Employers are preparing to reopen workplaces, but employees aren't ready to close their home offices. The compromise? For many employers, it's hybrid work.
The arrangement allows employees to split their time between in-person and remote work. For many workers, the option to telework, even some of the time, is a significant benefit. A paper published in April in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that nearly two-thirds of workers value a schedule that allows them to work from home two or three days per week. And "the vast majority" of the 30,000 U.S. workers surveyed want to work remotely at least one day per week.
With the influx of hybrid work announcements, it looks like employers are willing to deliver. "People seem to really like working from home, at least part of the time," said Jose Maria Barrero, one of the paper's authors and assistant professor of finance at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México Business School. "If you can work your way around it, it's a very worthwhile perk."
But that's "a big if," Barrero said. "As offices start to return, we're in sort of uncharted territory, not unlike a year ago when everyone had to move to remote work," Barrero told HR Dive in an interview.
The transition will require significant planning and communication from HR and managers, Barrero said. In terms of implementation, hybrid work will be more demanding than the widespread remote work of the pandemic. "It requires so much more coordination and so much more forethought," he said.
Under a hybrid arrangement, for example, the marketing team may populate the office on Mondays and Tuesdays, while the sales team takes up the space on Wednesdays and Thursdays. It's a simple schedule until cross-functional employees are considered. Managers may call for an all-hands meeting once per week, but what happens when two people forget to show up or assume they can work remote that day?
Making it work: Trial and error
As employers run into the challenges of hybrid work, they may be tempted to nix the arrangement. "It's going to be a lot easier for companies to say, ‘We tried hybrid for a month and it didn't work, so everyone come back to the office,'" Barrero said. But that response could deal a serious blow to worker morale.
Instead, employers may want to take a more adaptable and experimental approach. If the first set of rules around hybrid fails, employers can plan to adjust.
As employers tinker with their plans, they'll need to lean heavily on communication and transparency. And managers, the role models, will have to stick to the rules, whatever they may be. "Imagine your team is supposed to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, but the head of your team isn't there," Berraro said. "The incentive is for everyone to be there that day."