How to Manage a Hybrid Workforce
How to Manage a Hybrid Workforce

7 minutes read

How to Manage a Hybrid Workforce
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Nearly every company went remote in a matter of days – and many have asked the question, “How do you keep people productive and engaged in a hybrid workforce?”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a transformative effect on work. It affects where we work, how we work, and what we need from work. Only time will tell exactly how the landscape of work has shifted, but there are already clear trends on the horizon. Most notable of them is the shift to a hybrid working model. In this article we will explore this new approach to work. What is hybrid work? How does hybrid work benefit employers and employees? And lastly, what are the best practices for managing hybrid workforces.

What is a Hybrid Workforce Model?

The hybrid workplace model is largely a white-collar phenomenon, and describes a flexible work arrangement where employees combine working from an onsite office location and an offsite location. Although hybrid workplaces existed before the pandemic, this approach took off due to the demands of the moment. And now that companies and workers realise it’s possible to be just as productive outside the office. For that reason, it’s unlikely that work will ever return to a “traditional” office-based model. 

There are many scenarios for how a hybrid workplace could play out in practice. Some employees may always work from a central or office location, others may always work from a remote location, and yet others may combine the two. The options are fairly open-ended, depending on the company, industry, and the ease or difficulty of managing hybrid workforces. 

Are hybrid workforce’s here to stay?

Several indicators point to the continuing relevance and staying power of the hybrid workplace. Recently, leadership at several top corporations has voiced support for a hybrid approach rather than a fully-remote approach. Across the board, CEOs are shifting from downsizing to investing in more shared office space. According to a KPMG survey, only 37% of CEOs say a majority of employees will be working remotely at least twice a week, but 51% say they are willing to invest in shared office spaces. 

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HSBC CEO Noel Quinn recently shared that the company would be adapting a hybrid workforce model for all employees who are able to work remotely. According to him, this approach offers the best of both worlds: the benefits of flexibility and the team-building impact of in-person interaction. 

Business leaders are recognising that the post-pandemic workplace model does not have to be a zero-sum game. ″There is ample opportunity to retain a healthy dose of that flexibility and to mix the best of both going forward, and you’re going to see some agility here,” said Deloitte US CEO Joe Ucuzoglu.

Managing Hybrid Workforces

Making the hybrid workplace a deliberate policy requires a lot of foresight and planning, to ensure the arrangement is beneficial for both employer and employees. Read on for the best practices for managing hybrid workforces.

Key Benefits 

The hybrid model has been a boon to employee flexibility, but employers have counted the benefits, too. The top advantages include: 

  1. Financial: Mathematically, allowing employees to work remotely is simply a good business decision. It helps employers maintain productivity while reducing the overhead and operating costs of renting office space. In this way, the hybrid model provides flexibility for employers as well as employees. Organisations who need to maintain a physical working location have the option to downsize and rotate staff. As a result this permanently reduces operational costs. 
  2. Productivity: When employees are given the option to work in the setting where they feel most productive, it makes sense that productive output and worker engagement increases. A 2020 survey across multiple countries revealed that anywhere from 60-80% of workers report being as or more productive working from home. 
  3. Flexibility. As opposed to a fully remote or fully on-site working model, a hybrid model offers the best of both worlds. Depending on the arrangement or personal circumstances, employees may choose to work on- or off-site based on whether they need to collaborate face-to-face or escape less-than-ideal work environments like a noisy apartment. 
  4. Wellness: Giving employees flexible work options makes them feel supported and valued, especially during times of uncertainty or anxiety. Not only that, but investing in employee mental health can have a direct effect on productivity and business performance. A Harvard Business School study led by Prithwiraj Choudhury found that companies who allow employees to choose when and how to do their jobs benefited from higher productivity, less turnover, and lower costs. 

Main Challenges

Adopting and managing hybrid workforces well involves much more than assigning schedules and responsibilities. Doing this successfully firstly requires a careful and realistic assessment of needs. Following this, assessing outcomes and deciding on the best approach to achieve those ends within the business. Here are some of the main challenges of managing hybrid workforces.

Unequal working conditions

One of the biggest barriers to permanently implementing a hybrid workforce model are the disparities between employee work environments. Work environments can vary for so many reasons, such as socioeconomic factors, living situation, or the presence of children. A University of Chicago study found that the distractions of the home environment can significantly increase the time it takes to perform daily work tasks. 

With this in mind, employers should consider how their hybrid policy can help alleviate disparities and empower employees to work from the most optimal environment. This can include various measures: schedule flexibility, paying for employees’ high speed internet and productivity software, or simply giving employees the choice to return to the office full-time. 

