Reshaping the 21st-century Workplace with a Hybrid Work Model

In the wake of COVID-19, organizations have quickly pivoted to the various challenges in the workplace. Working remotely, conducting conference calls through Zoom, and virtual networking has quickly become the ‘new normal of today’s workplace etiquette.

However, with an increased frequency of individuals receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations, more companies are beginning to set their post-pandemic work plans. The pandemic has altered our traditional way of adjusting to professional settings through virtual settings while continually redefining the ‘workplace’ norm. After a year of adjusting to the ‘remote work’ ultimatum, companies are looking to adopting a new hybrid-based model that amalgamates remote work and in-person collaboration. Companies such as Microsoft, Spotify, and Amazon have reportedly increased their work-from-home policies by adopting the hybrid work model wherein employees are given the choice of working remotely or on-site. Meanwhile, Twitter told employees that they can work from home forever if they wish to do so. 

In an increasingly competitive job market, it is imperative that one strategically positions themselves as we continue moving towards a virtual future. According to a BBC survey in May 2020, 55% of US workers prefer a mixture of home and office. As more organizations embrace the opportunity of “and,” instead of adopting the “either-or” transgression, it suggests that the hybrid workplace is the new 21st-century workplace — ready or not, here it comes. 

A hybrid model in motion signifies a fresh opportunity to reshape and reimagine our working world. With new habits set in place due to a remote-working environment, employees expect continued flexibility and convenience, customers seek seamless digital interactions, and managers need to rethink business operations. It is unlikely we will see a complete return to the office. So, what exactly is the Hybrid Model? And, what will it look like in a post-pandemic world? 

The hybrid model will require individuals to work in the office at least once a week; however, the office will no longer be the central sphere. Some strategies include specific days of the week being allocated towards in-person meetings, while other days to remote work. This newly redefined ‘workplace’ gives individuals the opportunity to work from wherever they want and allows their new ‘workplace’  to be their self-governing sanctuary. 

While the virtual workplace has its fair share of challenges, it has also nurtured new benefits that allow structure and sociability on the one hand and autonomy and flexibility. It’s not state-of-the-art to hear the constant affray between the pros and cons of the remote work lifestyle. A new study conducted by the International Facility Management Association (IFMA),  81% of enterprises expect that a quarter of employees will continue to work remotely even when the pandemic is over. McKinsey conducted an intensive analysis of 800 occupations across nine countries, where most professional careers are planning to retain the mix of remote and in-person attendance at work. 

 The Pros and Cons of a Hybrid Model 

Providing a hybrid work model can bring certain benefits to the organization: 

  1. Increased Productivity & improved employee satisfaction

With minimized workplace distractions and reduced commuting time, 51.6% of remote workers have reported an improved work-life balance (Slack). Organizations are anticipating changes in the physical structure and office layouts. Some strategies include specific days of the week being allocated towards in-person meetings, while other days to remote work. More individuals desire a hybrid work arrangement after enjoying flexible work plans at lower personal costs and receiving more autonomy in the workplace. Individuals report higher satisfaction after reprieving lost time with family and close friends, as well as receiving autonomy. 

2. Lowered business costs 

With fewer individuals attending work in-person, organizations seek decreased costs of rent and office supplies, allowing them to reinvest these savings for future growth models. There are also more significant investment opportunities in tech workplaces, cybersecurity tools, and digital information systems, which help maintain net-cost savings. 56% of enterprises expect company management to reorganize company culture by re-designing the physical workplace to improve collaborative digital experiences.

3. Global Shifts 

The new flexible work environment provides organizations with an opportunity to broaden their in-house diversity. Hiring managers are equipped to a larger applicant pool as hiring is no longer limited to one’s geo-location. This allows companies to recruit a more diverse range and highly skilled talent across borders. The new workplace secret? Productivity, Efficiency, and Job Satisfaction. 

However, with the emergence of zoom fatigue and virtual exhaustion becoming an unsustainable threat, it can be argued that remote work isn’t for everybody. 

Possible Drawbacks of this New Workspace

  1. Workplace Loneliness fueled by lack of Communication

While emails or text messages have become relatively convenient, the lack of verbal communication has introduced a new problem: loneliness. Many individuals have found it harder to engage in organic interactions with their co-workers, leading some to feel isolated.  Communication skills have severely weakened, with nonverbal cues getting harder to pick up on.  Project Management can be difficult to decipher in a virtual setting, with split task continuation between some employees working from home or on-site. 

  1. The Employee Experience

Remote work environments create different employee experiences, depending on the level of comfort, privacy, and workspace one has access to. This can further highlight equity differences between employees. The background workspaces of a Zoom meeting can convey economic statuses, which have unconsciously led to individuals determining each other’s professional competency levels. Hidden barriers such as lack of privacy in a household, and access to the internet or a computer can worsen work-related anxieties. 

  1. Mental Health Concerns

With many remote encounters being task-focused, employees are often deprived of emotional connections. This emotional disconnection can be further linked to mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression. Furthermore, Microsoft researchers found that zoom video meetings had altered participants’ brain activity showing changes in neurological activity associated with stress and anxiety. 

The challenges of a hybrid model are evident and understandable. However, a silver lining of the pandemic has been our ability to cope with new changes. It is a reminder that we are strong adopters of challenging situations and are able to restructure the workplace effortlessly. Furthermore, with every challenge faced, there is a greater opportunity to decrease costs, increase virtual engagement, and a new way to visualize productivity. The virtual workplace is here to stay and is going to involve more people over time. Utilizing more complex technology will become more habitual as we find ourselves getting equipped with a ubiquitous, digital workspace. 

In combining office-based and remote work experiences, we’ll adapt to offering further convenience, flexibility, and maneuver around efficient team collaboration. As we currently continue to follow a limited hybrid experience, we will amass a more robust understanding of how we can transform into a more balanced workplace experience in 2021.  

Working remotely in a hybrid environment may be a good decision for the post-pandemic world. For now, the future of work is looking flexible, productive, and virtual. 

originally written: April 23rd

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