What is a hybrid work model?
A hybrid work model is a workforce structure that includes employees who work remotely and those who work on site, in a company's facilities. Remote employees may choose where they wish to work (such as a home office), while on-site employees work from a central location such as an office building, warehouse, factory or retail outlet.
While some jobs require employees to be on site all the time (such as warehouse pickers and brick-and-mortar retail clerks), the nature of many positions (such as accountants, consultants and marketing professionals) allows employees to work in an environment that's best suited to the work they are doing. For example, heads-down work such as report writing may be easier to complete in a remote setting, while hands-on collaborative work such as product design may be best done in person, in a conference room at the office. No matter which option they choose, employees operating under a hybrid work model are expected to finish their work and meet their performance goals.
In a March 2022 report, "The Future of Hybrid Work: 5 Key Questions Answered with Data," the Gallup research firm projected that 53% of employees in "remote-capable" jobs (jobs that can be done from a remote location all or part of the time) would be working under a hybrid model in 2022 and into the future.
How does a hybrid model work?
A hybrid work model is similar to a remote work model in that employees work from a location outside of the company's facilities. The difference is that under a hybrid work model, employees are expected to be in those facilities at least part of the time. How the details of this arrangement are worked out depends on the organization.
Types of hybrid work models
Organizations structure their hybrid work models in a number of ways that typically include the following:
- Some employees work exclusively from a remote location while others work at the company's facilities all or most of the time.
- Employees work remotely for part of the week and on site for the remainder of the week.
- Some employees work almost exclusively from a remote location and go into the office occasionally.
- Certain days are allocated for in-person collaboration and meetings and other days are scheduled for remote work.
Pros and cons of a hybrid work model
The pros of a hybrid work model include the following:
- Less attrition. Workers who enjoy the flexibility that a hybrid work model offers tend to have better employee engagement and are less likely to experience burnout or seek work elsewhere. Conversely, Gallup found that when organizations obligate employees to work on site all the time, they are less engaged, experience higher levels of burnout, tend to seek out opportunities at other organizations and enjoy a lower level of well-being.
- Fewer or no commutes. A hybrid work model significantly decreases commute times for employees, which has a positive impact on employee well-being and the environment because they are not driving to work every day.
- Reduced operating costs. Companies that adopt a hybrid work model can reduce their operating expenses because they don't have to buy or lease as much office space. Employees also benefit because they spend less money on transportation.
- Increased productivity. A hybrid work model has the potential to increase productivity because employees working remotely are often able to focus more on heads-down work. There is also the potential for reduced absenteeism, since employees who are suffering from minor illnesses may prefer working from home instead of taking a sick day. This also lessens the possibility of spreading germs to their colleagues.
- Access to an expanded talent pool. Organizations that adopt a hybrid work model can recruit employees from virtually anywhere in the world.
The cons of a hybrid work model include the following:
- Collaboration and teamwork may be more challenging. Projects and tasks that demand a lot of collaboration are often better accomplished in person because it's easier for employees to interact and share ideas. While collaboration tools mitigate this challenge to a degree, teams working under a hybrid model encounter issues when some members can't attend collaboration sessions in person.
- Relationship-building challenges. Employees who work remotely tend to have difficulty building relationships with colleagues and have fewer work friends. This can contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can result in attrition.
- Security risks. The potential for cybersecurity breaches is increased when employees work remotely. They may expose sensitive data from risky practices, such as using unsecured public Wi-Fi, downloading unsafe applications or malware, or using company computers for personal use, such as online shopping, social media, streaming and online games.
- Inequity between on-site and remote employees. On-site employees may receive more career development opportunities because they are physically closer to decision-makers. Remote employees may feel they have fewer chances for career advancement because they aren't in daily contact with their managers.
Implementing a hybrid work model
Here are some key things to consider when implementing a hybrid work model.
- Identify which jobs are, in fact, capable of being done remotely even for part of the time.
- Establish "office hours" for remote employees so their colleagues can get a hold of them when required.
- Create agreements among teams that spell out when hybrid employees should be working in the company's facilities and when they may work remotely.
- Explain to hybrid employees why it's sometimes necessary to work on site.
- Design the on-site work environment to include a combination of quiet areas for heads-down work and spaces that accommodate collaboration between on-site and remote employees.
- Ensure equity in meetings between on-site and remote employees by deploying technology that comfortably accommodates interaction between both types of workers.
- Establish meeting-free days of the week or blocks of time to avoid videoconferencing burnout.
- Keep remote meetings as short as possible.
- Identify how interdependent specific teams and team members are to determine when employees should be working together in person or virtually in real time rather than asynchronously.
How to secure a hybrid workforce
Organizations that implement a hybrid work model must ensure that remote employees and their systems are secure to keep corporate data safe and protect against cyberthreats.
The following are some of the best practices for securing a hybrid workforce:
- Provide employees with security awareness training. Remote employees may not have quick access to IT support staff and therefore must know how to protect themselves against cyberthreats. This should be done on a regular basis so that new cyberthreats are addressed, and to ensure that remaining secure is top of mind.
- Adopt multifactor authentication (MFA) for those logging onto the corporate network. MFA requires employees to provide two pieces of information before they are admitted.
- Mandate that remote employees logging onto the corporate network do so via a virtual private network.
- Implement a zero-trust policy, which enforces strict user and device authentication.
- Update cybersecurity policies to ensure that they account for more employees working remotely.
- Audit and update the corporate devices used by remote and hybrid employees. IT staff should conduct regular audits to verify that the latest software patches have been installed.
- Limit access to corporate data. When data use is limited, remote workers are less inclined to use their corporate devices for personal reasons. This decreases the likelihood of them logging onto unsecured websites, thereby reducing the organization's exposure to cyberthreats.
- Conduct penetration testing. Organizations should test their corporate devices to measure how vulnerable they are to cybersecurity attacks. The results of these tests may indicate a need to implement updates and patches to boost security.
Hybrid workforce leadership
For an organization to succeed in operating under a hybrid model, its leaders must do the following:
- Equip employees with the technology, resources and training to ease the transition to a hybrid model.
- Ensure that on-site and remote employees are treated equally.
- Create opportunities for hybrid employees to connect with each other and form relationships.
- Adopt best practices that help prevent remote employees from feeling isolated.
- Hold discussions with both on-site and remote employees on how everyone can best work together under a hybrid work model.
- Help hybrid employees perform well without closely monitoring or supervising them.
- Provide opportunities for employees to develop their skills.
- Help every employee manage their stress levels.