What is the Hybrid Work Model and How to Implement it

By
Catherine Tansey
·
June 14, 2021

The hybrid office is here to stay

With vaccinations on the rise and in-person gatherings a possibility for the first time in more than a year, companies everywhere are trying to decide if, how, and when to bring people back to work. 

Early in the pandemic, remote work was heralded as the future of work. Employees reported high productivity and benefited from healthier lifestyles as commutes disappeared and their newfound flexibility cleaved open opportunities for more exercise and healthful food choices. Remote work enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced. The pandemic had created a large-scale opportunity to prove just how functional remote could be.

Yet after more than a year of full-time remote work, the overwhelming majority of employees are ready to return to the office — albeit, some of the time. That’s because remote work was lonely and felt isolating for some. And for others, the physical workplace helps galvanize the creativity, productivity, and collaboration employees need to do their jobs well.

Eden Workplace partnered with global research firm Wakefield Research to better understand how employees feel about going back to in-person work. In a survey of more than 1,000 workers, we found that 85% of employees are looking forward to making a partial return to the office, and that 90% of Gen Z and Millennial workers want access to an office for the purposes of building community.  While “remote work worked,” employees missed the clear delineations between work and home, the social aspect of in-person interaction, and the fluidity of face-to-face collaboration.

Employees don’t want to work from home forever, and nor are they eager to return to the office Monday through Friday once more. What employees crave more than anything is flexibility: the opportunity to manage their work and time how they’d like and from where, be it the home or the office. 

85% of employees are looking forward to making a return to the office in some capacity.

The hybrid workplace model has emerged as a natural solution to help organizations meet their own needs as well as those of their workforces. But for a term that’s thrown around a lot these days, confusion abounds on what exactly the hybrid office is or looks like. 

That’s because there’s no one fixed definition of a hybrid workplace. Hybrid arrangements run the gamut from companies that work primarily remotely with bi-annual meetups, to companies that require employees to be in the office 2 days per week. 

Working options exist on a continuum that we can picture like this.

Why we created this

Just because a hybrid workplace is a natural solution to the previously perceived absolutes of remote or in-person work doesn’t mean implementing it is a breeze. We created this guide to help businesses of all sizes ease their transition to a hybrid workplace. Our hope is to illustrate the compelling case for a hybrid workplace through data-driven surveys and insights, as well as share the tips, tricks, and technology that will help business, technology, and operations leaders smooth the edges of the shift.   

Hybrid workplace models help businesses meet the needs of all 

Hybrid workplaces offer an opportunity to empower employees to do their best work from the home or the office, while still meeting the needs and preferences of the organization. “At a minimum, a hybrid policy shows your team that you trust them,” said Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder of Eden Workplace. “You don’t need to stand over their shoulders to watch them work, and this reflects seeing others as true colleagues and not just resources.” 

“At a minimum, a hybrid policy shows your team that you trust them. You don’t need to stand over their shoulders to watch them work, and this reflects seeing others as true colleagues and not just resources.” - Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder of Eden Workplace 

In a recent study conducted with Wakefield Research, Eden Workplace found that 85% of employees are looking forward to returning to the office in some capacity. Social interaction, access to a professional workspace, and a chance to get out of the house are the top reasons employees look forward to returning to work. 

While for many employees working remotely has meant working from home, some professionals are looking for the opportunity to work from wherever they’d like. A study by real estate firm JLL Technologies found 66% of employees want the chance to work from various locations.

Yet the stats on worker preferences come in sharp contrast to the wishes of CEO’s nationwide. Think tank and research firm Best Practice Institute found 83% of CEOs want employees back in the office this year. 

In-person interaction is powerful, there is no denying that. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled Designing the Hybrid Office, authors Anne-Laure Fayard, John Weeks, and Mahwesh Khan argue that offices are where people build trust through personal interaction, and that creativity comes from “human moments,” of which we have more of in person. Research published by PwC found that employees agree: 87% of employees believe the office is important for team collaboration and building relationships. 

