The Hybrid Workplace
The enforced lockdowns that accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic transformed how many of us work. Companies whose workforces were confined to their homes had to adapt to the new reality fast. Working from home became the norm for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The only tools that most homeworkers needed were a computer, telephone, and a reliable high-speed broadband connection.
As the COVID situation became more manageable, we saw a gradual return to work. In many cases, this meant that key employees returned to the office, while others continued to work from home. Some companies called employees in for a few days each week. Concerns about the pandemic meant that it was often necessary to maintain social distancing inside the office.
Three key lessons emerged from the workplace upheavals of the COVID-19 crisis.
- It is entirely possible for businesses to function effectively when many - or even all - employees work remotely.
- A significant proportion of employees prefer working at home; at least some of the time. They also report greater productivity, lower stress, and less fatigue.
- Companies can see a clear potential to save money on unnecessary office space and all the associated expenses.
According to one study, almost 50% of people working remotely will quit their jobs if their employer tries to force them to return to pre-pandemic work practices. It’s clear that a new compromise between compulsory attendance at a workplace and purely remote working is emerging. The hybrid workplace is set to become the new norm for many businesses.
What is a hybrid workplace model?
A hybrid workplace is simply a workplace allowing employees to either work physically in the company office or from their homes. Hybrid workplace models vary considerably and there is no single formula for a successful workplace. The key to implementing a hybrid workplace model is communication between management, HR, and the workforce, and remembering that one size does not fit all.
- Not everybody wants to work from home. Many extroverts need daily interaction with others. They enjoy the social aspects of office life and work best in a team setting. Lonely people can suffer deeply from enforced solitude, and even quite average people often need to get out of the house and experience the stimulation of an office environment.
- Most businesses have a core (or cores) of key personnel who need to be physically available in the office. Some employees simply don’t have the luxury of working remotely and will have to be catered for in a hybrid workplace.
- There will be occasions when it’s necessary, or even just advantageous, to bring teams together for meetings and training. Skype and Zoom etc. are great tools, but they have their limitations.
Why is the hybrid workplace the developing norm?
There are four main reasons why the hybrid workplace is now the developing norm. We can view hybrid workplaces within a wider context of online activity replacing old-fashioned physical interaction. Similar trends include the transition towards online shopping, social media, and online dating.
- There is significant employee demand for hybrid working
- Employers see opportunities to save money and increase productivity
- There is huge potential to reduce daily strain on the transport infrastructure
- The technology is rapidly emerging that will ensure a flawless hybrid experience
Benefits of a Hybrid Work Environment
Hybrid work environments are still a new phenomenon. It will take a few years to thoroughly analyze the pros and cons, but some clear benefits are already emerging:
1. Avoid the daily commute.
The most obvious benefit of working from home is that there is no daily commute to the office. Sleeping in for another hour or two, not sitting in traffic jams or on public transport - and not repeating the process again after work - makes a huge difference to peoples’ health and morale. Workers who have children really appreciate the difference. Savings on transport costs over a year can also make a big difference to your quality of life.
Environmentalists and government planners are keen to reduce demands on the national infrastructure system. Fewer people on the roads also means reduced energy imports and less pollution. Anybody who’s experienced the frustrating misery of rush hour traffic on Derekh Namir, the Ayalon freeway, or the Hemed Junction will immediately agree! Being stuck in a train carriage or bus with the obligatory idiot who babbles non-stop into a mobile phone is also the last thing you need after a nine-hour day.
2. Reduce your interaction with difficult colleagues.
The simple reality is that not everybody likes their colleagues. Even more, employees dislike their managers. The pre-COVID workplace was a lot like school. It brought together a diverse group of people and thrust them into each other’s company for the duration of a working day. Enforced interaction with people you dislike, or even just find irritating, creates stress and lowers morale faster than any other workplace issue.
Hybrid workplaces reduce interaction between conflicting personalities and can reduce the office dramas, gossip, feuds, and power struggles that have always marred workplaces. It’s a lot easier to deal with a problem colleague when your regular contact is limited to emails and the occasional Zoom meeting. Well-intentioned HR initiatives like happy hours, fun days, and compulsory social events also grate on many peoples’ nerves. A hybrid workplace makes them easier to dodge.
3. Increase your productivity.
When you’ve slept an extra hour in the morning, avoided the morning commute, and are working quietly in your own private space, it’s amazing how much you can get done. You’ll probably also notice that the quality of your work improves. Even an improvised home office is usually a massive improvement on a modern corporate open-space office. Relaxed and rested employees, who are in control of their own space, quickly discover new reserves of energy, focus, and creativity.
The typical Israeli company insists on a 9-hour day from its employees. The norm used to be 8 hours, but a few companies tried pushing the boundaries and the rest quickly copied them. When a company offers a ‘global salary’ to demand a 9-hour day, all they are really paying for is employee availability. Very, very few employees actually do good quality work for nine hours a day. They get tired and switch off mentally, then surf the net, hang out by the coffee machine and take extended smoke breaks outside.
Hybrid Workplaces offer employees more freedom to organize their own schedules and work in a way that suits them. A focused employee, working from home in a quiet and private environment can often accomplish more in 3 or 4 hours than they could hope to in an entire day at their old desk. Employers who cram workers into noisy open space offices for 9-hour days experience lower productivity, more employee sick days, and a higher turnover of workers.
4. Lower your business costs.
Renting and maintaining premium office space in Tel Aviv, Herzliya Pituach and Jerusalem can account for a big chunk of any company’s operating budget. Implementing a hybrid workplace often allows immediate downsizing. It’s also possible to make more effective use of existing space and offer employees quieter and more private working conditions. A workforce that has greater personal autonomy will be more productive and more loyal.
Hybrid workplaces also allow more use of freelancers, temporary contracts, and multi-role positions. If your business has a presence in several cities or even countries, tools like Zoom can extend the reach of employees. All the evidence suggests that (with modern remote learning tools) it’s easier for hybrid workplace employees to learn new skills and take on new roles.
Challenges of Managing Hybrid Teams
Running a successful hybrid workplace requires new and more flexible management styles, but there is nothing inherently complicated about the process. The most important thing is to clearly define goals and expectations, and to develop working practices that… actually work! When you allow remote (or semi-remote) employees more freedom in terms of managing their personal schedules, you need to be strict about availability. It’s important that there are set times when everybody is available and that there are clear rules about replying to emails and calls.
The key to successful communication is good teamwork. This can actually improve when people are working remotely and aren’t in each other’s company for nine hours a day. Engagement becomes a pleasure, rather than a routine. A good management technique is to use shared documents and files for ideas and suggestions - and offer incentives for the best contributions.
If you’re looking for creativity from your teams, you need to make work enjoyable. When you do have online meetings, it’s important to ensure that everybody has a chance to communicate and take part. Less assertive people tend to stay in the background and don’t always make a useful contribution (to a greater extent than they would in a company conference room). It’s worth planning the structure of Zoom meetings in advance and having a plan to draw everybody into the debate.
Hybrid Workplace Best Practices
Every company and workplace is different and has its own working culture. When you shift to a hybrid workplace, you should use the opportunity to expand on the positive aspects of what already exists, and reduce the negatives. The bottom line is that since the COVID-19 lockdowns, employees have higher expectations. Work conditions are likely to be as important - if not more important - than salary levels for employees. Employees are already prioritizing their job searches based on how companies treat workers.
Some companies were quick to demand a return to pre-pandemic working conditions (and there are certainly people who prefer them). Most companies are realistic about the emerging need for hybrid workplaces. The days when companies could force workers to endure noisy open space offices and exhausting twice-daily commutes are probably gone.
The key to establishing a good hybrid workplace is communication and negotiation. Companies can use anonymous e-surveys to poll their workers about the kind of work environment that will give them the best balance between productivity and quality of life. Wherever possible, changes to the workplace should be by consent. CEOs and HR need to remember that every employee is an independent adult - not a school kid or a young soldier. If you have the right people in your teams, to begin with, you’ll be amazed at how much more they can actually achieve. The catalyst is a comfortable and supportive work environment.
Transitioning to a Hybrid Work Model, and How TCS Can Help
The prerequisite for any hybrid workplace is reliable, high-speed broadband connections. The demands of hybrid working include the need for uninterrupted video conferencing and other major data transfers. We’re already seeing a trend towards companies paying for employees' home internet and telephone packages. This ensures their availability and efficiency and acknowledges that their home is also their workplace.
TCS has the expertise and the flexibility to offer tailored solutions for companies of all sizes. If you need to equip your hybrid workforce with fiber internet, we can get it done! We’ll also back up your business with dedicated customer service and priority tech support.
If you’re someone who also needs a home office, we’ll ensure that you have the best possible telecom infrastructure. Signing up with TCS gives you the convenience of package deals that takes care of all your needs. You can set up your home office with high-speed internet, mobiles, landlines, and even 120+ TV channels. All services are in English and come with a single itemized bill once a month. We’ll take the stress out of running your home office, and leave you free to focus on work!