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Blue @ Work

Hybrid work is on the horizon

The numbers don't lie.

In a post-pandemic world, there is nothing “usual” about business as usual. The American workplace has been pushed into unknown territory, and it will likely never be the same.

When the lockdown forced large companies to move solely to remote work, there were plenty of hiccups along the way. This change impacted the mental health of some workers who felt isolation and burnout. There were also significant problems felt by employees caring for young children. In particular, remote work took its toll on women External Site and shed light on systemic inequities in American homes.

Overwhelmingly, though, once employees were able to settle into at-home routines, they were more productive External Site than they were in the office. For many, it seems unnecessary, and perhaps pointless, to return to the office full-time when work can be done virtually.

Now that employees have adjusted to remote work, employers are assessing the results:

That doesn’t mean the office is irrelevant. Rather, it means the answer is somewhere in the middle. And that’s what is leading many mid- to large-size companies to consider flexible, or hybrid, work models.

Why consider a hybrid model?

There are compelling reasons to work from home: less stress, more flexibility, better work-life balance Opens in a new window and less time spent commuting and getting ready for work. There are equally compelling reasons to spend time in the office, including face-to-face interaction with colleagues, in-person meetings, more structured time, plus a distinct boundary between work and home life.

A hybrid model offers the flexibility of doing both. According to a Zoom report External Site, two-thirds of employees who have been working from home over the past year said that a hybrid work environment is their ideal work model. Large businesses are listening and moving forward: Google, Ford Motor, Microsoft and Citigroup are just a few employers who are adopting hybrid work models External Site.

“Instead of focusing on the amount of time employees are in the office, logged in online or participating in Zoom calls, the focus is shifting on output and results,” says Amanda Dorr, health and well-being consultant at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “You’re giving employees the freedom to manage their work and their time. Where they do it is irrelevant. As long as the work is done well and in an appropriate time frame, that’s what counts. It makes good business sense.”

A framework for the hybrid work model

Whether or not a hybrid model will work for your company depends on a number of factors, says Dorr. “Depending on your company, it can be a complicated way to organize a workforce, and a challenge to set up a system that’s fair for everyone. There’s no doubt it will transform your company and change its culture. But it can also have a tremendous impact on employee morale and the mental health of your employees. Basically, you are empowering your workforce with flexibility.”

The question is, how flexible can a hybrid work model function? There are several variations a company can take:

  • Remote-first

    means the day-to-day operations of the company are mainly remote, with exceptions. Limited office space is used for collaboration and in-person meetings, and some employees must remain on -site if their job requires it. Office space may also be reserved for employees who prefer to work on-site.
  • Office-occasional

    means employees come into the office a few times a week. This can be arranged a number of ways. For example, you may allow your employees to choose two days a week to work in the office. Or, you can set firm guidelines, for example, employees are expected to be in the office on Mondays and Thursdays, or for necessary staff or departmental meetings.
  • Office-first

    means the office is the primary place for work, but remote work is an option to be worked out on a case-by-case basis. This approach is common if the entire leadership team is in the office, and there is a need for immediate access to in-person conversations and collaboration that may not affect remote employees.

Seven steps to a successful transition

“If you want to retain talent in this new landscape, it will become increasingly important to provide some level of flexibility for your employees,” says Dorr. She offers the following suggestions as you get started with the process:

  1. Start with an employee survey.

    “You must have a pulse on how employees are feeling about coming back to work,” says Dorr. “The simplest way is to ask them and gauge their interest in how a remote option may work.”
  2. Bridge the physical and digital worlds.

    Think about the way work gets done in your office, department or team. How can you help employees connect, collaborate and be productive, regardless of where they are working? What kinds of resources and equipment will empower your remote workers to do their jobs effectively and collectively with their in-office colleagues?
  3. Redesign physical spaces.

    Think about how office space is currently used, and how you can adapt to the future. Do you need a physical building? Can you rent space? Can you do away with cubicles or offices and incorporate more shared work space? Can you create designated space for collaboration and meetings?
  4. Find balance.

    “Employees will have different views on distancing, work styles, remote work, you name it,” says Dorr. “You must balance all of this with compassion, and ask employees to respect the rules and each other.”
  5. Focus on transparency.

    Make sure your employees are updated on everything going on at the leadership level. “Include your employees in the conversation,” says Dorr. “Inform them as much as you can, every step of the way. Give them time to adjust to changes. Don’t expect them to turn on a dime. Give them at least 30-days to adjust to a new plan.”
  6. Keep remote employees engaged.

    Too often, remote employees are treated as second-class citizens. “If you do start a hybrid program, you must figure out a way to help people feel part of the culture, especially if they are working from home,” adds Dorr.
  7. Try it first.

    Take a few weeks to pilot your new work model. Ask for volunteers or start with a specific team or department. Keep a pulse on what’s going on with your pilot program so you can work out any problems before implementing a company-wide policy.

“Overall, think of it this way,” adds Dorr, “It’s your opportunity to create or build on your company culture. And your culture is more than a building. You want to keep employees engaged and connected, regardless of whether or not they are in the office.”

We can help you bridge the gap.

Corporate culture and employee engagement are fundamental for a thriving, competitive organization. But how do you build a workplace culture that leads to improved business performance? Wellmark has a solution. We've partnered with SALVEO Partner's to help you go deeper with employee engagement and culture with the Thriving Workplace Culture SurveyTM.

Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at blueatwork@wellmark.com Send Email.