It’s clear the hybrid workplace is here to stay — a CBRE survey of enterprise leaders found 87% plan to permanently adopt a hybrid workplace model. What’s less clear is how to implement it in a practical way that gives employees flexibility while also optimizing real estate costs.
The definition of the hybrid workplace is different for everyone. There are several different models of hybrid work— ranging from a “virtual-first” strategy to one where employees primarily think of the office as home base — and the term continues to evolve as quickly as employees’ expectations.
As the idea evolves, industry leaders are categorizing hybrid workplaces into at least five models. Though these are not hard and fast rules, they provide a springboard from which to find a system that works for your employees and your company’s needs.
Here are some factors to consider as you think about which hybrid workplace model may work best for your company.
Hybrid workplace models: Pros, cons and considerations
What is office-centric hybrid work?
This is a work environment that prioritizes in-office work, with some flexibility to work outside of the office. In this hybrid work model, the office is still the default setting as it has been in traditional workplaces. An office-centric hybrid model emphasizes bringing employees back into the office most of the work week, while offering limited time where an employee can work remotely. This focus on physical proximity may still allow for some flexibility, such as offering employees autonomy to set their own hours.
Examples of office-centric hybrid workplaces include Google, which recently announced plans to bring employees back to the office three days a week while allowing them to work remotely two days a week. Employees can request to work remotely full-time but may receive a pay cut.
Tesla is another example of an office-centric work environment.
CEO Elon Musk told his employees in an email that they must be in the office for at least 40 hours a week if they want to work remotely at all.
“This is less than we ask of factory workers,” he said, adding that he would consider making rare exceptions on an individual basis.
Advantages of office-centric hybrid work
This workplace model emphasizes the importance of in-person interactions, which can be beneficial for both your company and your employees. For younger employees in particular who missed out on mentorship opportunities while working remotely or newer employees who didn’t have a chance to get to know their colleagues as well as employees who worked together in person for years, the renewed emphasis on the office environment may be a welcomed change. Employees who regularly work together in person may be more likely to form close relationships more quickly because there are more opportunities for casual conversation or getting together outside of work.
The expectations for an office-centric work environment tend to be more clearly defined, leaving less room for ambiguity compared to other hybrid workplace models.
Disadvantages of office-centric hybrid work
As many people discovered during the pandemic, working in the office doesn’t necessarily mean employees will be more productive. In a survey by Owl Labs and Global Workplace Analytics, 90% of employees reported they were just as productive or more productive working remotely as they were in the office. For some employees who need to focus on deep work that involves more individual concentration, working primarily in the office can create additional distractions. In general, employees in an office-centric work environment may become frustrated with a lack of flexibility, leading to higher turnover. An office-centric workplace may also make hiring more difficult because managers are limited to a certain geographic area.
Fully flexible hybrid
What is fully flexible hybrid work?
This workplace model allows employees to choose how often they come to the office depending on the work they’re doing and their roles or responsibilities.
It might also include flexible scheduling. Amazon is one example of a company that is adopting flexible hybrid work. The company initially announced corporate employees would go back to an office-centric model and require employees to be in the office at least three days a week. More recently, it announced it would leave the decision up to individual teams.
“We’re going to be in a stage of experimenting, learning and adjusting for a while as we emerge from this pandemic,” chief executive Andy Jassy said in a message to its employees.
Advantages of fully flexible hybrid work
The emphasis on flexibility allows individual teams or employees to choose what works best for them without requiring a certain number of days or hours in the office. This appeals to many employees, especially those who are more experienced and used to having autonomy in their work.
Disadvantages of fully flexible hybrid work
Without clear guidelines, this model can be unpredictable at times. If it’s up to employees to decide when and where they work, it may be more difficult for employees who want to connect with their colleagues in person to know when to expect them. They may come to the office only to find it’s mostly empty, further disincentivizing them from returning.
The use of space in a fully flexible hybrid workplace can also be unpredictable. On certain days, employees may be able to sit and meet anywhere they want, while it may be difficult for them to find a workspace on other days.
If you plan to use this model, you’ll need a solution that makes it easy for employees to find and reserve space, request service or amenities, and stay connected with each other. Office space booking software and employee experience apps are two types of technology that can help.
What is remote-friendly hybrid work?
This hybrid workplace model (sometimes referred to as remote-ish hybrid) is essentially remote work with guidelines. For instance, it might specify that employees in certain time zones are permitted to be fully remote, while others will be required to come to the office on certain occasions, including training, client meetings or weekly team meetings.
