Hybrid work is still evolving . . . so put on your white coat and let’s explore some experiments happening in today’s laboratories.
While we fully acknowledge that nobody has all the answers, this post will explore what we’ve learned about hybrid work over the last 3 years, what we’re still trying to figure out in the hybrid work lab, and what the future of hybrid work might look like.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in early 2020 and forever changed the way people work, hybrid work was a small, if growing, workplace trend that had some positive research behind it but hadn’t been widely adopted. “About 75% of US workers had never [even] worked from home” before the pandemic, according to research from data collection bureau NCCI, while only 6% of employees worked primarily from home.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a slew of social changes, but the rapid acceleration of hybrid work may be its greatest long-term impact.
Hybrid Work’s Evolution: The Experiment Continues
Today, the office is no longer the default workplace and hybrid work is simply how work happens: 74% of U.S. companies currently have or plan to have a permanent hybrid work model. People also prefer flexible work arrangements to having to work fully on site – 83% of workers want a hybrid model for today and into the future, according to research from global consultancy Accenture.
While the rapid growth of hybrid models has been impressive, organizations and individuals alike are continuing to evolve its meaning and practice. There’s never been a “one-size-fits-all” conception of hybrid work – Apple CEO Tim Cook once famously called it “the mother of all experiments.” We’re all wearing lab coats in today’s hybrid work laboratory, trying out ideas and hypotheses, measuring outcomes, and seeing what works best.
What We’ve Learned about Hybrid Environments
Many workers have now experienced (and don’t want to give up) the flexibility a hybrid work environment offers them. If a worker needs to visit the doctor, take care of a sick child, or simply take a break from the challenges of commuting into the office, a hybrid work arrangement offers a way of better calibrating people’s work and personal lives.
Organizations and leadership teams, for their part, have also recalibrated their office space to meet the evolving realities of uncertain office utilization rates in a landscape of hybrid work. Hybrid work has, ironically, powerfully reaffirmed people’s desire and need for the office and its biggest attraction is the opportunity to connect, collaborate with others, and build team culture. The vast majority of people, 73% in fact, want to come into the office when they know their colleagues are going to be there.
We’ve learned that:
- People want to see people, but the office needs to earn its usage by offering a high “return on commute.”
- Organizations need to make scheduling office space easy and frictionless for in office workers.
- People need the ability to conveniently book meeting room space, so they can come into the office to collaborate and innovate via in-person meetings.
- People want social programming and community-building events that they simply can’t get from home.
What We're Still Working on with Hybrid Models
Hybrid work remains an experiment and organizations need to build a lab – not exactly a chemistry lab, but a hybrid environment of policies, processes, people, and technological tools that enable good experimentation to be continuously made.
What are the big hybrid work experiments going on today in the labs of organizations?
Determining the Right Balance of In-Person and Remote Work
About 67% of business leaders mandate that employees work from the office 2 or 3 days a week, according to Robin’s Productivity and Proximity report. This “structured” approach to hybrid work has become widespread. While the vast majority of workers (84%) want to come in between 2 and 4 days per week, choosing the “exact” right formula remains tricky.
Adopting Hybrid Work Policies
People want to be consulted on hybrid work policies. When they’re not consulted, the “big policy launch” announced by your CEO gets met with pushback, non-compliance, and employee experience problems. Hybrid workers also want their feedback considered in order to adjust and improve hybrid work policies. Listening to people’s ideas helps you create a better working environment for the people in it.
Measuring and Improving Performance
Organizations must be able to measure and adjust performance based on relevant data about hybrid work. You’ll need to track KPIs (employee engagement, productivity, retention rates, office utilization rates, etc.) and discuss your workplace analytics regularly so you can make appropriate adjustments based on qualitative and quantitative feedback. Experiments require measurement and data.
Finding the Best Technology to Enable Hybrid Work
The acceleration of hybrid work has been matched by the proliferation of technology tools that support the evolving ways people do their best work, helping your teams find resources, spaces and each other. The essential job of hybrid work software and technology is to create a seamless workplace experience with accessible tools and office infrastructure that enable connection, communication and collaboration. There’s no lab without good tools.
What is the Future of Hybrid Work?
Hybrid work, in its many permutations and approaches, is here to stay. No matter how many CEOs dream of returning to the office of 2019, the hybrid work genie can’t be placed back into the 2019 bottle. Keep your lab coats on, because the experimentation will continue.
People in the future (like people now) will continue to want flexibility as a workplace norm, while also wanting the many benefits of coming together in the office. This means that structured hybrid work policies that balance flexibility and choice with in-office collaboration and human connection are most likely the future of work.
What’s the “right” balance for your organization and its people? That’s a question you need to answer in the lab – having a solid ecosystem of policies, people, and technology tools in place to make good experiments, evaluate your results, and continue improving based on data.
It helps to have a “lab partner” who knows the tools, how to set up great experiments, and monitor results. Robin is more than a provider of a holistic set of tools – we’re also experienced at helping organizations like yours develop and improve their work models. Like you, we keep improving in our own lab: we’ve recently added more workplace automation, for instance, to save time and enable people to focus on work, not software or time-consuming manual processes.
Want to future-proof your hybrid work model? Check out our tips for measuring the success of your workplace strategy.