After a lengthy interview process, you finally get the offer letter you’ve been waiting on. Your salary is the highest it's ever been, and you’re excited about the opportunity. The job description said something about this being a hybrid position, so you’re prepared to be in the office for a day or two each week. After two long years of Zoom calls that never end, incessant Slack pings that have made their way into your dreams, and forcing yourself to go outside for your daily dose of human interaction, you welcome the idea of being in an office for a bit. But if you’re ready to be in the office and happy with the flexibility your new company is offering, why is hybrid work so anxiety-inducing?
There's been a lack of clarity and standardization about what constitutes ‘hybrid’ work. In this post, we’ll brain dump a general history of hybrid work, discuss the different work models, and offer some expert advice on demystifying a new hybrid work environment.
Hybrid work is a logical evolution of the virtual workplace. COVID-19 proved to employees and employers alike that work can and will get done from home. By forcing everyone into their homes, it accelerated the development of a flexible working model. New tools and processes were created to help shape work schedules most people would’ve considered impossible years before. Everyone knew the disadvantages of an in-person workplace – lack of flexibility, increased distractions, increased anxiety – but the disadvantages of remote work took a bit longer to come to light. Now that the world is stabilizing and it's safe to congregate once again, it makes sense that many workers are ready for the next iteration of the workplace. Remote work was necessary, but hybrid work is a choice that employees and employers can make together.
A recent Gallup survey found that 38% of fully remote employees would prefer hybrid work to their fully remote positions. This poll also revealed that 62% of employees want ‘a coordinated effort’ on the number of days they should be expected to work in-person. This means that, contrary to popular belief, many remote workers would happily go back into the office if they are included in the development of their new schedules. These employees want a clear and coordinated message on precisely what hybrid work means for their organization. With many employees and employers in favor of this working model, it's become clear that hybrid work is the future of most workplaces. Filling some of the newly discovered remote work gaps with the face-to-face collaboration offered by hybrid work is great in theory. In practice, it may look more like frustrated employees and confused managers alike, waiting for guidance from an overwhelmed C-Suite.
By now, you’ve probably heard a few different definitions for hybrid work, all laced with enough fancy buzzwords and acronyms to make your eyes glaze over. Some of the most common hybrid work terms include: flexible hybrid work, fixed hybrid work, office-first, and remote-first. Honorable mentions include hybrid at will, hybrid split-week, and hybrid manager-scheduling. On top of that, all of these can be combined with other work modalities to build some sort of hybrid of hybrid work. No wonder everyone is confused. Allow us to simplify. All of these different options boil down to two standard schedules for hybrid work: the split-week model and the week-by-week model.
In this model, employees are asked to come into the office on specific days of the week. For some companies in this model this means Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in the office and Thursday and Friday at home. Other companies work in the office on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and spend Monday and Tuesday at home. More adventurous companies split weeks up with Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in the office and Tuesday and Thursday at home. These splits can be department-specific or organization-wide. Advocates of this model claim it provides all the benefits of in-person work while offering employees some flexibility to balance family and other personal obligations.
One of the main disadvantages of this model is the confusion that comes with different schedules for different teams. Imagine having to schedule a call with members of a team that are on another split-week schedule than the team you’re on. Not only can this model complicate logistics, it can also increase operational costs since companies are both paying to keep the lights on at the office and covering remote office expenses. Despite the disadvantages, this is by far the most popular hybrid model with proponents like Apple, Amazon, and Twitter opting to split up their teams’ weeks.
This model has employees come into the office for two weeks a month and work from home for the other two weeks. The week-by-week model works best with teams that have limited office space since employees can alternate weekly schedules and still get the face-to-face connections they are looking for. Employees with disabilities are some of the biggest advocates of this model as it allows them to maintain a greater level of flexibility with entire weeks of remote work. With a week-by-week schedule, employees can avoid some of the distractions that may come with switching workstations multiple times a week. This model also encourages employers to create more effective in-person and remote processes for their employees. If half the department is dialing in from home and the other half is working in-office, those processes are vital to ensuring the whole team remains on the same page.
Like the split-week hybrid model, the week-by-week model has its disadvantages. In addition to being difficult to implement and track, it can also be especially difficult for managers to provide the different types of support necessary for teams working on different schedules. This model also does not lend itself to last minute meetings or events. Company emergencies can become even more complicated if the team is not communicating at the same pace.
Now you know why companies are moving towards hybrid work and you understand what the different models entail. So how can you make sure you successfully adapt to this new way of working?
Since the birth of the five-day work week, Monday has been the boogeyman of the week, casting a shadow of anxiety over the weekend. The pandemic brought a kind of general ennui that mashed every day into the next, soothing some of those Sunday scaries. . Now that many workers are heading back into the office in different configurations of hybrid work, it seems we have a new workweek boogeyman: Wednesday.
Whichever configuration your company chooses, you’ll probably be at work on hump day. The WSJ recently reported, “An average of 46% of U.S. office workers went to work on Wednesdays in March,” while only 35% were in the office on Mondays.
So what does this mean for you? If Wednesdays have been designated as the primary office day, you may be better off leaning in. Plan your most critical in-person meetings for Wednesdays. Avoid scheduling doctor’s visits and other appointments mid-week and instead set aside Monday or Friday for personal obligations. Pro-tip: If you have the option to choose your workdays and would prefer to avoid the 2019-esque crowds, consider taking the road less traveled and going into the office on Monday or Friday instead.
One of the main advantages of hybrid work is that it allows employees to engage with company culture in a tangible way. Virtual team-building can be fun, but spending time with colleagues in-person can foster a deeper connection that leads to better team collaboration. Hybrid work offers an opportunity to plan activities you would only be able to do in-person. Brainstorms, all-hands meetings, and team-building activities can all be more productive in person. Many companies are taking advantage of hybrid work to plan special events for their employees. Attending and participating in these events is a great way to make the most of your hybrid work schedule.
The workplace has drastically changed from the pre-pandemic norm. Many workers have become accustomed to a certain level of flexibility. One of the best ways to make hybrid work effective for you is to be willing to advocate for yourself. We are far removed from cramming dentist appointments into our already packed weekends. Managers are also beginning to understand the importance of work-life balance so don’t be afraid to give yourself the room to be successful at work and in your personal life. Communicate your needs as openly and consistently as possible. If you need to be further away from the office water cooler, let them know. If you would prefer to come in earlier or later in the day, share that with your manager. It will take some getting used to for both managers and direct reports, but the only way to improve workplace dynamics is by asking for the resources you need to remain happy, fulfilled and engaged at work.
Hybrid work still has a long way to go. Companies, managers, and employees are learning together what works best for everyone. Whether it's a version of the split-week schedule or the week-by-week model, hybrid work has its advantages and disadvantages. There will be growing pains as the world gets accustomed to this way of working, but with over 40% of surveyed companies moving into some form of hybrid work, it can be expected that definitions will standardize in the near future.
Until then, there are steps everyone can take to soften the transition back into the office. By reframing your week, planning for in-person meetings and asking for the flexibility you need, settling into this new way of working may not be as complicated as it seems. Adaptability is the name of the game in the post-pandemic workplace. Stay on your toes, do what's best for you and make yourself as comfortable as you can be at work. At the end of the day, your goal is to be valuable to your team and get home in time to watch Ozark with your loved ones.