One of the bright spots of the COVID-19 pandemic is how it allowed—really, forced—many companies to reconsider their attitudes toward and policies around remote work. While many trailblazing companies had for years offered the ability to work remotely as a much-sought-after perk for their employees, the majority were wary of giving employees that kind of flexibility.
For one, there was simply a fear that employees would slack off or otherwise be less productive if they were working from home and outside the structure of a traditional office setting. Others bemoaned the reduced ability to collaborate in person.
A Hybrid Approach to Coming Back to Work
Some major companies have announced new policies to allow virtually all staff to work completely remotely post-COVID. Others, perhaps most notably Amazon, have said they plan to return to something resembling pre-COVID normal in terms of their remote work policies. Of course, there are few companies that are taking an all-or-nothing approach, and most are looking at some kind of “hybrid” approach.
But what does that term really mean?
Simply put, a hybrid model means a cross between a full-time in-office arrangement for all staff and a full-time remote arrangement for all staff. Obviously, that leaves a lot of space in between the two extremes for a wide variation of so-called hybrid arrangements. Some companies, for example, are allowing roughly half of their staff to work fully remotely while the other half has to spend at least some time in the office. Other companies are allowing all staff some flexibility, with the expectation that they will spend some days in the office and some days working from home.
Of course, this raises some tricky questions for employers. For one, how does a company decide which employees can work from home and which need to be in the office? Does it come down to job function? Performance? Managerial discretion? Second, how does a company manage a hybrid model logistically? Does that mean keeping the same physical office footprint they had pre-COVID but many offices and work spaces sit empty depending on the day? Or does it mean reducing office space and having staff rotate in and out of shared work spaces depending on the day? What is the benefit of in-office collaboration if not all staff are actually going to be in-office, or at least be in-office at the same time?
Relatively few companies are coming out of COVID with a one-sided approach to their remote work policies. There are certainly a handful that are requiring everyone to come into the office as they did before the pandemic and some that are moving to a completely remote model.
The vast majority fall somewhere in between on a far-ranging spectrum of so-called hybrid models. It’s almost certain that these companies and their employees will learn what works and what does not work in this new model and that we’ll start to see shifts in policies over time. The nature of office work is likely to be one of the most noticeably lingering effects of the pandemic for years to come.