The hybrid work schedule, created out of necessity during the pandemic, has become a critical attraction and retention tool for many organizations feeling the labor crunch.
"It's how we work now," said Stacey Berk, founder and managing consultant at Expand HR Consulting in Rockville, Md. Despite return-to-office announcements from some big-name companies, many employers are continuing with hybrid work arrangements.
"For example, as we've seen layoffs in the technology sector, companies are retooling their workforces as a result of over-hiring, but they are not necessarily asking workers to come back to the offices full time. On the contrary, they are trimming office space in addition to reducing staff as an overall strategy to minimize expenditures," Berk said.
Ashley Cuttino, shareholder at Ogletree Deakins in Greenville, S.C., said hybrid schedules widen the pool of job candidates and encourage work/life balance.
"Workers are getting used to this arrangement, so it's tough to shift from it," she said.
Formal Strategy Required
Berk said the real key to success with hybrid schedules is to evolve company culture.
"A formal strategy should be established jointly by the CTO [chief technology officer] and CHRO," Berk said. "For the CTO, it is identifying, making investments in and maintaining software that helps leverage the hybrid environment. For the CHRO, it is ensuring that when working remotely, employees are highly productive and communicate effectively to maintain the company culture."
Berk said effective hybrid work plans have a formal structure, such as three days in the office and two days working remotely, based on certain job categories or locations.
"The CHRO should identify very clear parameters so employees understand the expectations," she said. "Similar to full-time remote work agreements, a policy should be established with language stating that the schedule is evaluated each year based on individual circumstances, job performance and position."
For example, requiring in-person team meetings on one central day unifies this structure, Berk said, typically with the department executive creating the agendas to ensure the meetings occur consistently.
Who's Remote, Who's in the Office
Jennifer Morehead, CEO of Flex HR in Chicago, said one common issue in hybrid work environments is a breakdown in communication.
This can occur when some employees are in the office and others are working remotely, leading to a disconnect between team members. In some instances, this results in missed deadlines, miscommunications, and unclear expectations around responsibilities and tasks.
A hybrid work plan that isn't working can also have a negative impact on employees' work/life balance, Morehead said.
"This can occur when employees feel pressure to be available at all times or when they struggle to separate their work and personal lives while working from home," she said.
Making the most of the time while in person or remote is crucial for staff and supervisors, Cuttino said.
"You need to let everyone know where you are going to be [in the office or at home home] and when, and when at home, under what times you'll be working. Everyone needs to know the situation," she said.
Co-workers also need to know how they can get in touch, such as through group e-mails, texts or other technologies, in case they need to have an "off the cuff" conversation with you.
Being able to touch base is important in any working environment, but in a hybrid one, it can become complicated, Cuttino said.
Understanding the Boundaries
Hybrid work also can create different types of schedules, Cuttino said.
"There can be those who work 9-to-5 and others who work on their [own] time to accomplish their tasks," she said. "Either is fine; it just needs to be established, understood and followed. There can be perceptions of other staff about their teammates, but if everyone is clear, then it won't become a problem."
Hybrid workers who are working remotely need to use their out-of-office messages so others understand those boundaries.
Apply Everything Evenly and Fairly
Front-line managers need to be trained on how to engage their teams, Cuttino said.
"They must let their staff know how they will be judged for performance and how their performance will be managed," she said.
"We learned this during COVID-19 when so many were forced to work from home. But now, under a hybrid situation, it becomes more complicated and just as important. Managers need to apply this evenly and fairly to all their workers."
Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.