What is a hybrid workforce?

A hybrid workforce combines aspects of in-office and remote-work capabilities, allowing employees more autonomy in determining where they work.

In early 2020, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses in essentially every industry to take drastic measures to ensure employee safety, while still remaining operational. Within a matter of weeks, companies around the globe had transitioned to remote-work models. Relying on communication technologies in place of in-person interactions, organizations helped promote social distancing without having to close their doors completely. But now, as COVID cases drop and industries attempt to return to ‘normal’ business, many are wondering whether a completely in-office workforce still makes sense.

Instead, approximately 82% of company leaders are considering adopting a hybrid workforce model.

A hybrid workforce model is an attempt to combine the flexibility and improved work-life balance of remote work, with the collaborative and cultural advantages of traditional co-located work. 

Of course, because different businesses have diverse needs, there is no single, comprehensive, one-size-fits-all hybrid workforce solution. A hybrid workforce model may offer an almost complete split between scheduled in-office and remote-work days, might include some employees that remain permanently on-site while others operate out of their homes, or can lean heavily toward full-remote or full in-office work with only a few exceptions (such as the workforce only coming in for employee reviews or only working remotely on special occasions).

Regardless of the structural specifics of any individual hybrid workforce model, the objective will likely remain the same: to balance the employees’ ability to collaborate and work productively with the freedom to take greater control of their work environment.

The hybrid ratio

Although it may not be possible to prescribe the correct ratio of in-office vs. remote-work hours, it is worth noting that even among remote workers it’s generally accepted that a moderate amount of in-person work time is valuable. Many companies adopt an almost-evenly split ratio, with two or three days spent in the office during a five-day work week, while others may lean more in one direction or another (such as one day in the office, or one day remote).

This is one area where policy flexibility is essential. Work with employees to understand their preferences and needs, and track metrics to ensure that the hybrid workforce policy is effective at providing the right balance. If it is not, then that policy will need to be updated or replaced.

Discussions about hybrid workforce solutions often tend towards the benefits they offer employees. After all, for those who are used to traditional office-bound careers, the opportunity to avoid commuting and improve their work-life balance can seem too good to be true. But a hybrid workforce can provide clear advantages for the employees’ parent organizations as well. Less in-office staff means reduced operational costs, and companies that advertise hybrid work options are more competitive at attracting and retaining valuable talent.

Here, we look at some of the top benefits of the hybrid workforce:

Increased employee engagement

Employees understand their own motivations, hurdles, and work preferences better than anyone. By allowing a workforce to take a more active hand in devising their own schedules, they enjoy the freedom to establish an optimal work environment that allows them to engage with their responsibilities more fully.

And this goes beyond simply happier or more satisfied employees—an engaged workforce is more profitable and faces a significantly reduced likelihood of turnover.

Improved Productivity

Going hand in hand with employee engagement, improved productivity is another natural result of an effective hybrid workforce model. When employees are allowed to play to their own strengths and perform their duties without having to fully conform to in-office expectations, they naturally produce more work, and of higher qualities.

Hybrid workforces also are more able to avoid work-place distractions (such as difficult coworkers, micromanaging supervisors, and uncomfortable workspaces), without fully losing out on the cultural and social advantages of coming together.

Enhanced workplace efficiency

Operating a modern workplace can be a major drain on operational budgets. In addition to the monthly cost of renting office space large enough to accommodate a full workforce, there are time and expense costs associated with outfitting the office with resources, technologies, stations, and more. 

Fewer on-site employees at any given time means more available space and less money spent on things like utilities, supplies, and break-room perks. The extra space can then be repurposed into break-out rooms or other intentional working zones to help boost in-office productivity and effectiveness.

Reduced ‘time-waster’ interactions

Many in-office employees see regular meetings, one-on-ones, in-person updates, and mandatory get togethers as distracting. Having to stop in the middle of a project to attend a briefing that could have easily been an email does more than just cut into available work hours; it hurts work momentum.

