Some companies have decided to return to the office, while others continue to work remotely during a somewhat unusual ‘back-to-school’ period. In addition to the two models, there is a third: the hybrid model, which combines both.  

Switching to a hybrid model: the challenges of combining virtual and face-to-face work

PhotoVirtual meetings became the norm during the pandemic. CreditsSigmund | Unsplash  

 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, there were approximately 260 million home-based workers worldwide, according to 2019 data from the International Labour Organization (ILO). They only accounted for 7.9% of global employment; they were a minority.  

At that time, in Spain, less than 5% found themselves in this situation, according to data from the same organization. The Labour Force Survey, prepared by the National Statistics Institute (INE), found that same year that, although working from home became increasingly popular, it was growing slowly:  those who normally worked remotely full-time had increased from 4.3% to 4.8%, while those who did so occasionally had increased from 3.2% to 3.5%.  

March 2020 was a turning point. As the number of people infected with COVID-19 was increasing, government authorities in Spain recommended working from home whenever possible.  

Thus, according to data from the Center of Sociological Research (CSR) in November 202026.2% of workers had started to work from home as a result of the pandemic. Although remote working may have been a steep learning curve for some people, 32% of workers in this situation said that they were “very satisfied” and 46.4% “quite satisfied,” according to the CIS.  

However, the absence of a strong remote work culture in Spain and the policies that should be followed were reflected in the legal issues, which resulted in the publication of the Remote Work Law in July 2021.  

“And after the pandemic, what next?” 

The improvement in health conditions raised many questions about the return to the office full-time: is it safe? But above all: is it necessary?  

While some companies have decided to have their employees do their jobs remotely, others have opted for a hybrid model that combines face-to-face and virtual work. However, this approach is possible thanks to the preponderance of the service sector of the economy, which in Spain employs around 70% of workers, according to INE data. Working from home would be very costly and even unthinkable for other sectors. 

The hybrid model poses some challenges, such as ensuring that remote and face-to-face employees are provided with the same level of access to information, equal opportunities and feel well-integrated. In this sense, if not properly managed, this hybrid model could lead to other issues stemming from remote work. 

In line with the aforementioned CIS study, of the people who worked remotely and answered that they were “little or not at all satisfied” with this approach, 49% claimed that it was due to the challenges of coordination; 27.5% criticized that they worked more than before; 27.5% said they felt lonely or isolated; 23.5% stated that their schedules were not met; and 17.6% claimed a lack of resources.  

Trello, ActiveCollab or Asana are some of the digital tools that can contribute to proper planning and organization to overcome these obstacles. All three are collaborative workspaces that allow you to assign and prioritize tasks, as well as making it possible to see where the project is at, making it easier for the whole team to have a global vision. Practices such as these favor team communication and can be complemented with group chats in Slack or Microsoft Teams.  

Natalia Peralta, Project Manager of Strategy and Innovation at Opinno, emphasizes that this hybrid approach allows, on the one hand, to promote and encourage autonomy in your team, and on the other hand, to improve team dynamics and build a stronger company culture.  

How could this hybrid model be developed? For example, by setting a day of the week for the team to come to the office, which is recommended but not mandatory. The challenge posed by this approach is to bring to the table the benefits of face-to-face communication, because “there are people who prioritize work effectiveness,” which “can lead to a risk of extreme productivity and individual work that results in professional burnout.” However, having collaborative spaces makes us more creative, and encourages empathy, leadership, and communication skills, among many others,” he points out.  

The heart of the matter lies in the employees themselves working out which tasks benefit from remote working and which ones benefit from being in the office. “Some people were frustrated during the pandemic because a large part of their day was spent in meetings, but the important thing is to understand that this excess of meetings, at that time, was part of their role to keep the team on track, ensure smooth communication and motivate them in difficult times. Now, the challenge is to return to balance, to trust people and their autonomy,” he says. To encourage participation in these virtual meetings, platforms such as Miro, Ziteboard or Mural can be used, which act as dynamics tools, enabling you to write notes together with the sticky post-it feature.

Companies are discussing whether it is necessary for their workers to return to the office and, if so, how often they should go in.

PhotoCompanies are discussing whether it is necessary for their workers to return to the office and, if so, how often they should go inCreditMaxime Utopix | Pixabay

How to organize the partial return to the office 

The hybrid model requires effective organizing of employee attendance at the office. In this sense, the company can decide which days certain employees will go to the office, or it can leave it up to the employees to decide. 

Within the latter option, one of the systems is hot desking, in which employees do not have a fixed seat assigned to them, as the number of desks is less than the number of workers. Therefore, to come to the office, staff must reserve their desk through an application. This can be an opportunity to reorganize the physical space and create more common or collaborative work areas.  

Another advantage cited by its advocates is that, by not having a fixed location, communication between colleagues from different departments is fostered, which would otherwise be more difficult to achieve.  

However, the other side of the coin is that without an assigned position, the work environment can become unfriendly and cold, with less sense of belonging and lead to a loss of motivation.  

BBVA is one of the companies that has opted for this solution. Its hybrid model determines that employees will work 60% of hours from the office and 40% remotely. Employees book a desk online: on the 22nd of each month user can book from a list of available places for the following month and employees register the days they will go to the office through an app. In addition, as the desks are rotating, the drawers have been removed and lockers have been provided to store personal belongings. 

“Before the pandemic, when we had an assigned workstation model, 15% of the workstations were left empty every day due to business trips, training or employee vacations. This system allows us to take advantage of these inefficiencies and free up that space to create more collaborative areas and spaces for networking, so necessary and in demand with the new ways of working,” says Desirée Granada, Global Head of Real Estate and Services, in a press release.  

Other smaller companies prefer to manage their hybrid model by renting coworking spaces to reduce their costs and encourage collaboration with other companies.  

The environmental aspect 

To answer the question of whether remote working or the hybrid model is good for the environment, it is not enough to just look at commuting emissions. Some studies suggest that the energy consumption resulting from remote work should also be studied. This is included in the possible knock-on effects of remote working, which include, for example, aspects such as the use of heating or air conditioning.  

Similarly, we must also assess whether all members of the household work from home, and what the implications would be if some people in the same household commute to the office and others do not.  

Remote working could reduce the environmental impact of commuting emissions.

PhotoRemote working could reduce the environmental impact of commuting emissions. CreditNabeel Syed | Unsplash  

As stated in the Carbon Trust and Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications’ Homeworking Report, it is still difficult to determine the environmental impact. Although the average can be estimated, there are characteristics linked to each country that could influence the calculation. For example, the climate, the culture, and transport network or how rural the area is (due to the distances travelled to get to work). 

However, Greenpeace calculates that, adding an extra day of work from home, could stop emitting 406 tons of CO2 per day in Madrid or 612 tons in Barcelona from commuting, as detailed in its report “A year of teleworking. Its impact on mobility and CO2 emissions”. However, they also stress that teleworking is only part of a set of solutions.  

The hybrid model of work in Spain is still in its infancy but, after the experience of remote working during the pandemic, some companies are betting on it in their transition to face-to-face working in the office. In a few months, we will know if it is here to stay. 

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