HubSpot is one example of a company with a remote-friendly hybrid environment. While it has a company headquarters, it has offices all over the world and offers “location-agnostic” perks and benefits independent of the office. It also has a clear hybrid work policy that allows the company to plan for the space it needs to accommodate everyone. Each year, employees can choose whether they want to work primarily in the office and have an assigned desk, work primarily from home and visit on occasion, or come in up to two days a week and use desk hoteling to reserve a space.
“Our culture is not tied to locations,” HubSpot Chief People Officer Katie Burke wrote on the company’s blog. “It’s rooted in our values, our amazing people, and our mission of helping millions of organizations grow better.”
Advantages of remote-friendly hybrid work
This workplace model can be good for companies that want to offer flexibility while still maintaining control over scheduling. It allows managers to recruit employees from anywhere and gives them discretion to hire people they believe will thrive in a remote setting. At the same time, it offers employees in the office the benefit of in-person collaboration, amenities, and company-sponsored activities.
Disadvantages of remote-friendly hybrid work
One drawback of this model is that it can create feelings of inequity between employees who are fully remote and those who work in the office at least part of the time. Remote employees may begin to feel they are missing out on certain perks or not receiving the same support as those who are more visible.
This model can work, but your leadership team and managers need to make an extra effort to ensure they are giving equal time and attention to employees regardless of location. Remote employees should also be given the same consideration when it comes to pay raises, bonuses, and promotions.
The Washington Post Chief Executive Cathy Merrill faced backlash after she wrote an op-ed saying she believed employees who choose to work from home are easier to “let go” due to being less valuable.
Other leaders of prominent companies have expressed similar sentiments.
Hybrid remote office
What is a hybrid remote office?
This is a model encompassing all remote and in-office options where employees choose how they want their schedule to look. A hybrid-remote office offers office hubs where some of the company travels to work physically in the same space, coordinated with a different group of employees who work remotely.
HOK Consultant Adam Stoltz refers to this as the “hub-home-spoke” model.
In this ecosystem of spaces, the company’s headquarters remains the hub for collaborative activities, but many employees will also continue working from home. Those who live far from the hub can have the option of working at nearby coworking spaces or satellite campuses.
“Access is the new ownership,” Stoltz said. “If you don’t need to own it, then don’t. Consider leveraging the community, shared economy, or emerging membership models to meet your needs.”
Advantages of the hybrid remote model
One of the biggest advantages for employers is that this model can significantly reduce real estate costs. If you maintain a central hub but lease other smaller spaces, you may have the opportunity to consolidate several underutilized spaces. Space planning software makes it easy to identify these opportunities and see the impact of different space scenarios.
Disadvantages of the hybrid remote model
While this model maximizes flexibility while optimizing space utilization, it can also make it more challenging to develop and maintain a strong company culture among employees who rarely work together.
Remote or virtual-first
What is a virtual-first workplace?
A remote or virtual-first work model empowers employees to work remotely, rather than just allowing them to work remotely. In May 2021, LinkedIn reported that the percentage of paid job postings offering “remote work” grew 357% beyond the 2020 share. Managers with a more traditional mindset may need to reprogram their perspective to build their teams and processes with this in mind.
This is a good fit for companies that have a strong digital mindset, or whose employees function more like independent contractors.
One example of a virtual-first workplace is Dropbox.
“The vast majority of our employees don’t want to go back to exactly the way things were before,” Dropbox CEO Drew Houston said in an interview with LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman on the Masters of Scale podcast. “I think that both the remote-only choice and the ad-hoc, ‘everybody come to the office when you feel like it’, the two main options, have major issues.”
In an entirely remote workplace, he said, it’s more difficult to build a team and maintain strong relationships.
The second alternative makes it more difficult for employees to have meaningful collaboration if they never know when they’ll see their colleagues.
The virtual-first workplace gives employees flexibility with some structure.
For instance, there may be established “collaboration hours” when employees are expected to be available regardless of their time zone. This could also include leasing collaborative spaces similar to the hub-home-spoke model.
How to find the best workplace model for your company
As a leader, you have an unprecedented opportunity to reinvent your workplace. Start with a conversation among your leadership team about your company’s goals and how you see the hybrid workplace supporting them. How frequently do you meet with customers or clients in person, and how important is the office to your company’s brand reputation among them? How important are in-person activities to maintaining your company culture?
You also need to get meaningful input from employees — but make sure you’re asking them the right questions, HOK director Kay Sargent said.
People can’t respond to a work environment they have yet to experience, so asking what type of schedule they want can be counterproductive. Instead, ask questions about how they work best, how frequently they need to meet with their team or clients, and what amenities and support services they need from the workplace.
iOffice + SpaceIQ have all the technology solutions you need to make the hybrid workplace work for you, from space planning and office hoteling software to employee experience apps. Explore our hybrid workplace solutions here.