87% of employees believe the office is important for team collaboration and building relationships.

The questions that keep you up at night

Much like implementing any new workplace policy, transitioning to a hybrid workplace requires forethought and detailed planning, open communication, executive buy-in, and resources to support the change. Make sure you’ve answered these questions before debuting your hybrid workplace plan across the company.

What hybrid-model is best for us?

Transitioning to a hybrid model means more than simply rebranding the company as such. Organizations must dedicate time and budget to determine what their model will look like and should spell out expectations for in-office versus at-home working hours. Perhaps above all else, companies must work diligently to avoid any discrepancies between an on-paper policy and the lived employee experience, especially in terms of opportunities for advancement and visibility with leadership. 

Companies must work diligently to avoid any discrepancies between an on-paper hybrid workplace policy and the lived employee experience.

Without carefully constructing, communicating, and embodying their hybrid workplace policy, orgs risk creating two classes of employees — those who work from the office and those who work remotely. For example, if a company decides to adopt a remote first hybrid workplace model, but executives continue to work from the office 4-5 days per week, the message to employees is clear: face time is important. 

Let’s take a closer look at how early-hybrid adopters are designing and communicating their workplace plans. 

Dropbox offers workspaces for collaborative work 

Dropbox had great success with remote work but felt weary about adopting a non-prescriptive hybrid model where employees could choose whether they wanted to work from the office or elsewhere. 

“[undefined] Hybrid approaches may also perpetuate two different employee experiences that could result in barriers to inclusion and inequities with respect to performance or career trajectory,” the company wrote in an announcement on their blog

Instead, Dropbox has decided to offer employees workspace in “Dropbox Studios,” which will exist in all the same geographic locations Dropbox currently has offices. But instead of a use-as-you’d-like approach, Dropbox studios will be available to be used for collaborative tasks or team building, but not solo work. 

Quora’s CEO won’t work from the office

Formerly San Francisco-based Quora is taking a remote-first approach to their hybrid workplace. In a post outlining rationale behind the switch to remote first, CEO Adam D’Angelo pointed to the distraction of open-air offices, the overwhelmingly negative effects of commuting, the impossibility of finding affordable housing in San Francisco, and the restrictions of the U.S. immigration situation. 

He noted that most employees were productive and seemed happier when working from home, but some missed the social interaction of the office, which is why they’ll be keeping offices open for those who want to use them.

But neither he, the CEO, nor other members of the leadership team will work from the office — or visit more than once per month. 

“People in positions of power have a tendency to bias toward giving out opportunities to those whom they are familiar with. Employees in headquarters often don’t keep remote workers front of mind,” wrote D’Angelo. 

Asana opts for regular face time between employees

Asana is taking a different approach. Citing the “connection and team flow we experience when we’re co-creating in the same space together,” Asana is choosing an office-first hybrid model as the company transitions its employees back to the office. 

Asana has long offered flexible hours, believing that employees should be empowered to work when they work best. This won’t change. The company’s long-standing No Meeting Wednesday will also become an option of Work from Home Wednesday, and employees will be expected to be in the office the other four days of the week. 

“This flexibility also allows Asanas to take advantage of things like foregone commute time or the ability to take breaks to spend time with family, which have been some bright spots in our learnings from the pandemic,” the company wrote on their blog. “And when we’re in person, we’ll benefit from offices that are designed to foster opportunities for ad-hoc connection and co-creation through inclusive common spaces.” 

— 

Dropbox, Quora, and Asana have carefully considered the needs of the organization and their workforce, and all three have settled on a hybrid workplace model — although in three starkly different variations. What they share is their success in detailing company expectations for employee success in their new workplace model. 

How will we know it’s time to invest in satellite offices for employees?

Organizations that adopt a remote-first hybrid model, like Quora or Dropbox, are likely to hire individuals who work remotely full-time. If a company hits a critical mass of employees in a location without an office, say in a fast growing metro area like Raleigh or Orlando, they’ll have to make decisions about whether or not to invest in a company workspace in the area, be it coworking spaces or a private office.

