Many Americans hadn’t regularly worked from home until the pandemic. But, while remote work was a new experience for many, this transition was a long-time coming.
Telecommuting — where people could work over the phone — first appeared in the 1970s, expedited by government policies to reduce smog in cities. The trend continued into the 1980s, fueled by a growing knowledge economy and high gas prices.
By the turn of the millennium, 4.2 million people worked from home, thanks to the internet.
Jump-out to today and pandemic-related restrictions allowed 59% of workers to work from home.
These restrictions didn’t last forever, though. Many organizations pondering their post-pandemic plans are considering hybrid remote models for their employees. The idea is to have the best of both worlds: the flexibility of working from home with the communal aspect of being at the office.
But is this such a good idea? Well, the answer will be different for everyone. Let’s talk about what hybrid-remote work is and what it means for the future of work.
What is hybrid vs remote work?
At its core, hybrid work is about flexibility. It allows employees to divide their time between working in an office space and working from home.
This requires employees to live in physical proximity to a shared workspace. How much time you spend in that workspace depends on your company’s type of hybrid model.
If your workplace follows an all-remote work model, on the other hand, virtual work is the default. Software can make every part of these jobs possible remotely, removing the need for a physical office.
The types of hybrid workplaces
Hybrid models aim to balance virtual and in-person work, but the ratio between both varies. Here are some of the common configurations:
- Office-first. In an office-first hybrid model, employees are in the office for a predetermined number of days per week. The expectation is to have people on-site, which boosts collaboration through synchronous meetings and face-to-face interactions.
- Flexible. The flexible work model favors in-person work, but there’s no explicit requirement. Here, organizations have the technology required to easily accommodate remote work if an employee chooses.
- Remote-friendly. Organizations with a remote-friendly hybrid approach make remote work a regular part of their workflow. Every employee prepares for remote work, and leaders set an example by working from home regularly. All work is done in real-time (synchronously).
- Remote-first. Fully remote teams see in-person work as an afterthought. Every part of their workflow is geared toward online, asynchronous work — meaning they can work in different time zones if they want to. This model requires no office or real estate, but organizations may host occasional in-person team-building events or rent a co-working space.
If you’re struggling to adapt to a hybrid work environment, try working with BetterUp. After a pandemic of remote work, our coaches can help you transition back to in-person interactions.
Is hybrid work here to stay?
Hybrid models allow you to have it both ways: the flexibility and productivity of work-from-home with a strong corporate culture and in-person activities. But the success of such a program relies on a couple of factors:
- The kinds of jobs going hybrid
- Whether your organization treats in-person and remote workers equally
Let’s take a look at both aspects.
What jobs work best in a hybrid work model?
According to a McKinsey survey, productivity largely increased with the transition to remote work during the pandemic. Employees also reported feeling more creative working from home.
But these gains depended on the kind of work, making it a luxury for select industries. Knowledge workers were most likely to work from home and report positive experiences. These jobs involved tasks that are easily done remotely, such as:
- Training, learning, and updating knowledge
- Interacting with computers
- Tasks requiring creative thinking
- Processing, analyzing, and interpreting information
On the flip side, people who drove trucks, served coffee, or stocked shelves did not have the option to work from home.
Essential workers across the healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, retail, and service sectors continued working in person throughout the pandemic. They reported less flowery experiences:
- Half of them were afraid of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others
- 30% said their mental health worsened
- They were twice as likely to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder
- 80% slept less or more than they wanted to
- 39% turned to alcohol to cope with stress during the pandemic
These jobs included tasks that one can’t easily do remotely:
- Controlling machines and mechanical equipment
- Assisting and caring for others
- Measuring products or surroundings
It would make sense for you to adopt a hybrid model for that first grouping of jobs since they’ve already proven to be a good fit for remote work. Plus, people in these industries say they like the idea. 50% of current remote or hybrid workers said they’d look for another job if their employer forces them back to the office full-time.
People in the second group might not be a great fit for a hybrid model. But you can still make their lives better by offering mental health days or experimenting with flexible schedules.
Balancing in-person and remote workers
If hybrid work is to have any chance at long-term success, they’ll have to overcome some hurdles:
- Remote employees are usually overlooked in meetings. If half the group is in the boardroom and the other half is tuning in remotely, remote workers are less likely to be consulted or heard.
- Promotions and assignments favor on-site team members. People in positions of power tend to give opportunities to people they know. If you’re working remotely, you’re less likely to receive similar support for your career due to the lack of face time.
- Employees working remotely are demoralized when they feel left out. In addition to a lack of assignments, remote workers also receive less feedback and positive reinforcement from their leaders.
- Company culture is difficult to maintain. The division between remote and on-site workers means there are fewer interactions between both. This makes it less likely that they’ll come together organically, affecting productivity, teamwork, and the overall employee experience.
How to manage your hybrid team
Overcoming the leadership challenges of a hybrid work arrangement won’t be easy. Here are some tips if you’re managing the transition for your team:
- Create clear expectations. Ask your employees about their preferences, but highlight that you have the last word on transition-related decisions. You should also explain how you’ll evaluate their productivity throughout. Their performance will help you justify your hybrid work schedule policy to senior management.
- Make a plan. Create a schedule for your team’s transition. Try staggering their transition to in-person activities by order of importance. Ensure your IT department is also in the loop for any potential disruptions or accommodations.
- Use diverse meeting types. Make time for one-on-ones, so each employee feels included in the new hybrid model. You can also adapt your regular meetings to participate freely in both in-person and remote workers.
- Be ready for speedbumps. Transitioning is a slow process. Be ready to make adjustments as you figure out your new workflows.
- Choose the right technology. Work with your IT department to make sure the hybrid work is seamless. You might provide everyone with laptops and docking stations to use the same computer on-site and at their home office. You might also try collaborative software like Slack or Microsoft Teams to improve communication.
Tips for employees transitioning to hybrid work
Adapting to a hybrid work model can be daunting if you’re an employee. Here are some tips to help you manage:
- Be proactive with your communication. When everyone is hopping between locations, it’s important to let your team know where you are. If you’re always at home on Fridays, put it in a shared calendar. If you make decisions on the day of, send a DM to your team to let them know you’ll be in the office if they need you.
- Control your tasks. Plan your work based on where it needs to be done. If you need to be on-site one day to check the mail, plan your other office work on the same day. That way, when you return, you don’t have to worry about running into the office last minute.
- Show adaptability. Your manager may adapt your hybrid work model as they understand what works and what doesn’t. Be ready to adjust your workflow.
- Create (and maintain) healthy boundaries. People working from home tend to work longer hours than when at the office. Make sure you’re setting healthy boundaries for yourself during and after the workday to maintain work-life balance.
- Make your needs heard. You have unique reasons for wanting to work from home. If you feel comfortable, let your manager know what you need to perform at your best. This will help them decide how to configure your team’s hybrid work model.
- Focus on the perks. How much time will you save without a daily commute? And how much money will you save on transportation, lunches out, and happy hours? Maybe you’ll miss these things — but there working from home has benefits that are hard to deny.
The best of both worlds
What is hybrid-remote work if not an attempt to have it all? It could be what your organization needs to maintain flexibility and productivity simultaneously. But its success depends on its implementation.
As you’re considering your transition, communication is key. If you’re an employee, let your manager know about your preferences, and if you’re a manager, make sure you consider your team’s input.
Success is a two-way street, and everyone has a role in a successful transition to hybrid-remote work.
Defining boundaries and expressing your needs isn’t easy. In these situations, it’s helpful to have a coach. At BetterUp, we can help you find your voice to ensure you aren’t left behind.