What Is a Hybrid Office?
A hybrid office is an arrangement in which a company’s managers and employees sometimes work together in a physical office and sometimes work remotely. The idea is to provide the best of both worlds for workers and employers.
Also called “office + anywhere,” a hybrid office might ask people to show up in person one to three days a week instead of the traditional five. Or it might employ a combination of workers who are always remote, workers who are always in the office, and workers who alternate between those two options.
- While some companies had a hybrid office before COVID-19, the pandemic pushed more employers to reevaluate the traditional always-on-site model of work after months of largely successful all-remote work.
- A hybrid office can allow greater flexibility for employees to work in the environment that suits them best and have their performance evaluated based on results, not on time in the office.
- Switching to a hybrid model requires employers to reconfigure workplaces so that they’re optimized for a smaller but fluctuating number of on-site workers.
- Managers must be careful to avoid creating a two-tiered system that values in-office workers more than remote workers.
Understanding a Hybrid Office
The COVID-19 pandemic sent hordes of white-collar workers out of the office and into remote work. But the emergence and widespread uptake of effective vaccinations against the disease created an impetus to return to the office.
For a variety of reasons, both personal and pandemic-related, many workers and managers have not wanted to return to the office full time, and hybrid work has become increasingly common. A March 2021 Microsoft report declared, “The future of work is here and it’s hybrid.” Microsoft’s study found that 66% of business managers surveyed were considering redesigning the office for hybrid work.
Under a hybrid work model, employees largely perform individual tasks at home (or at their remote location of choice) and come into the office for collaborative activities. This arrangement means that employers must convince hesitant employees of the merits of in-person work. Also, companies must figure out how much office space they need for a hybrid workforce and how to schedule office and desk space so that everyone who comes in on a given day has a place to work.
A successful hybrid office may require managers to learn new skills so they can manage both on-site and remote workers effectively, build relationships among team members who may rarely or never work together in person, and keep remote workers on an equal footing with those in the office.
Embracing Hybrid and Remote Work
“It’s time to set aside our long-held assumptions that dictate that people need to work in the same place at the same time to be productive and have impact.” — Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index
Who Wants a Hybrid Workplace?
Nearly seven in 10 executives want their employees in the office at least three days a week for the sake of the company’s culture, according to PwC’s US Remote Work Survey of 133 U.S. executives conducted in November and December 2020. PwC expects hybrid workplaces to become the norm. Post-pandemic, 55% of employees surveyed said they want to work remotely at least three days a week.
Creating a successful hybrid work model will require reconciling the disconnect between what managers want and what their employees want. Employees who can’t get the work flexibility they want at their current job now have more options and may leave.
Others are skeptical that the hybrid office will become the new normal. In a July 2020 op-ed for Wired, GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij predicted that hybrid work will not be viable long term. “Companies that attempt to do both will either go all-in with remote or go back to being office-based,” he wrote.
With Hybrid Work Comes New Opportunities
“With remote work positions more often preferred by women, Gen Z, Black, and U.S. Latino workers, flexible work is also an amazing opportunity for leaders to create a more diverse workforce, especially as the pandemic subsides and alleviates some at-home responsibilities.” — Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index
The Just-Right Workplace
The hybrid office is meant to be a best-of-both-worlds scenario. It can mean significant cost savings for workers who don’t have to commute and for companies that can increase productivity and downsize office space.
It’s one thing to dislike your commute and have an abstract sense that your life would be better without it. It’s another to actually experience life without that commute for months and realize just how much time and energy it was costing you—and experience your life with more time to devote to activities like sleep, exercise, time with family, or hobbies. That’s what happened to office workers en masse when stay-at-home orders meant to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020 created a worldwide natural experiment.
At the same time, all-remote work created significant problems for employees who did not have a good work-from-home environment or the resources to create one. While many people felt more productive at home and valued the additional flexibility to handle family matters, others felt they had been more effective in the office. What’s more, some people prefer in-person interactions and collaborations with co-workers, managers, and clients. They think it’s a better way to build relationships.
Training, Development, and Communication
For both new and established teams, seeing co-workers in person often allows for better communication. A unique benefit is that it may improve our ability to pick up on subtle cues about potential problems via body language and vocal tone. These nuances might be harder to detect via phone or video. Coming into the office occasionally may create more opportunities to course-correct before a small problem becomes a big one.
Younger workers, in particular, may feel that they benefit from training and meeting with managers on-site, and that they’re out of the loop and less effective when fully remote. And people of all ages may find that in-person interactions are a more effective way of coaching and onboarding new hires. Coming into the office at least one day a week may help ensure that younger workers and new employees get the training and networking opportunities that they need to thrive. Still, as companies gain more experience with remote work, they may learn and implement better ways to integrate younger and newer workers without requiring that they go into the office.
Why Do Some Employees Prefer to Work Remotely?
Here are just a few of many reasons:
- It creates more flexibility regarding when and where they complete assignments, and even where they live.
- Remote work can save money on gas, car maintenance, car insurance, public transportation, restaurant lunches, happy hours, and professional clothing.
- It allows them to avoid in-office discrimination and microaggressions.
- They have a chronic condition that is easier to manage when working from home.
- They have a disability, and working from home provides the reasonable accommodation that their employer must give them under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Why Do Some Employees Like Going Into the Office?
Many people prefer going into a physical office with their co-workers for reasons like these:
- They struggle to balance work and home duties and to achieve work/life balance when working from home.
- It’s the status quo, and it’s what they feel comfortable with.
- They like the energy of an office full of workers.
- The office provides the technology or equipment that helps them work most effectively.
- The office setting allows co-workers to build trust through informal interactions.
What Are the Challenges to Creating a Successful Hybrid Workplace?
- Providing a compelling reason for employees to come in to work.
- Managing two distinct employee experiences: one for remote workers and one for on-site workers.
- Determining the right amount of office space for a fluctuating number of in-office employees.
- Investing in high-quality virtual collaboration tools, IT infrastructure, scheduling, and safety.
- Building social capital among teammates who may rarely see one another.
- Maintaining corporate culture.
- Training managers to be effective with a more virtual workforce.
- Ensuring that remote workers aren’t excluded or overlooked.
Which Large Companies Have a Hybrid Office?
Here is a partial list:
- Lockheed Martin
- JPMorgan Chase
- Lloyds Banking Group