With a hot desk at a coworking space in North America averaging $249 per month, companies with less than 50 employees in a single location are probably better off going this route. It likely doesn’t make sense to rent private office space, especially in real estate markets like San Francisco, New York City, Austin, Seattle, and Los Angeles. 

Should we host an annual company meetup? 

Pre-pandemic, many companies were hesitant to implement a more liberal remote work policy because they believed company culture would suffer. At the same time, we’ve long known that company culture is not gimmicky office perks, but the intangible yet ever-present vibe, values, and vision of a company that makes it a great place to work. A vibrant, healthy, and engaging company culture transcends location and in-person, on-site work. 

Meeting up 1-2 times per year for a week only improves virtual communication — you get to experience your teammates as people rather than avatars. - Fadeke Adegbuyi, Senior Marketing Manager at Doist

Despite all of this, it’s still important to bring employees together from time to time — especially for organizations that adopt a fully remote or remote first hybrid model. Studies show that regular in-person interactions build trust between employees and on teams. That’s why even companies that have long been fully remote have always organized once or twice-yearly company meetups. 

A vibrant, healthy, and engaging company culture transcends location and in-person, on-site work. 

For Doist, a fully remote company that creates productivity software for the modern workplace, in-person meetups have long-been important. “Prior to the pandemic, annual company-wide retreats and additional departmental retreats were core to culture-building at Doist,” said Fadeke Adegbuyi, senior marketing manager at Doist. She said because the team at Doist relies heavily on asynchronous communication day-to-day, in-person retreats offer a chance to put a face to team members. “Meeting up 1-2 times per year for a week only improves virtual communication — you get to experience your teammates as people rather than avatars,” Adegbuyi said. 

Should we require employees to be fully vaccinated before returning to work?

While the EEOC first said it was legal for employers to require vaccines in December of 2020, the governing body has finally provided practical guidance in the form of technical answers to common questions. But the main quandary persists: just because you can, does it mean you should?

Employees had a lot to worry about when it came to work last year. The quick pivot to full-time remote and the logistical challenges of the transition were a lot to handle. But despite the many work-related stressors for individuals and organizations, one thing employees didn’t worry about was getting sick at the office. With essentially all knowledge workers having worked from home since March 2020, contracting COVID at the office was a non-issue. But now, as organizations plan to bring employees back to work, ensuring workplace health and safety is a top concern. 

Given that COVID vaccines are proven to protect against serious illness from COVID and lessen rates of transmission, requiring that employees are fully vaccinated before returning to the workplace feels, for many, like a simple solution. Further encouraging employers considering mandatory vaccine policies is the EEOC’s ruling that requiring vaccines is perfectly legal — as long as employers provide exemptions for those seeking a reasonable accommodation because of a qualifying medical condition, or on the grounds of a sincerely held religious belief. And that’s where things can get complicated. 

“If an employee says “no” because of one of the reasons above, employers find themselves in a back-and-forth, discussing that employee’s religion or medical conditions,” said Damien Weinstein, founding partner at Weinstein + Klein, an employment and business law firm in NYC and NJ. “That’s really dangerous and fertile grounds for a lawsuit,” Weinstein added.

Vaccines have become a thorny issue for some, and beyond risking legal issues, mandating vaccines could result in unwanted blowback from employees. With a quarter of employees already planning to leave their current role as the pandemic winds down, organizations want to avoid alienating employees.

Data collected during a recent Eden Workplace Webinar reflects the varied wishes and concerns at play: Thirty-eight percent of employers say they’d like to mandate vaccines as a prerequisite for returning to the workplace but are unsure it’s acceptable. 

In case you decide to not make it mandatory, to help nudge vaccine hesitant employees toward getting the shots, business can: 

  • Run vaccine education campaigns
  • Sponsor on-site vaccination events
    Cover the cost of transport to vaccines
  • Provide paid leave for the vaccination or potential side effects from the vaccines

How to set up a hybrid office 

So you’re going hybrid, are you? Here’s what you need to know to get the office up and running to meet the needs of your new workplace arrangement. 

