What is a hybrid workforce?
We’re going to define the term “hybrid workforce” and discover what’s behind its steady gain in popularity. We’ll discuss the characteristics of successful hybrid workforce models, their benefits, the challenges they present, how to overcome those, and best practices.
The word ‘hybrid’ means a mixture of different things, just as the term ‘hybrid workforce’ means some or all employees in a company have the option of working on-site, or from a remote location, or a combination of both. This ability to choose the work environment best suited to them at any particular time offers flexibility and support to employees seeking better engagement and an improved work-life balance.
Why is the hybrid workforce model gaining popularity?
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the working world into a work-from-home (WFH) situation. At the time, a fully WFH environment was unthinkable, and yet it happened overnight as COVID-19 spread quickly around the globe.
Millions of workers suffered initially with the unfamiliar stresses of lockdown, isolation and loneliness, home-schooling, restricted movement, and trying to get work done. Childcare and other vital support systems shut down, and working families found themselves closed in their houses. Employees continued to work whichever way they could and by the time COVID-19 had been brought under control, a ‘new normal’ was evident. Employees had adjusted their lives to accommodate essential work-life balances and no longer wanted or were able to return to the office full-time.
After mid-2021, companies began asking employees to return to the office. Some insisted and gave ultimatums, but employees dug in their heels. Waves of resignations followed worldwide, also known as the Great Resignation, in which enlightened companies realized that offering WFH or hybrid workforce options was the best way forward in a changed world.
Characteristics of a successful hybrid workforce
There must be a variety of collaborative communication methods, from one-to-one phone calls, video conferencing,, group messaging,, or whatever approach best suits the situation. Whether remote or on-site, employees need every means possible to connect.
Empathy is needed while supporting employees who choose to work remotely. Make sure your teams understand work-life balance and how it differs for every employee. Encourage feedback and offer training where necessary. Always lead by example.
Everyone should feel seen and heard whether they are physically present or remote, and non-verbal communication must be noted in both cases. Mutual appreciation is crucial, along with positive assumptions. Pay attention to providing an equal employee experience for everyone, whatever their location or circumstances.
Security is of paramount importance because of the ongoing inclusion of new remote workstations, devices, communications platforms, content and others, which expose the company to security risks. Ensure your security system covers all bases regarding simplicity and efficiency as well as keeping employees safe and guarding their privacy.
Management of infrastructure is critical to ensure that all employees, wherever they are in the world, have the necessary tools and resources to do their jobs. Gathering real-time analytics from these resources will provide valuable data to help all employees toward the most effective connections and collaborative experiences.
Benefits of a hybrid workforce
Although a hybrid workforce presents ongoing new challenges, the benefits are clear to see. Some of these include:
Increased employee satisfaction
Employees within a hybrid workforce have autonomy over their work-life schedules. Greater flexibility promotes better balance in these schedules, and this leads to employee satisfaction. For example, employees wishing to start families can plan better, knowing they’ll be able to adjust their work schedule to fit in with new responsibilities. Similarly, employees who must relocate due to circumstances beyond their control will be able to retain their jobs within a hybrid system.
A hybrid workforce model enables employees to work in the best possible way to suit themselves. If their choice of a remote work environment enables them to thrive, engagement will be enhanced and productivity higher.
While there are many advantages to an on-site workspace, the distractions can be many, from random, unscheduled meetings and errands, to the sudden “Have you got a minute?” scenario. Collaboration can also be easier when done virtually and can be done more frequently because there is no requirement to have everyone travel to the same location and meet face-to-face.
Reducing costs is a major concern for most companies today, so it makes sense for companies to save money by reducing the size of their office footprint. With a hybrid workforce, less office space and equipment are required, and rental and energy costs are lower, even if the headcount is growing.
For employees, there are also savings to be had. Remote employees usually have lower commuting costs and are sometimes able to save on domestic services required by an office employee. For example, childcare and personal effects expenditures might be lower.
Access to a wider pool of talent
Appointing talent within a daily commutable distance from your on-site workspace won’t throw the net very wide these days. If remote work is offered, then you’ll have a choice of candidates who are local, further afield, or halfway around the world.
In addition, job candidates nowadays look to work for companies offering as much flexibility as possible with regard to work-life balance, and this includes a choice of work environment. Employee retention rates will improve too, as when they find a company allowing them the autonomy they need, they will be inclined to stay put and not look to the competition for more flexible employment options.
The hybrid work option is not only for employees. The company leadership, executive and management level employees have lives beyond work too. Leading by example will encourage more employees to try the hybrid work style benefitting both employee and company.
Challenges of a hybrid workforce
While the increasingly popular hybrid work model has much to commend it, there are challenges too, including these:
Employee isolation can be an issue. While WFH can be the ultimate practical solution, HR teams should ensure that the remote workforce feels connected.
Productive teamwork might be affected. In a hybrid workforce, team cohesion, and connection can be difficult to uphold. Make sure your company’s hybrid model takes this into account, or company culture could take a knock.
Correct management is vital. Remote and on-site employees must be equally and fairly managed with a focus on output rather than work process. The remote workforce also need the same opportunities as on-site employees and mustn’t feel unseen or excluded. That said, remote employees need to meet expectations and be held to account to the same degree as the on-site workforce.
Security risks will increase. With the expansion of remote workplace opportunities, different locations, and all the devices, networks, and platforms this involves, there are bound to be ongoing security issues necessitating robust security systems and protocols. HR and IT departments will need to educate users regarding company and personal safety and privacy.
Frictionless connectivity is important. The workforce across all locations must be able to connect quickly and efficiently whenever they want to maintain a harmonious work tempo, better employee engagement, higher productivity, and a thriving company culture. Make sure your communications systems are state-of-the-art for what’s required.
Best practices for an effective hybrid workforce model
Every company is different, and every employee is unique, so be sure to select a hybrid model to meet the specific yet diverse requirements of your workforce. Because the concept is relatively new, there aren’t many examples available to copy, so you’ll need to design and develop something that can be adapted as you progress. Keep trying until you get it right and offer training and support.
Be aware that remote employees may have problems like feeling excluded or lonely. Not every employee has a robust family and social life outside work. Arrange virtual meetups to discuss matters not necessarily about work.
Let your intranet come into its own by loading it with information and news beyond company objectives, goals and progress. Include human interest stories, surveys and quizzes, and discussion areas. Encourage open-minded dialogue and monitor feedback.
Pay close attention to security. Install the best system you can afford and keep it updated. Company and personal security and privacy is absolutely essential to both workers and customers, particularly given the risk exposure created by an ever-increasing remote workforce.
Good communications are key to holding a hybrid team together. Keep communications clear and transparent and communicate early and often once your hybrid workforce model is up and running. Encourage feedback and monitor progress. Lead from the front with communications and use your intranet to drive connection.
Keep your eye on employee engagement with a view to maintaining a positive company culture. Make sure your hybrid workforce has equal career development opportunities and are not left out in the cold when it’s time for recognition or reward.
Make the best tools and resources available to the hybrid workforce so they can do their work to the standard required. Low tech could lead top talent to change jobs and look to a competitor for better equipment and support.
Be sure to track performance goals and metrics to establish whether your hybrid model works and how effective it is. Identify weak spots and adapt or change. Again, feedback is key and must be encouraged.
Without a doubt, the hybrid workforce model, thrust to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic, is here to stay, and we’re getting to the stage where there’s a solution somewhere for anyone wanting to try it.
Changing and adapting to a hybrid workforce environment is a big challenge, but if your company ends up with an inclusive, productive, and sustainable work culture populated by satisfied employees, the benefits are vast.