Shifting to a hybrid work model: a more flexible, efficient and agile workplaceAfter a year of working remotely due to the pandemic, employers across all industries are now bringing workers back to the office. However, the pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way in which people work and many companies have decided to opt for a hybrid model that combines virtual and face-to-face work, with the challenges that this entails.
Photo: Choosing where, when, and how to work has become an employee preference. Credits: Unsplash.
By Fernanda Morocho
Two years have passed since the outbreak of the pandemic and companies are still deciding between remote work, face-to-face work and the model that combines both: the hybrid. As the COVID-19 situation began to improve in 2021, companies started to gradually open their offices. This trend spurred the return to face-to-face working and the percentage of remote workers dropped from 11.2% in the first quarter to 8% in the third quarter, according to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE).
These figures reflect that organizations prefer going back to face-to-face work, but workers have become used to working from home. Choosing where, when, and how to work has become an employee preference. The report Resetting Normal: redefining the new era of work by Adecco Group reveals that six out of ten workers surveyed want to retain flexibility and autonomy over their working hours once the pandemic is over.
Therefore, to meet the demands of employees and the company's preferences, many companies opt for a hybrid model. In this way, it is possible to decide or agree which days to go to the office and which days to work from home. This flexibility and its many benefits are the attraction that has positioned it as an alternative for organizations in this stage of a gradual return to normality.
Hybrid work is not just a model, it is an opportunity that large companies such as Amazon and Microsoft have been able to take advantage of thanks to the benefits it offers. According to the report Work from Anywhere. Empowering the future of work, conducted by the multinational computer company Dell Technologies, 56% of organizations that have implemented hybrid work perceive increased employee satisfaction and well-beingas a primary advantage. The flexibility in the schedule allows them to better organize their time not only in the work environment, but also in the personal one: the time previously spent commuting to the office can now be enjoyed with family or friends.
One of the great myths about remote work is that employees are less productive outside the office. The aforementioned report dispels this belief, with 52% of the companies surveyed ranking increased productivity as the second benefit. Greater flexibility in working hours is synonymous with greater productivity, employees can decide how to plan their individual time and how much time to invest in interactions with the team. Amelia Hernandez, Strategic Engagement Manager at Opinno Madrid, says: "The pandemic has taught us that we can be just as productive or more productive working in a distributed digital environment. In fact, this change has given companies greater flexibility, efficiency and agility." In line with productivity, 49% of the companies that participated in the report ranked improved efficiency as the third benefit.
This model also allows companies to reduce office costs. For example, with hot desking, employees can use the same physical workspace at different times. In this way, companies can save on rental space, energy use or equipment maintenance.
However, implementing hybrid work can be a real challenge for companies. In the report A New Perspective on the Modern Workplace commissioned by technology company Cisco, the main challenges cited by organizations are additional technical support for employees, maintaining service levels and customer satisfaction, disruption to workflow and processes, and day-to-day coordination of staff activities. The loss of informal face-to-face interpersonal relationships is also a major challenge.
How to implement it successfully?
For a successful implementation, companies not only have to face the challenges outlined above, but there are also several factors that must be taken into account. For Hernandez, the main ones are culture, processes, and tools.
One of the questions that arises among large corporations is how to establish or maintain a sense of belonging when communications are virtual, Hernandez responds: "It is important to understand the foundations of the culture and design engagement activities that help to strengthen the bonding and motivation of the teams. In this sense, the well-being of teams and the humanizing of connections have become core elements for shaping the culture in a hybrid organization. To achieve their integration, employee communication must be reinforced. In addition, mechanisms can be developed to identify when remote employees are feeling isolated. Companies must show empathy and encourage better employee physical and mental health.
Secondly, the emergence of the hybrid model has led to a rethinking of internal processes. Be clearer with expectations and with people to work more efficiently and asynchronously. Hernandez recommends following certain practices to update and digitize internal processes: agreeing on or sharing work habits for new teams, such as schedules; planning more detailed tasks to ensure everyone can work independently and establishing checkpoints to identify potential risks; and limiting meetings and messaging to ensure people have time to focus.
Finally, technology is a fundamental part of the implementation of this work system. While it is true that the emergence of the hybrid model has led to the digitization of companies, not all of them have the resources to keep working remotely. The best-equipped companies such as Dell Technologies were able to transition to a fully digital mode in a weekend and without business interruptions thanks to the infrastructure and digital skills they already had, says Hernandez. However, this shift requires all employees to have good equipment, strong cybersecurity procedures and a stable internet connection.
Photo: This model requires all employees to have good equipment, strong cybersecurity procedures and a stable internet connection. Credits: Unsplash.
The post-pandemic paradigm
A few months ago, we were already wondering whether the hybrid model was here to stay. The COVID-19 crisis has led more and more companies to bet on a hybrid work model, but now the debate arises around what the structure of work will be like once the pandemic is over.
In a survey conducted by work platform Envoy, 47% of employees said they would probably leave their job if it did not offer a hybrid work model once the pandemic is over. Another study by the consulting firm Steelcase revealed that 78% of workers want to keep this work system.
For Hernández there is no doubt that the needs of workers and the drive for digitalization have played a decisive role in making this model the paradigm of the present and possibly the future of organizations: "Although some companies will try to return to a 100% face-to-face model, I believe that employees will demand it. If companies want to retain the best talent, they must adapt to the new digital habits that technology facilitates. The hybrid model is here to stay."