The hybrid work model is a system of company organization centered around varying degrees of remote – online – working, utilizing a hybrid work schedule. According to representatives from Buffer – a remote company dedicated to organizing a business’s social media accounts – the hybrid work model can be subdivided into three distinct categories: “remote-first”; “office occasional”; and “office-first”. Remote-first is a system of company organization where working remotely is foundational; most work, therefore, can be conducted from anywhere in the world, provided the prerequisites – such as WIFI and appropriate technology – are met.
Remote-first models do, however, retain some form of ‘office’ space, albeit with a different function to their more-traditional counterparts. The office, for instance, is typically used intermittently for group gatherings; it is, in other words, not a space for individual work, but rather a space for office meetings and collective engagement.
Office-occasional is another variant of the hybrid work model in which, unlike the remote-first model, employees are required to work from an office a few times a week. Frequent visits to the office influence how space is used: workers often adopt the office as an area for solo work as well as for collective activities. However, dissimilar to traditional office-based work environments which usually provide static workspaces for each respective employee, hot-desking – the sharing of physical workspaces at different times – is much more common.
Hot-desking has the obvious advantage of reducing the size of the physical office since multiple employees use the same space to work in. Smaller offices, of course, usually come with lower financial and environmental costs, which, considering the economic and environmental turmoil, incentivize this form of the hybrid work model. For some companies – especially smaller businesses that lack the means to provide larger office buildings – office-occasional work could offer a good alternative to traditional office-based environments whilst retaining face-to-face communication.
Finally, office-first is a distinct category of the hybrid work model; here, the traditional office remains the center of the company organization, however, remote working is offered as an alternative means of engagement. Remote work has several distinct advantages; most notably, increased flexibility in work activities facilitates autonomous working: here, planning when and where to work, for instance, becomes an option. For some, this heightened control over working conditions enables better productivity and work enjoyability. Why, then, within this model of organization, do the vast majority of employees choose to work in the office?
A major reason is that the office-first approach has an inevitable bias towards employees who work in person: face-to-Face recognition technology forges stronger, deeper, and more personal connections which, most likely, lead to better and more frequent opportunities and recognition for work. More personal connections also facilitate better communication resulting in a deeper understanding of each employee’s unique strengths and weaknesses; collaborative projects, as well as the distribution of tasks, are likely, as a consequence of this, to be more efficient. Those who work remotely simply have the added challenge of cultivating a rapport with their colleagues – they can, therefore, easily be excluded from work events, connections, and communications.
COVID-19 has bolstered an already dizzyingly fast rate of social change; in the business sector, this has been pronounced by companies moving to a hybrid workforce model. Since the pandemic, many companies have adopted this work model out of necessity; in North America, for instance, in 2020, 1/3 of the workforce became remote workers. Although an observable trend towards more hybrid work models was extant pre-pandemic, COVID restrictions have catalyzed this transition away from traditional office spaces.
Neeley, a faculty member of the Harvard business school, praises the advantages of hybrid work models, however, laments that their rapid implementation was not conducive to sustainable and efficient business organization. The efficacy of hybrid work models, therefore, should not be judged on these emergent business organizations since the lack of preparation and relevant infrastructure seriously affected their realization. In the future, businesses need sufficient time and resources to prepare for the transition to hybrid work models: not only does the correct technology need to be distributed among staff, but the employees themselves have to be advised on how to work productively from home.