One-size-fits-all approach

As the hybrid work model gains traction and visibility, it’s that much more important not to rush such a transformative and potentially disruptive process. Adopting a strategic and tailored approach is much more likely to succeed and much less likely to backfire. MIT Entrepreneur Mentor in Residence Terence Mauri recommends first evaluating how individuals and teams define hybrid work, and using that as the basis for planning. 

Two-tier system

Although research has shown that remote workers are just as, if not more, productive than those working onsite, the old paradigm of placing a higher value on office work still persists. Since office workers are by default more visible, it’s especially important to approach a hybrid workforce as a meaningful systemic shift. Organisations who fail to do so may risk alienating valuable and productive remote employees and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that remote workers are somehow less reliable. Instead, try to hold all employees to the same standard, regardless of their work location. 

Planning and Implementing a Hybrid Workforce Model

As the initial shocks of the pandemic subside, the hybrid model is changing from a hastily-implemented patchwork approach to a more intentional policy. Instead of being a reactive response to a state of emergency, it’s becoming a proactive solution motivated by both employee wellness and business productivity. With these changes comes the need to assess and implement the most successful methods for managing hybrid workforces. As you navigate this new frontier, here are some ways to ensure success. 

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Listen first, adapt second

Whatever type of hybrid arrangement you choose will directly affect your employees, so don’t leave them out of the conversation. Managing hybrid workforces will be much smoother if employees feel supported and heard throughout the process.

Choose the right approach

Adapting to a hybrid model is an intentional and strategic process requiring planning and creativity. Although it challenges established notions of what work can and should look like, it doesn’t have to be one-size-fits-all. With input from employees and leadership, choose the structure and arrangement that best meets your company’s needs, whether it’s a few days a week, every other week, at will, or something else entirely. 

Prepare the terrain

Choudhury’s research suggests that some experience working onsite is helpful for successfully managing working offsite. In this sense, the hybrid model can provide the perfect combination of in-person and remote work. This also highlights the need to clarify expectations and requirements ahead of time. 

Budget wisely

A hybrid approach can have clear financial benefits, but it’s a lot more complicated than just downsizing or renting a coworking space. Your overall expenditures might be lower, but you may end up with new, unanticipated expenses instead. One major consideration for remote and hybrid workplaces is information security. With employees working remotely at least some of the time, investing in cybersecurity technology should be top of mind for any company managing hybrid workforces. 

Ensure a smooth transition

Give employees time to adjust to the hybrid workplace gradually. For workers who have been fully remote for over a year, the return to office can be disorienting. Ease into the transition with a few in-person meetings before fully switching to a hybrid workforce model. 

Reimagine communication

In the absence of face-to-face contact, there can be a communication vacuum that result’s in employees feeling disconnected or unsupported. Managing hybrid workforces means reinventing how you connect with employees. This can include offering opportunities for in-person activities, building out virtual processes for addressing issues, or upgrading your communication technology. 

Make the most of technology

In the new landscape of work, collaboration between in-office and remote workers is a given. Make sure your teams have the tools and resources to be able to communicate and work effectively. 

Create a culture of trust

In a hybrid workplace, performance metrics are just as relevant as ever, although the indicators may need an update. Besides showing up to work in-person, consider what other deliverables are key to employee success and performance. In other words, focus on output more than input. 

Let go of old myths

Despite the instant change brought by COVID-19, traditional ideas about remote vs. office work can be hard to break. Managing a hybrid workforce requires updating long-held definitions of what it means to be productive. Try to approach decisions about schedules, roles, and responsibilities with an open mind. Consider the extent to which location, environment, innovation, and flexibility may contribute to the success of this role. 

Keep it fair

In the shuffle of restructuring, don’t forget about the employees who cannot work remotely, whether by chance or by choice. For employees who have to be on-site, consider offering more scheduling flexibility, additional perks and benefits, or a more generous paid time off policy. For those who choose to be on site due to the challenges of their working environment, consider paid childcare benefits or additional scheduling flexibility. The best approach may be to simply ask employees what benefits would help them be most successful. Using this feedback, forward planning can then effectively take place.

Strengthen HR and onboarding processes

A successful transition to a hybrid model is highly dependent on competent leadership from HR departments. Investment encompasses many of the previous points, because it sets the stage for clear communication and policies. The key strategies of a successful HR approach include: comprehensive onboarding, setting clear goals and expectations, and scheduling in-person meetings or events as needed. 

There’s No Looking Back

No matter what the future of work ends up looking like, one thing is for certain: everything has changed. While the pandemic accelerated existing trends towards more flexibility, it’s obvious that it will be very difficult to “close” this figurative box and return to how things were before. 

The benefits of hybrid work also bring great responsibility. As a result, make sure your organisation is equipped with the best tools and resources for managing a hybrid workforce. This includes streamlining onboarding, managing communication, and building a thriving culture. 

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