What is a hybrid office and how can your company set one up? Learn why it might be the right fit for your business now and post-COVID.

What is a hybrid office?

The hybrid office is becoming more and more common than ever before. A hybrid office consists of employees who work in the office, while others work from home, and allows for more freedom over when and where work is completed.

A flexible workplace, the hybrid office means that some workers have to remain in office to do their jobs, some prefer to work in the office, and others still might be required to go into the office on occasion. 

Some organizations have different hybrid office combinations like office sharing where employees are allotted a certain amount of time in an office space, but mostly work from home. 

COVID and the Hybrid Office

Since the onset of the pandemic, companies have had to adapt in order to stay up and running. A major part of this adjustment involved going remote. With lockdown orders, organizations had to shift to a WFH model – or at least a partial work-from-home setup. But, as restrictions have loosened, many employees are returning to the office. 

However, capacity limits and certain regional restrictions mean that some staff work in the office while others continue to work remotely. 

While this concept is not new and has been in place for some companies before COVID, a hybrid workplace is quickly becoming the “Next Normal”. A report by Xerox found that more than 50% of businesses worldwide have plans to change their WFH policies in the next year. 

On top of that, the World Economic Forum  recommends a 30% occupancy for offices that have reopened. And those who’ve become used to the benefits of both environments, don’t necessarily want to go back to the office full time.  

The Perception and Future of the Hybrid Office

The technology to enable a WFH model has existed for some time, but companies have been hesitant to adopt a more flexible approach to how people work. One of the main concerns cited is around productivity. But as can be seen in this study, telecommuters are 20%-50% more productive than their colleagues in the office.

John Macomber, senior lecturer of business administration at Harvard Business School, estimated that COVID-19 has accelerated the acceptability of working from home by 20 years

There is still uncertainty around the future of work life, but the office landscape has certainly been permanently altered. CEO of Cresa, Jim Underhill, believes that the office life that once existed is gone – there will be no more densely-packed, open-plan office spaces. The big offices will remain the hub, but it’s highly unlikely that organizations will be asking all of their employees to come back again in full capacity.

The future could see smaller, satellite offices opening outside of the downtown city metropolises. Having small groups of employees work in the office on occasion can preserve company culture and camaraderie that can’t necessarily be achieved via video calls.

Ultimately, the future workplace is a mix of remote and in-office, and technology is the key to keeping employees connected and workflow going smoothly. Digital transformation is the way forward.

How to Set Up a Hybrid Office

Perhaps the most challenging aspects for organizations going remote are implementation and employee training. For companies who did not already offer flexible work options, it’s uncharted territory. As businesses prepare long-term plans, more are including a hybrid office policy. 

Here’s how you can set up a hybrid office:

1. Lay out a hybrid office policy

Putting a hybrid office policy in place establishes expectations and guidelines that employees can follow.

  • Define the policy and who it applies to – Be clear who gets to work from home. Outline criteria and stipulate any positions that cannot be done remotely. 
  • Create guidelines for when employees will be remote vs. in office – Will remote workers be required to come into the office a few times a week, or at all? Will there be a customized remote working policy for each employee? Or, will managers be in charge of their team’s remote work schedule? Are there events or meetings staff must be present for? Are there specific hours of work for remote staff members? List all the scenarios and include guidelines for each. 
  • Establish expectations about how employees will work – Will employees access their work computer remotely or take their computers home? Will the company provide a laptop? What tools and apps must staff be familiar with and use to complete tasks and communicate? Make sure that all employees know how to use the tools and platforms that will be used. 
  • Amp up security – As if security wasn’t already a top priority, it’s even more so now. Set strict security regulations and protocols. Ensure that all personnel understand potential risks and how to prevent them, especially when working remotely.

2. Reconfigure your office space

Consider the size of the space. With far fewer employees in the office, do you really need so much space? Rework the space fit to your new needs and keep up to date with the latest safety guidelines. Since many companies are transitioning to hybrid offices due to COVID-19, ample spacing between work stations will be required. 

If employees are just coming in for meetings and special events or exercises, rearrange the space to promote collaboration and boost productivity. If the space is meant more for existing and potential clients; set it up accordingly. Keep in mind that headquarters and global offices act as hubs and should embody the company’s brand. Though it won’t get as much traffic as it once did, the space should still reflect organizational values. 

3. Invest in the right tools and technology 

It’s important to determine the hardware and software investment needed. Will you provide work computers, headsets, webcams, etc.? What software licenses are needed?

Here are some elements to consider in this area:

  • Remote Access – The traditional method of remote work – via a company’s VPN – is not always the best for larger companies because it’s expensive and difficult to scale. Another solution could be BYOD (bring your own device) and remote access. If you decide to go this route, staff will need help setting up their remote work environment. Keep in mind security, reliability, cost, and usability when choosing a remote access solution.
  • Project Management – Explore the various project management tools available and select one that fits your needs and budget.
  • Real-Time Communication – Preferred apps for communication include Slack, Zoom, and Skype. Employees can chat with each other and attend video conferences. 
  • Collaboration – A remote team needs one place to collaborate and access documents. Some of the top choices for this are Google Drive and Microsoft Teams.
  • Monitoring & Management – Managing a hybrid team is much easier with the use of software like Hubstaff and Officevibe. 

Benefits and Challenges of a Hybrid Office

There are both benefits and challenges of a hybrid office. The pros and cons vary depending on whose perspective you consider. 

Challenges

For employees, some of the commonly-cited cons include:

  • Lack of regular routine. It’s difficult to settle into a routine when you’re going back and forth from working in the office and at home.
  • Limited face-to-face time. A lot of people look forward to going to work everyday to socialize, brainstorm, and collaborate. 
  • Inclusion problems. Employees who work from home aren’t as “in the loop” as office workers and don’t get as much one-on-one time with their higher-ups. 

Now, from the employers’ perspective, the challenges are:

  • Cybersecurity issues. In our digital age, security is a constant priority, and with more people working remotely than ever, security threats are on the rise. Deploying security measures in a hybrid system presents even greater difficulties. 
  • Team management. When team members are widely dispersed and can only communicate through a screen, managing them effectively can be daunting. 
  • Communication gaps. For managers, being able to approach staff at any time and have a personal discussion is priceless. 

Benefits

Still, studies indicate that the benefits outweigh the negatives for both employers and employees:

  • Productivity increases. Telecommuters have fewer social distractions and take more breaks which keeps them refreshed and motivated. 
  • Lower stress levels. Statistics show that people who work remotely, even once a month, are happier and less stressed. 
  • Cost savings. Both employers and employees save money by working remotely even half of the time. Remote workers save on commute costs while businesses save on supplies and other expenses. 
  • Reduced employee turnover. Companies who offer flexible work arrangements see a 25% lower employee turnover.

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