees.