You spent so many months adjusting to the new COVID-19 norms that defined your work life, such as suddenly becoming a fully remote employee. But at some point, you'll likely have to adjust to a whole new set of norms for what work will look like in the wake of the pandemic. And you may have heard the term “hybrid work” thrown around—either by your employer or in a news story saying that many companies are considering hybrid work models post-pandemic.
So what is a hybrid work policy and what would it mean for you as an employee if your company decided to implement one?
What Is a Hybrid Work Model?
At its most basic, a company has a hybrid work model if it has employees working both in-office and remotely. But there’s a range of hybrid setups companies are considering or have already implemented.
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown has been difficult for everyone, but while people are yearning for things to get back to “normal,” that normal doesn’t necessarily include going back to the way most of us used to work. According to a report released by Microsoft, over 70% of employees want remote work options to continue in some form and 65% want more time in-person with their teams. Some want one or the other and, with those percentages, there must be a number of employees who want both things. And this isn’t just something employees want: Two-thirds of business decision makers are considering redesigning office spaces to better accommodate hybrid work.
Of course, some of the early moves toward hybrid work in the COVID era have been driven by safety concerns and pandemic restrictions: Many companies simply can’t (legally and/or safely) have all of their employees in the office at the same time while maintaining social distancing. But beyond staying six feet apart until we reach herd immunity, “workplaces are actually long overdue for this adaptation to hybrid work models,” says Elaine Yang, Human Resources Business Partner Manager at Lever, who’s helping to design her company’s new hybrid work model. (Full disclosure: Lever is a current client of The Muse.)
According to a Gallup survey, employees who worked remotely at least some of the time both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic had the highest engagement, Yang says, but employees who work from home all the time are most likely to suffer from burnout. While some hybrid plans have groups of employees who are only remote or only in the office, “Giving employees a mix of both in-office and remote work is good for the employee and good for the business.” Yang says. So hybrid work schedules aren’t just a temporary fix to accommodate pandemic health guidelines, they’re more likely part of lasting changes to how we work.
What Does a Hybrid Work Model Look Like in Practice?
“We talk about hybrid work like it’s one thing, but it’s many things, and we’re still figuring out what all of those things are,” says Mariel Davis, cofounder and CMO of Spokn, a platform that helps hybrid companies communicate, who has spent 10 years managing employees in a hybrid environment. So when you hear the term “hybrid work model,” it can actually refer to a range of different setups and even your company’s exact policies are likely to evolve as they figure out what does and doesn’t work for the team.
Generally, hybrid work policies exist on a spectrum. On one end, you have the most common hybrid work model pre-pandemic: Some employees are 100% remote workers and others are 100% in-office workers, Davis says. This split may happen by department or job duties—for instance, maybe a software engineering team might be fully remote while the same company’s sales team is fully in-office. Or who is remote might be decided by employee location. For example, Davis once worked for a company with employees in 12 different countries, but there wasn’t an office in every city or even country where employees were located.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ll find a very flexible hybrid policy where all employees are remote part of the time and in person some of the time, with the ability to decide what their balance of in-office vs. remote work is and which days and times work best for them to come to the office. For example, maybe one employee thrives best as a remote worker, and only comes in for meetings, while another has too many distractions at home so comes into the office every day. Some workers may prefer to go into the office in the afternoon only, while others want to be home when their children get off the school bus.
In the most flexible scenario, you’d also have the ability to change it up day-by-day. Some employees might find that having a set schedule of in- and out-of-office days works best for their planning, while others may benefit from the ability to work around school calendars and parenting duties or unpredictable symptoms of a chronic illness.
Most companies are going to fall somewhere in between these two extremes. For example, Lever’s planned hybrid work model has different teams coming into work on designated days, “so that team members get the face time with their colleagues to collaborate on projects,” Yang says. But if anyone wants to go into the office every day, they’ll be able to do that as well. Meanwhile, Devin Johnson, CEO of Kennected, says that his company is considering a setup that would require employees to be in the office at least two days a week and will expect them to work from home two or three days a week. There will, however, be common spaces in the office for anyone who would prefer to come in on their remote days. Both Lever and Kennected based their models on surveys of employee preferences.
Hybrid work models also vary in terms of which hours you’re expected to work. “COVID has taught us that life doesn’t stop when your workday starts,” Davis says, and employees and employers alike are realizing that having more flexibility to deal with non-work tasks during business hours is beneficial. So while some companies might still require everyone (both remote and in-office) to work from 9 AM to 5 PM according to the time zone of a particular office, others will allow employees to choose their own hours entirely. In the middle, some companies may mandate certain hours for in-office work and let remote work be flexible, or require employees to be available for meetings at certain times of day but let them choose their own hours otherwise.
“Not everyone is most productive in a traditional 9 AM to 5 PM timeframe,” says Kerry Wekelo, COO of Actualize Consulting, where she’s managed remote and hybrid work models for over 15 years. Hybrid work may allow someone who feels most productive in the early morning or late night to shift their schedule to get their best work done, Wekelo says.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Hybrid Work for Employees?
Ideally, hybrid work offers a perfect combination of convenience and productivity, Davis says. If your company adopts a hybrid work model, you’ll hopefully spend less time doing low-value activities like commuting or trying to focus on deep work in a crowded office. You can put those hours toward high-value work like collaborating with colleagues or completing deep work more efficiently at home so you can step away and attend to outside-of-work tasks, Davis says.
“Staying flexible allows employees to create a greater balance and autonomy during their week,” Wekelo says. “Employees are able to spend [more] time with their kids, eliminate the hassle of taking PTO for doctor appointments, [and] complete house chores.” Hybrid work environments are more inclusive for those with various caregiving and other outside-of-work responsibilities, those who have more difficult commutes or less access to transportation, or anyone who may have mental or physical health issues that make working in an office more difficult some or all of the time.
However, there are some drawbacks to hybrid work. One is that it might be harder to forge connections with your entire team. You may naturally bond more with coworkers you see in person regularly than with coworkers who are entirely remote or who work on different schedules, Wekelo says. Another drawback is that employees who work in the office more—or just work in-office at the same time as managers and leadership—may be more visible, Davis says, and, in turn, they might be perceived as more dedicated even if that’s not the case.
Additionally, if working remotely at least some of the time is required of every worker and you don’t have an ideal home environment for remote work—perhaps you have unreliable internet, live with roommates, or don’t have enough space for a designated work area—you may be at a disadvantage, Johnson says. During the pandemic especially, workers may also be uncomfortable with mandatory time in the office due to safety concerns, Yang says.
The good news is that many of these drawbacks can be mitigated or even eliminated if your employer is intentional about how they implement hybrid work. And you can spur them to be thoughtful about their plans—so that you can get the most out of hybrid work—by asking the right questions.
What Should You Ask If Your Company Is Considering a Hybrid Work Model?
Since hybrid work means different things for every company, make sure that you’re asking plenty of questions ahead of time.
Here are some questions specific to transitioning from a remote to a hybrid work schedule while the COVID-19 pandemic continues and safety is top of mind. Depending on your job, office location, and your company policies during the pandemic, you may have additional questions in this area, but above all else, make sure that you’re asking any question you need to feel safe returning to the office.
- What are the protocols for keeping the office clean as different employees come in and out for in-person hours?
- Is there anywhere in the office where employees are not required to wear a mask? Can we eat in the office? If so, where?
- Will there be meeting or common areas where teams can sit six feet apart?
- Have there been any changes to our sick leave policies? (For example, should anyone feeling sick stay home in all situations?)
- Does the company have set guidelines for under what circumstances the office might have to close down again or cut down on capacity?
- Are there any COVID testing and/or vaccine requirements for workers returning to the office?
Flexibility and Logistics Questions
These are the types of questions you should ask your employer to make sure that you understand the nitty-gritty of their hybrid work policy so that you can figure out what, if any, choices you need to make to get the most out of hybrid work.
- Am I able to work both remotely and in the office? If I’ll be either remote or in-office full-time, how will that be decided? Is it my choice?
- Can I choose how many days I spend in the office vs. remotely?
- Am I locked into being in the office on certain weekdays or can I change up my in-office schedule?
- Am I required to work set hours?
- Do I need to schedule my in-office and remote days ahead of time? If so, how far in advance?
- Will I be required to come in for certain team meetings or other activities?
- Are all policies being set company-wide or do managers and/or department heads have a say in certain aspects of how each team works?
- What is the office setup? Will I have a dedicated workspace and will anyone else be using it when I’m remote?
- Will there be space to work if I need to come into the office on a day I planned to work remotely?
These questions and others like it will help ensure that you won’t be inadvertently penalized for making the most of your company’s hybrid work policies. So be sure to ask about any concerns you might have around performance evaluations; your ability to get work done; and opportunities to connect with teammates, managers, and leaders. Asking questions like this may also help get management thinking about potential ramifications they may have overlooked.
- Will there be any stipends provided for home office supplies or utilities (for example, internet) or for anyone who needs to rent a coworking space?
- What are the company’s plans for making sure performance assessments and opportunities are equitable and not affected (consciously or unconsciously) by who is in the office more?
- What steps are you taking to ensure that remote employees have access to all the same information as in-office employees at any given time?
- How are managers and leadership being trained and prepared to manage in a hybrid work environment
- What plans do you have to help form and maintain connections within teams and across the company so that no one is left out?