Maybe you’ve started going back to the office, even just a few days a week. Maybe you’re still working at home for the foreseeable future, or you’re back to the grind of commuting five days a week. Whatever the case, the transition from WFH to hybrid work is happening, at least to some degree—and for many people it’s not an easy transition.
A survey of 1,500 employees by Harvard Business School found that 81 per cent either don’t want to go back to the office or would prefer a hybrid work arrangement. While some people are worried about health protocols, others are experiencing social anxiety after being isolated for the past year and a half.
Of course, some are chomping at the bit to get back to the office—they desperately miss those water cooler brainstorming sessions, and they want firmer boundaries between their professional and personal lives. All this to say, there’s a lot of mixed feelings about a return to the office, especially when our ‘next’ normal is still pretty uncertain.
The new world of hybrid work
The answer, it seems, is a hybrid approach that blends the best of both worlds. But building a hybrid workforce is easier said than done. After all, you can’t just pick up where you left off in March 2020 — the office needs new infrastructure (and workflows) to support the new world of hybrid work.
For example, if you rented equipment, used free cloud-based applications or relied on workers to use their personal laptops to work from home, you’ll need to build a more long-term hybrid strategy.
Plus, you’ll need to consider new workflows. “Encourage the team to create new work practices everyone adheres to for both where work happens as well as when work happens,” Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Navalent, told Harvard Business Review. That could mean, for example, that a meeting in the office also includes video links for remote workers.
Here are a few tips to help ease the transition to a hybrid workforce:
Invest in hardware
If employees are relying on their personal laptop or desktop computer to work from home, it’s time to consider company-issued laptops that employees can carry back and forth. This ensures you can maintain control over things like software updates and security patches.
Invest in enterprise solutions
If your workers have been using a mish-mash of applications for communication and collaboration—particularly free versions that only have limited functionality—now is the time to upgrade to enterprise-grade solutions. That means all employees can manage their communications in one centralized (and secure) location.
Embrace (more) cloud
Yes, you’re already using cloud, but if employees are going to work from home at least part of the time, it may require investing in more cloud-based applications so company files and documents are stored in a centralized location. This solves the issues of employees saving those files and documents on a personal computer at home, which could be a security, privacy or accessibility issue.
Redesign office space
In the office, you’ll need to decide how to reallocate space for hybrid work. Will employees still have their own desk or will you use hot-desking instead? If employees have to share desks, how will you make that work?
Support home offices
For employees who will be working from home several days a week, you may want to consider supporting their WFH office so it’s fast and secure, such as upgrading their Wi-Fi or even using SD-WAN. It’s also worth creating some sort of portal or hub to keep track of who’s working from home and when, which can help manage hot-desking.
Take a flexible approach
Going back to the office means a lot of different things to different people. Maybe you live with a family member who is immuno-compromised and you’re worried about breakthrough COVID cases in the office.
Many people also tried to find some balance in their lives while working from home, whether that was spending more time with family or fitting in an afternoon walk, and they don’t want to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic.
The coming months will see a great deal of experimentation around the concept of hybrid workforces. Some things will work, others won’t. We’ve become used to video meetings with everyone’s head in a box on our screen. During an in-person meeting at the office, where some people are attending remotely on a screen, this is going to look and feel awkward. And we’ll need to find ways to deal with that.
But there isn’t one ‘correct’ template for hybrid work. “Invest the time and resources to develop the best plan—one that aligns with your business, culture, teams’ needs and so on. Then roll it out with the full expectation that tweaks and pivots will need to be made,” Bryan Passman, a member of Forbes’ expert panel, told Forbes.
Whether a hybrid model is successful or not will depend on how easy it is for all team members—no matter their location—to communicate and collaborate.