Hybrid work model: 4 keys to getting it right

Aug 05, 2021

Hybrid work is here to stay, and the data shows it. Four in ten workers currently working from home at least one day a week say they’d look for a new job if forced to return to in-person work full time.

But just what form this hybrid future will take is still very much an open question. When deciding what hybrid work model is best for your organization, it’s easy to get caught up in the details of scheduling, the logistics of project management and holding meetings, and the day-to-day pressures of guiding teams through a time of change.

Before becoming mired in these details, however, it’s crucial that we take an opportunity to think about the bigger picture of hybrid work and its impact on our people, our workplaces, and our organizational cultures. We won’t find the right model by splitting hairs over whether people are allowed to work from home on Fridays. We will find it by rethinking work on a fundamental level. And discovering new ways to help our managers and teams thrive.

Here are a few key considerations for developing the right hybrid work model for your organization.

1 - Stay open-minded about hybrid work models

According to hybrid work expert Lynda Gratton of London Business School, one of the biggest mistakes leaders can make right now is not being imaginative enough when it comes to what shape hybrid work might take at their organization. While some leaders have immediately focused on returning to “normal” or creating rules that limit hybrid work’s flexibility, this approach is likely based on false assumptions about the conditions under which workers are most productive. Or even what purpose the office serves in the first place.

Questioning these assumptions can help ensure we’re staying open to the opportunities a more creative or flexible approach to hybrid work could offer. Tsedal Neeley, an expert on work at Harvard Business School, agrees with Gratton that thinking creatively about hybrid work is central to establishing a hybrid work policy that doesn’t just pay lip service to the idea of flexibility, but instead makes employees feel valued and trusted.

Evaluating lessons learned during the transition to remote work can help with this process. Were teams productive while working from home? What forms did virtual collaboration take? How did project management change? Answers to questions like these will ensure your hybrid model isn’t based on gut reactions, but on real data about how your teams do their best work.

2 - Consider the role of diversity and inclusion in hybrid work

It’s essential to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion into the very first stages of your hybrid work planning. Because hybrid work will affect everything from recruitment, to performance management, to project workflows, to––potentially––employees’ career paths, we must consider how these changes might affect different employees in different ways. Research has indicated that women are more likely to consider taking a new job if given the opportunity to work under a hybrid model, for example, as are people living with children under the age of 18. Some experts also believe that the ability to work from home part of the time could offer additional benefits to staff who face issues like microaggressions and implicit bias at work, such as racial and ethnic minorities who feel pressured to “code switch” at the office, or LGBTQ+ employees who may not be out to their colleagues.

Yet there’s a more complicated side to DEI in hybrid work, too. While hybrid working models present new opportunities for inclusion––even widening the geographic range in which a company can hire––issues like proximity bias mean that hybrid work’s benefits may not be equally distributed over the long-term. Under flexible hybrid models, different team members may end up spending widely disparate amounts of time in the office. Given that some research indicates employees who put in more “face time” will be more likely to receive promotions, these differences could become problematic long-term. Particularly in light of data showing that certain groups, such as women and parents with young children, are more likely to opt to work from home more often, companies will need to consider how to account for these biases to avoid unfairly penalizing employees who err on the side of working remotely.

Bottom line: the DEI implications of hybrid work are nuanced and multi-faceted––and robust employee listening and careful monitoring of data around diversity and equity issues must be a central part of any hybrid plan.

3 - Include managers in the hybrid work conversation

Managers will inevitably bear the brunt of hybrid work’s challenges. Management styles that work well in-person don’t always translate to remote work (and vice versa), and managers who struggled during the pandemic may feel overwhelmed by the idea of yet another major transition. Contributing to this overwhelm is the fact that managers are also the “boots on the ground” responsible for the day-to-day implementation of many aspects of an organization’s hybrid work model, from performance management, to scheduling, to logistical headaches like attempting to hold mixed-mode meetings where some reports are in the office and others are remote.

For these reasons, it’s crucial that managers feel both heard and supported during the shift to hybrid work. This means a chance to provide input at the beginning of the process, where managers can offer their insights on how and where their teams work best, as well as regular opportunities for feedback about how the model is working for their teams day-to-day.

This also means considering options for training managers in the skills and knowledge necessary for managing under a hybrid model. While old in-person leadership academies typically made the inclusion of management teams prohibitive, new digital options make this training an accessible and smart investment, particularly at this juncture.

4 - Put your hybrid work model to the test

There are researchers and experts like Gratton and Neeley who have been thinking about hybrid work for years. This means there are already great resources and insights about what works and what doesn’t in the world of hybrid work. Leaders shouldn’t feel pressured to develop their models from scratch.

That said, what we don’t have yet is a wealth of data on hybrid work best practices at a large scale, especially in the case of knowledge workers. Moving forward, leaders should see hybrid work at their organizations for what it is: a massive experiment. We’ll need to put our hybrid work visions to the test, paying attention to key measurements and continuously reassessing as we gain more information about how our teams are performing and what these models look like in practice. At Dropbox, for example, leaders started their hybrid work implementation from the premise that they wouldn’t get everything right on the first round, and are continuously monitoring outcomes using employee listening, financial objectives, and performance data.

At its core, this vision of hybrid work as an experiment means being ready to fail, reassess, and start again. It also means being honest about what’s working and what we need to iterate and improve. It will be a lengthy process, but a worthwhile one, too. It’s the same process that will allow us to ask novel questions about where, how, and why we do our work. And uncover answers that just might open entirely new avenues for success.

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Make sure you and your managers are ready for this massive transition in how we work. Sign them up for Nomadic’s new Program, Hybrid Working. This first-of-its-kind Program explores current best practices for the hybrid office, including creating community on a hybrid team, reimagining how we use time, coaching and retraining staff in a hybrid environment, and more.

Learn more about the Hybrid Working Program––or talk to us about getting Hybrid Working for your whole organization.

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