Is the hybrid work model the new norm? Upon the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, companies, universities, and law firms alike transitioned to a completely remote work environment. However, as mask-wearing, rapid testing, temperature checks have become widely utilized, workplaces are transitioning into a new hybrid model.
Though the specificities vary company to company, the model refers to some sort of combination of remote and in-person work. While “hybrid model” is the umbrella, there are different ratios of remote to in-person work. Hailley Griffis, co-host of the MakeWorkWork and columnist for Built In, offers three distinct categories of the hybrid model: remote-first; office-occasional; and office-first, remote allowed. Remote-first refers to an orientation in which employers are free to work from any time zone, though the company often maintains a headquarters or optional workspace. In contrast, office-occasional companies require employees to remain local and spend some time in the office, though these time requirements vary and depend on the goals of the specific company. Office first, remote allowed refers to a largely in-person work environment, though some (if not all) employees have the opportunity to instead work from home.
While there are benefits and downfalls to each variation of the hybrid model, one of the main concerns for companies is maintenance of corporate culture. Some argue that office culture is not defined by physical proximity; Kathy Gurchiek, in an article for The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), cites Deniz Caglar, co-author of Fit for Growth: A Guide to Strategic Cost Cutting, Restructuring, and Renewal. Caglar writes, “Your culture is not your office; it’s what you do as an organization, how you work together. What you do does not change because you’re working virtually”. Caglar suggests that physical proximity does not necessarily breed a cohesive work culture; rather, shared values and common purpose remain the most important aspects of company culture. Whether this integrity is possible to maintain in a hybrid model is entirely dependent on the company itself.
How might hybrid working affect productivity? While the answer may vary person-to-person, a Survey Monkey poll offers statistics based on age range. In participants aged 18-34, 30% report feeling less productive when working remotely, 31% report feeling more productive, and 40% report feeling equally as productive. These statistics alter with age. In participants aged 35-64, only 22% feel more productive, 27% less productive, and 50% equally as productive. However, these statistics are broad-stroke and should be taken with a grain of salt. This poll was taken over a span of time in July 2020, when the onset of the pandemic was still fairly fresh. With more time to process and adapt, a PwC study suggests that productivity has improved over time. This survey, which was taken in November-December 2020, found that employers’ overall satisfaction with remote work has increased to 83%–a 10% increase from the survey taken the previous summer.
What these varying statistics suggest is that companies, and their employees, are subjective. While spending less time in the office may lead to cost-cutting benefits⁴, the effects of the hybrid model on office culture and productivity will vary. How companies fare is also dependent on employers, executives, and team-leaders. Is your company well-suited for a hybrid model? How has the company benefited from working in a traditional office environment, and can these benefits be carried over into the new model? If you do choose to transition to a long-term hybrid model, what will this new architecture look like?
While there are certainly advantages to the flexibility offered by the hybrid model, employers should carefully consider the specificities of their company before transitioning long-term.