When employees are allowed to work partially from home, many of these less-than-vital interruptions are left behind. Managers must be more calculating in planning mandatory interactions and will often rely on less distracting communication options (such as messaging programs and management tools) to share valuable information. This also frees up more of their valuable time to focus on vital strategic concerns.

Increased employee trust

No one wants to work while someone is watching over their shoulder. For a hybrid workforce model to be effective, everyone on the team must be willing to trust that everyone else is performing their assigned tasks. And, whether consciously or otherwise, most employees will rise to meet this expectation.

By demonstrating trust in remote-work employees, businesses also demonstrate an infectious form of confidence. In fact, many remote workers put in greater effort than they would in the office, if only to prove that they deserve the trust placed in them by their leaders. And, when more direct management is required, in-office hours are the perfect time and place to make course corrections.

Along with the many benefits to employees and companies, hybrid workforce solutions may offer certain challenges:

  • Reduced face-to-face interaction can leave some employees feeling disconnected or confused regarding expectations, processes, and more.
  • Reduced collaboration opportunities may lead to a weak company culture and less-effective project coordination.
  • Increased potential for burnout can result from employees pushing themselves longer and harder than they would within a more clearly defined work schedule.
  • A hybrid work environment may not be an option for certain industries; understanding employee needs, customer expectations, and company processes is essential before considering a move to a hybrid workforce.

To foster effective hybrid work policies, organizations must provide solutions designed to support flexibility, productivity, and connectivity. Without these three focuses, incorporating remote-work options with traditional in-person work may be extremely difficult.

Here are several recommendations designed to help companies promote hybrid workforce engagement:

Take an honest look at interdependence

Those who work interdependently on other individuals, teams, or departments require more schedule coordination. Understanding just how much collaboration is required to fulfill specific project types makes it easier to create in-office schedules that allow hybrid workers to meet and coordinate face-to-face as often as they need.

Use the right performance metrics

There are many ways to track performance, but not all of them provide a clear definition of success under a hybrid workforce model. When establishing metrics, focus on those that place results and quality as top priorities, and make sure that the right tracking tools are in place. Leaders also need to be judged on the correct metrics to determine how effectively they are managing their remote teams.

Communicate correctly

Communication is easy when team members are never further than a few cubicles away. On the other hand, managers of remote employees may find themselves communicating less and less frequently. Making manager communication a primary focus—particularly in areas related to priorities, progress, and project handoffs—helps ensure that important information isn’t falling through the cracks. Additionally, correct communication can help leaders better understand what kinds of collaboration are more effectively addressed in-person.

Be flexible in remote-work policies

Just as no single hybrid workforce model is a perfect fit for every business, different teams, departments, and even individuals may need specialized hybrid policies. This means empowering managers with the authority to personalize policies and to establish scheduling boundaries and expectations.

Do not exclude remote employees

When every workday includes a mix of in-office and remote-work employees, it can be easy to overlook the team members that are not there in person. Be mindful of their virtual presence, and make sure that meetings and other on-site activities are open and available to those who may need to telecommute.

Although certain industries have long fielded remote employees, the realities of this global swing towards the hybrid workforce model are still being observed. Where this will take us in the future, and what the long-term effects of hybrid workforces may be are not yet apparent. 

What is apparent is that expectations of remote-work capabilities are continuing to rise. Today, according to Gallup, about 53% of remote-capable employees expect hybrid work policies and consider it the prevailing work arrangement of the coming decades.

About 53% expect a hybrid arrangement, and 24% expect to work exclusively remotely. These changes will result in an office environment like we have never seen before, nearly doubling the number of people who will be working remotely at least part of their week.

The increasing prevalence of the hybrid workforce is leaving many businesses wondering how best to support employees, teams, and even departments, remotely. ServiceNow HR Service Delivery empowers your workforce with the tools, services, information, and accessibility they need to do their work from anywhere on any device. Built on the comprehensive Now Platform®, HR Service Delivery unites every member of your company and connects IT, HR, legal, and workplace services in a single, centralized location, and gives users access to the full range of in-office support options, even when they’re on the other side of the world.

Learn more about ServiceNow’s hybrid work solutions, and bring your people together—no matter how far apart they are.

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