How to successfully navigate the benefits and challenges of a hybrid model

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The way we work has been fundamentally reshaped, and the evolution is far from over. The once singularly office-bound workforce is now finding its feet in a hybrid work environment — a model that is proving challenging for workers and employers to navigate with balance. Is it possible to find an equilibrium between worker and employee expectations? Can companies accommodate generational working styles, knowledge sharing, and productivity in a hybrid environment? What does the future of hybrid working look like and how can we prepare? 
Clashing expectations When companies started bringing their people back into the office, we saw a great divide. For the most part, workers preferred the remote arrangement. However, their employers were keen to foster collaborative in-person team environments. Although we're finally seeing things settle into an equilibrium of sorts, we're still not quite there. Recruiters are challenged with balancing candidate and client expectations — the former still looking for fully remote opportunities and the latter pushing for in-person. In a hiring landscape like this, candidates are searching for fully remote roles as priority and compromising on hybrid work models when/if they can’t find what they’re looking for. Ultimately, we’ve seen candidates gravitate towards employers that offer a balance of in-person and hybrid work. Buy-in needs a ‘why in?’ ‘Returning to the office’ mandates have proven very polarising where workforce sentiment is concerned. Although new hires are more likely to relish the opportunity to experience company culture, mandates often give workers cause to reassess whether their employer is a good fit for them, their families, and their circumstances.  Mandates or set 'in-office' days may seem like a clear-cut solution to a work environment in flux, but balancing purpose with office presence is critical. Asking staff to come in, only for them to sit on teleconferences or video meetings all day, achieves very little. Instead, plan certain team meetings as in-person events. These can be tied in with team lunches or volunteer work for a much more incentivising, rewarding experience. Ultimately, workers are much happier to commute to the office if they have a clear, sensible reason to be there rather than an arbitrarily mandated day. 
Hybrid’s impact on productivity Employers were delighted to see soaring productivity rates among their remote workforce in the early days of the pandemic. However, it was eventually revealed that employees were working longer hours and experiencing higher rates of burnout due to the blurry divide between work and home life. We saw a distinct shift when hybrid work environments began to take hold.  Now, with the ability to mix remote work with in-office days, employees have found a balance that benefits them, and employers are starting to see the positive effects. According to research conducted by CIPD, almost half (46%) of employers felt their employees were generally more productive in a hybrid work environment.  Good mental health needs social balance Like anything, good mental health at work thrives on balance. One of the most striking benefits of hybrid working is the individual freedom it grants employees when determining which days of the week benefit in-person collaboration versus solo work at home. According to new research from IWD, 93% of Americans said they didn’t need to see co-workers in person every day to form strong relationships. Tech adoption continues to be key Technology plays a significant role in successful hybrid work environments. Employers need to ensure they're investing in the best technologies to connect people wherever they are. Having specific touch points—whether a team Slack chat, MS Teams, or regular team calls—gives workers a central location to share ideas or touch base, whether in the office or at home. It's essential to keep everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Adapting to hybrid meetings  There's an art to honing the technical and soft skills needed for a successful hybrid meeting. In many cases, workers are gathering in hybrid environments which require the ability to simultaneously engage in person and digitally — a skill previously unneeded pre-pandemic. Juggling technology with in-person communication skills is a challenge many workers have never faced before. Honing them can be incredibly hard work, but the end result is worth it. Digital hygiene to prevent overwhelm People multitask at an extremely high level in hybrid meeting environments. Many attend in-person meetings while monitoring digital chats from other meeting attendees and addressing physical and virtual attendees simultaneously. With so many modes of communication to manage at once, important information can fly under the radar.   Luckily, there are dozens of tools available to help prevent the digital overwhelm associated with hybrid meetings. AI transcription software is an excellent way to take notes, get a thorough meeting summary, and highlight action points, all without putting pen to paper. Committing to holding certain meetings in person only, especially those that require a high degree of focus on interpersonal communication, can also help prevent digital overwhelm.
Hybrid models cater to generational diversity When looking at hybrids' impact on workplace generations, it's important to note that there's no one-size-fits-all approach. However, a study by IWD revealed that all hybrid workers, regardless of generation, felt the work model had improved their productivity (48% at home and 45% at work) and personal wellness (46%).     Three-quarters (73%) of Millennials felt that their career growth had benefitted from a hybrid work model — a sentiment shared by half of Gen Z workers. Although Gen X and Baby Boomers aren’t as emphatic about hybrid work as their younger counterparts, they do enjoy the savings made through fewer commutes. Luckily, hybrid work and flexible options allow each generation to find a working style that suits them. Is generational knowledge-sharing in jeopardy? Collaborative tools have advanced exponentially since the pandemic started, but the fact remains — some of the most effective learning is done via situational observation. It's unlikely that a future technology can match the efficacy of watching or listening to expert colleagues as they work their craft. One of the disadvantages of hybrid working is its potential impact on generational knowledge sharing between younger employees and the legacy talent steadily leaving the workforce for retirement. To mitigate generational knowledge loss, businesses can create reverse mentorship schemes or in-person learning sessions that incentivise office-based collaboration. This could be reinforced with digital touchpoints that enable resource sharing, relationship building, and an ‘open door policy’ for questions.
Through our work with clients and candidates, one clear theme has emerged regarding hybrid and flexible working as they pertain to the future of work — there is no one 'right size'. Choosing the right hybrid model depends on variables like company size, role requirements, generational mix, and many other factors unique to the business and its people. Finding a harmonious hybrid work equilibrium requires an intuitive approach that balances people's needs with business goals. From what the teams at Robert Half and I have seen, many companies and candidates prefer a hybrid model that offers flexibility and a mix of in-office and remote work. Moreover, the most successful way to incentivise employees to regularly come into the office is by giving them a voice in the matter.   Incentivising in-office time with purpose can help engagement and ensure your people can maximise their time both in and out of the office for the advancement of all.

You can find Trisha Plovie and other Robert Half Future of Work experts on LinkedIn. Revisit the Robert Half advice blog soon for more insights on the future of work and how to adapt to its ever-changing needs.