When the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly spread in 2020, communities across the globe were faced with fear and uncertainty. Due to a lack of knowledge about the virus and its deadly impact, governments implemented stay-at-home orders for their citizens. Unlike any time before, the pandemic also required employees to stay home.
As a result, businesses had to adopt new technologies to support a work-from-home (WFH) model. These technologies improved communications, created more efficient workspaces, and helped to manage employee schedules. Although a major learning curve was involved, most of today's businesses have adapted to the new model. However, as the pandemic begins to subside and we transition to a post-COVID environment, employers are entertaining thoughts about what the future workplace looks like. For many, it relies on a hybrid model.
What is a Hybrid Workplace Model?
A hybrid workplace model combines both remote workspaces and on-site workspaces. It applies to employees who work from home and in the office. Hybrid models vary depending on the industry.
The hybrid workplace model for employers is similar to the omnichannel commerce approach for retailers, where both physical and digital worlds collide. Employees can use office space, as well as their homes, to conduct daily activities. Every employer needs to develop a unique idea of what their model looks like, but many rely on research conducted during the pandemic to understand what resources and tools help create the most effective hybrid workplace model.
Features of an Effective Hybrid Workplace Model
- Design a Flexi-Workspace
Flexi-workspace, also known as flexible workspace, refers to the creative use of office space that integrates various layouts. According to CoWorkingInsights, "Office design needs to adapt to include a greater proportion of floor space allocated to meeting rooms, training spaces, collaboration areas, and breakout and social spaces – with the role of the office becoming more of a collaboration hub, the design needs to follow. Work that simply requires a desk and a chair will have been done elsewhere, but team collaboration, networking, and culture-building remain most effective face-to-face."
The tech community (think Google!) has utilized this type of workspace for more than a decade; however, the pandemic has revealed the benefits of such layouts for both employers and employees in various industries. The creative use of space and layout allows employees to rejuvenate when necessary, with some businesses offering meditation rooms and sleeping facilities.
- Use Cloud-Based Technology
Cloud-based technology, or cloud computing technology, refers to a company's ability to store and access data and programs over the internet instead of on a hard drive. The most common example today is the Apple cloud. If you are an Apple user, you have probably noticed the ability to access your photos from any Apple device because the data is stored in the Apple cloud.
This concept can now be used for all computer work. Traditionally, businesses have hosted hard drives in their offices, which are considered the hub for content on computers. Today, however, this content can be hosted in a cloud over the internet, allowing employees to access the data no matter where they are.
This is an essential feature of a hybrid workplace model. An employee must be able to switch from working at the office to their home and maintain access to all critical data necessary to perform their jobs.
- Employ Efficient Communication Platforms
As we all transitioned to a WFH model, Zoom video conferencing dominated the communication space. This tool was used to help businesses host staff meetings, schedule client meetings, and conduct job interviews while ensuring everyone's safety. As we transition from a WFH model to a hybrid model, we are likely to continue relying on this technology, as well as other communication platforms, to conduct day-to-day tasks.
For instance, several applications now support ad hoc communication among employees. They can also share information with all staff or support groups of employees working on a joint project. Slack and Microsoft Teams are well-known examples of such tools.
- Offer Virtual Queuing
When people are in the office, the ability to maintain a safe distance and streamline processes is essential for meeting the demand of both employees and visitors. Therefore, businesses should implement an effective hybrid workplace model that leverages virtual queues within the office space.
Virtual queues help businesses manage traffic flow. "A virtual queue can be defined as any digitally-based online system that employs similar 'wait your turn' tactics typically adopted in a physical fashion. Instead, by blending technology with traditional queueing, virtual queues provide order within various organizations and industries, without the need for a physical presence."
This technology is often integrated into systems such as Ombori Queue Management software and can provide numerous benefits to businesses and employees beyond helping them adopt a hybrid workplace model. A virtual queue:
- Helps customers avoid physical queues, long waiting times, and entering a space unnecessarily.
- Empowers employees by managing customer flow, offering real-time information, and protecting personal space.
- Protects the business by offering analytics to optimize operations and customer service.
- Ensure a Safe Workplace
Following months of the COVID-19 crisis, staff and visitors want to return to offices without anxiety. To do this, businesses must focus on ensuring a safe workplace and leveraging technology to protect those who work nearby. Ombori Grid offers numerous solutions to help offices meet these demands, including the following:
- Ombori Occupancy Control and Virtual Queueing, which allow offices to monitor the number of people in every location and demonstrate compliance with occupancy regulations.
- Ombori Interactive Wayfinder, which helps visitors find where they have to go. They can download directions to their phone and receive estimates on the time it will take to reach their destination.
- Ombori Sales Remote or Video Wall, which offers a useful way to share multimedia data with large groups of people.
Implementing Your Hybrid Workplace Model
An effective hybrid workplace model should be strategically developed and deployed to ensure employee/customer satisfaction and business profits. Here are some suggestions from G&A Partners to guarantee a successful transition.
- Form a hybrid workplace planning team that includes representatives from all major departments/divisions.
- Survey all employees to get ideas for and feedback on your hybrid workplace plan. Include employees whose positions do not allow them to work remotely.
- Develop a plan that invests in all aspects of your hybrid workplace culture. Because some of your employees work remotely, some work in the office, and some are a mix of both, you need to support distinct employee experiences – which can be challenging. Create clear and concise remote work guidelines that outline and clarify expectations.
- Address hybrid workplace challenges from the start. How will you build connections between in-office and remote workers? How will you support employees who manage remote and in-person workers? What resources does your company need to train, integrate, and support all employees?
- Establish a level playing field for all employees so that everyone feels appreciated and supported. Make sure everyone has access to the same opportunities.
- Communicate your hybrid workplace strategy/plan to employees consistently and carefully. Encourage questions, provide feedback, and maintain transparency.
- Persevere until your hybrid workplace model becomes part of your company culture. Adapt to meet your employees' changing needs and never stop learning.
For a hybrid model to succeed, nobody can be left behind. A flexible workplace model that responds to employee needs and new strategies is essential and gives company leaders the peace of mind to make the right decisions.
Benefits of a Hybrid Workplace Model
A hybrid workplace model benefits both employees and the employer. Research conducted during the pandemic reveals that a hybrid work model
- Benefits employers economically. It requires lower overhead and smaller offices, saving businesses thousands of dollars each year.
- Enables businesses to access a larger talent pool since people no longer need to be within driving distance of the facility. Employers can focus on expanding their search to ensure they identify and attract the most viable candidates for all positions.
- Helps businesses build resilience against any future lockdowns. Although we all hope that the severity of the pandemic is behind us, we cannot foresee the future. Therefore, a hybrid model establishes employees working from home and prepares the company for any significant changes in office status.
For employees, a hybrid workplace model encourages a more healthy work-life balance. Employees report they feel more productive at home and experience improved workplace satisfaction due to reduced commute times. A hybrid workplace is a win-win for everyone.
Navigating a new workplace model implementation is challenging, but, as the pandemic has shown us, a hybrid model works. Companies are embracing hybrid workplace solutions to enable employee flexibility, boost performance, and optimize profits.
Rui is COO of Ombori Grid. Before joining Ombori in 2017, he worked in Beijing, Tokyo, Silicon Valley and Zagreb before ending up in Stockholm. He previously spent nine years in R&D at Ericsson as Operative Product Owner, and is a highly skilled leader in IT and communications with a successful track record of working closely with both stakeholders and management.