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What is a hybrid work model and why is remote work’s popularity on the decline?

David Weisman

 

Remote work is not a new idea, but it got widely adopted only when the pandemic started in 2020. Two and a half years later, research shows that full-time remote work cannot be a universal long-term solution. In this article, we discuss why its popularity has been declining, and why the creation of a hybrid work environment is a much more viable alternative for the future.

 

The Concept’s Origins

 

Working “out of office”, also known as “teleworking”, “telecommuting”, or “work in virtual offices”, is not a new concept. As telecommunications and digital technology were becoming ubiquitous, physical presence at the workplace started seeming unnecessary. Employees hoped they would be able to avoid lengthy commutes and rigid work schedules.

 

Already in 1979, a Washington Post article suggested “telecommuting” voluntarily to partially address psychological and economic issues stemming from traditional commuting. By the end of the 20th century, “Telecommuting” became a commonly discussed idea, although the discussion was rather abstract and tended to focus on the expected benefits, disregarding other aspects. The adoption of remote work was supposed to reduce the need to commute, as well as to make employment more eco-friendly, reducing air pollution and resource consumption.

 

Long before the pandemic crisis some industry giants such as AT&T, IBM, and Yahoo! indeed had tried abandoning physical offices to various degrees, but sooner or later they decided to give up on this concept. Most of the global workforce continued working from the office daily, as it has been for decades.

 

An Unforeseen Work Model Shift and Its Outcomes

 

COVID-19’s rapid spread launched a remote work experiment of unprecedented scale. The strict lockdowns of 2020 and employee safety concerns had sent massive parts of the world’s workforce to work from home, peaking at over half a billion people globally. So initially, this work model change was a forced measure, but later some companies, such as Twitter and Shopify started seriously contemplating a permanent-WFH future. Could it be a smart move?

 

During the first months, reactions to this new reality were naturally mixed: many struggled to adapt mentally and professionally, while others were more comfortable with the change. However, eventually, for too many employees, this was an experience they would not want to repeat. The evidence started pouring in in real-time. For instance, already in March 2020, Forbes pointed out that turning one’s home into an office often resulted in serious exhaustion, due to a sense of lost control, disrupted connections with coworkers, lack of suitable workspace, inadequate technical infrastructure, and inevitable distractions at home.

 

Similarly, in a survey conducted in April 2020 by Keio University, Tokyo, more than a third of the telecommuting respondents complained that telecommuting was affecting their mental health. They struggled to separate work and personal life, their lifestyle became increasingly sedentary, and, finally, they experienced difficulties communicating with colleagues.

 

The new reality harmed people’s work-life balance, as their worktime tended to increase by several hours in many countries. As a result, “professional burnout” became a prominent risk for those whose homes have become makeshift workspaces. It turned out that sometimes full-time telecommuting can be as limiting as full-time work from the office.

 

All of these issues are detrimental to companies as living, flexible ecosystems: considerable portions of the remotely employed workforce report overall disconnection from the company’s realities; collaboration between remote employees tends to suffer and become less dynamic, which in turn limits creativity; the accumulation of these pressures caused people to realize that WFH cannot be a “one size fits all” long-term solution. In other words, what worked for some in the short term was not sustainable enough.

 

The Hybrid Workplace Model as a Sustainable Alternative to Full-Time WFH

 

 

Before the pandemic, a desire for greater autonomy was driving companies and employees to try WFH. CNBC’s experts indicate that by 2022 the desire for flexibility only grew stronger and that currently, most employees want flexible work arrangements. On the other hand, the pandemic reminded us how valuable our social connections are, and accordingly, most of us crave more in-person communication with teammates.

 

The hybrid work model, defined as one which organically blends work on the premises with part-time remote work, is a wise compromise between the extremes of working from the office only and telecommuting only. Employees arrive at the office on some days of the week and work from home the rest of the time. The specific degree of schedule flexibility depends on corporate policies and role requirements, as some positions necessitate more presence at the office, while others may require the employees to have permanent in-office days, and in other cases to work in shifts. Importantly, the hybrid work schedule is dynamic: employees get to coordinate when and where they plan to work. When they plan to work from the office, they can book themselves a workstation beforehand in the desired location, next to task-relevant teammates. POC Systems’ own dedicated seating allocation solution lets hybrid office employees plan their week day-by-day via an intuitive interface with a detailed graphic plan of your company’s premises. Furthermore, our system supports the creation of appropriate local environments using the allocation of permanent workstations, department zones, and areas of bookable hot desks.

 

The hybrid office model enhanced by such a versatile tool brings about benefits that are unattainable in other work models:

 

  • Meaningful employee autonomy: employees can adapt their schedule to their professional and personal needs in real-time. This gives them real control of their time and resources and supports the creation of healthy boundaries between work and personal life.
  • Valuable in-person interaction is preserved, as employees regularly meet their coworkers to exchange ideas and collaborate at the office. Each one’s voice gets heard, and no one feels as though they are forgotten at home for weeks in front of a PC. This lets them maintain professional and social connections, encourages the creation of lasting engagement with the company, and promotes their mental well-being.
  • Enhanced corporate resilience – the business world presents constant uncertainty. While predicting future calamities is impossible, companies can prepare for the unknown through investing in well-suited infrastructure and cultivating workforce resilience. As we have detailed in a previous article, companies employing the hybrid model are better positioned to do this: their structure is flexible by definition, they can rapidly react to new circumstances, their management is constantly in full control of the premises, and their employees feel trusted and empowered to choose their schedule.
  • Maximally efficient office space use – the hybrid model requires fewer permanent workstations, as only part of the workforce works on-site simultaneously. Moreover, space usage patterns can be easily monitored via the seating allocation solution, and executives can use it to change the seating plan on their own as required.

 

The flexibility of the hybrid model makes it uniquely suited to address both current and future challenges. Its adoption can reinforce your company, helping employees and employers alike, while ensuring that all employees have maximal autonomy and a guaranteed workplace, no matter whether they choose to arrive at the office or collaborate from home.

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