1. Start by surveying your team 

Employee insight is more important than ever. After more than a year of unrelenting stress, grief, and confusion, getting a pulse on how your employees feel about the return to work is a crucial first step in developing your policy. 

Survey employees to:

  • Discern preferences on the return-to-work timeline
  • Uncover health and safety concerns
  • Gauge their willingness to adhere to safety protocols
  • Understand challenges or concerns about commuting — especially related to public transport

But it’s important to note that surveys provide a starting point, not an all-in-one solution to the return-to-work challenges. Ultimately, the collection of decisions that must be made in bringing your team back to the office is the responsibility of leadership and people operations. 

Start by surveying employees to gain a baseline understanding, then debut a policy. Like all workplace policies, it’s guaranteed that not everyone will be onboard. That’s ok. In the end, how your company plans to bring employees back to the office must reflect business objectives, company values, working style, and workplace culture over personal preference. 

2. Prepare the office

The hybrid workplace requires adjustments from a traditional office setup in order to help employees do their best work. 

Reformat office layout

Your new office layout will depend a lot on what hybrid model you’ve opted for. For example, a remote first organization with a wide range of employees — think almost-full-time employees, employees who come to the office 2 days a week or less, and employees who visit as infrequently as once or twice a month — will require a variety of seating and collaboration spaces to meet the diverse needs of the team.

Companies with a mix of employees on-site will need: 

  • Assigned spaces for full time in office employees
  • Flexible spaces for hybrid employees
  • Collaborative spaces for group work
  • Meeting rooms for formal events

Expand video conferencing capabilities and features

Meetings have long been a place where remote employees felt their “otherness.” Aside from missing the pre-meeting chatter and weekend catchup, remote employees were the only ones on camera, which meant their experience differed from that of colleagues in the room. For meetings, all hands or otherwise, in the hybrid workplace, organizations must plan for greater inclusivity. 

If you have any remote employees at all, orgs should adopt remote first meetings. But while encouraging everyone to have their own square is ideal, it may not make sense if you have tens of in-person employees and a handful of remote workers. In which case, arrange the office and camera so remote employees can have full visibility of the meeting attendees as well as speakers. 

Other tips for remote first meetings:

  • Set and share a meeting agenda in advance 
  • Appoint a meeting facilitator 
  • Assign a notetaker and ensure notes are shared with everyone post-meeting 

Focus on ventilation and improved filtration

As organizations allocate budget to COVID-prevention protocol, focus on ventilation, filtration, and regularly cleaning over disinfection. 

Disinfection aims to completely eliminate germs, while sanitization is related to reducing the number of germs either by cleaning or disinfection. Early in the pandemic as health organizations and epidemiologists were trying to understand the novel coronavirus, it was thought that surface transmission of the virus accounted for a significant percentage of cases. The governing health body recommended disinfection and we became accustomed to disinfecting everything from our groceries to our hands.  The CDC now knows that COVID is spread almost exclusively through respiratory droplets suspended in air, and not through commonly touched surfaces and objects. 

Practically speaking, this means organizations should ensure regularly-scheduled cleanings but can skip “deep cleans'' or disinfection, per CDC return to work guidelines. Ensuring proper ventilation and filtration are more effective measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Businesses with regular in-office workers should consider investing in HEPA filters, improving central air filtration, reducing air circulation, and opening windows when possible, according to the CDC’s guidelines for ventilation in buildings

3. Procure Relevant Software 

Transitioning to a hybrid workplace means investing in software to keep employees productive, workplaces secure, and resources well utilized. 

Access control software

Providing a touchless, frictionless, secure visitor experience is integral to the hybrid workplace. 

Companies like Brivo, Kisi, and OpenPath provide touchless access point software that allows employees to use their smartphones at a key. Employers can instantly authenticate user access and also provide body temperature scanning to quickly and securely check for a prominent symptom of illness from COVID. 

Desk booking

Desk booking software helps organizations accommodate the diverse on-site needs of their employees. Employees can view and select a dedicated workspace for the day and filter by features like double-monitors, standing desks, or a spot by the window. The floor plan makes it easy to see still-available seating and desks, as well as hand sanitizer stations, bathrooms, and emergency exits. 

Administers can pre-assign desks or group departments, to encourage collaboration and minimize contact between separate cohorts. And employees can easily view and change their reserved desk for the day with just a few clicks. 

COVID team safety and Visitor Management

The right COVID Team Safety and Visitor Management software will help office managers and operations professionals provide a seamless employee and visitor experience while keeping track of who is on-premise.

You’ll want a clear record of who’s been where and when, be it an employee or a visitor in the lobby, a private conference room, or a desk they’ve booked for the day. Use visitor management software to register guests in advance, provide the information they need to know ahead of time, and sign documents digitally. And make return visits easier by tracking past guests to prepare for future visits. Businesses need the ability to create and manage health surveys and custom forms to verify the health and/or risk level of those who enter the space. Use software to meet social distancing guidelines by managing who is onsite each day, and stay updated on and enforce maxim capacity limits for each room 

Room scheduling

Select a room scheduling software that integrates with your org’s calendar, so employees can view, select, and reserve spaces for collaboration. Select room scheduling software that allows administrators to set rules for each room that can be viewed in-app and displayed outside conference rooms. Employees should be able to reserve spaces on their own, through self-serve booking and view a room’s schedule online. 

Employee engagement survey tool

Keep a pulse on how employees are managing the return to work and transition to a hybrid workplace with an employee engagement tool like Lattice. 

Lattice helps companies identify what keeps employees engaged, connects performance metrics for meaningful insight, and guides you to the most impactful action you can take at your company. People ops teams can use engagement surveys to measure and improve the employee experience and pulse surveys offer a way to get real-time insight on how employees are managing the return to work. 

Source: Lattice Pulse

Physical space analytics

Larger companies may consider physical space sensors and analytics, like Density, that measure the occupancy of whole buildings and floors. Density helps you secure and optimize your workspace to help you avoid acquiring square footage you don’t need and save on your lease.

4. Maintain open lines of communication

If change is hard, poorly managed change is a nightmare. Ease employee concerns by sharing openly and honestly and encouraging them to do the same. Some final tips for communication:

  • Be sure to communicate your company’s transition to a hybrid workplace well in advance of any possible return date. 
  • Encourage managers to discuss the plan with employees one-on-one, during cross department syncs, and in company-wide meetings. 
  • Lean on the employee surveys you’ve conducted ahead of time to design, organize, and guide your return to work. 
  • Share expectations for the hybrid model you’ll be adopting
  • Discuss vaccine policy / provide additional incentives and/or encouragement for vaccines

How Eden Workplace can help 

Early pandemic, the internet was awash in articles of remote work at the future of work. Workplace experts and long-time remote evangelists claimed the moment as a tipping point in furthering the acceptance of remote work. But with time, we’ve discovered that employees missed the human interaction of the in-person office. Catching up with co-workers via Zoom wasn’t the same, and while we made it work, sometimes what a team really needed was a whiteboard and a conference room to think through complex problems together. What employees want more than ever is the flexibility to work best how and from where they’d like. 

But returning to the office isn’t as simple as reopening the building. Businesses need people policies that reflect and respect the challenges we’ve endured over the course of the pandemic, as well as the software to support the new world of work. 

Eden Workplace is the all-in-one workplace management platform that can help provide your office with all of these essential technology tools for the workplace of the future. We are helping thousands of clients implement these new systems for the Dynamic Workplace in order to provide increased productivity, efficiency, collaboration, and community for employees and workplace teams alike. Eden is the all-in-one solution for all workplace technology needs, including Desk Booking, COVID Team Safety, Visitor Management, Modern Ticketing and Room Scheduling.

Learn more from an Eden Workplace team member today.

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