Hybrid work: If you’re not experimenting, you’re failing

Companies that aren’t shaking up the 9-to-5 office workday may be destined to lose people and profits.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Three years ago, if you asked people to define a workday, most would have said they spend eight hours at the office, maybe with a lunch break, and a commute of varying distance.

That was then. Now, it has all changed — where people work, the hours they work, the way they interact with co-workers, and how they balance life challenges.

In the new reality of today’s world of work, companies need to experiment with flexible work arrangements or risk losing employees to companies that do.

“If companies don’t have at least one test, and they’re not doing something different than they did before, they’re failing to truly understand the nature of the changed workforce,” said Greg Barnett, chief people scientist at Energage, a national employee survey company.

That could mean letting employees work four days a week. Or nontraditional hours. Or encouraging different ways of collaborating. Better technology. Additional perks, new benefits.

“Other companies are going to find the solutions,” Barnett said, “and … they will also find the talent.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) BambooHR employees work in the main office building in Lindon in pre-pandemic 2019.

Hybrid work solutions — a catchall term for flexible work arrangements — mean different things to different people. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. It varies by job role, by industry, by location. Every industry has, to some extent, its own hybrid journey.

Those who work in health care, retail, construction and education, for example, are probably less likely to work from home. And although most workers might be on-site, that hardly means everyone is. That is part of the challenge.

“People need to start thinking creatively,” Barnett said, “and ask their employees: ‘What would make your hybrid experience great.’”

An analysis of 3 million employee surveys by Energage shows fully remote workers are more engaged than fully on-site employees (59% vs. 52%). Senior leaders, perhaps not surprisingly, prefer to be on-site while team members prefer to be remote.

Especially during this tight labor market, employees want more choice. Which is why employers need to understand the needs and wants of workers. As companies expect workers to return to the office, will some employees refuse to resume a long daily commute?

(Photo: Business Wire) Employees increasingly are working from home and still interacting with colleagues.

Employers also need to understand the cost and benefit of remote work. Who can work from home? Who cannot? What is the cost of bringing workers into the office versus letting them stay at home?

Organizations that advocate for employees to come back on-site should be thinking about goals. How will they take advantage of an investment in their infrastructure? Is the goal higher productivity? More innovation? Greater inclusion? Employers should be targeting the actual things about which they are most concerned.

If organizations do care about work-life balance, about people not burning out, about people remaining engaged, they need to think about what behavior they reward, including compensation and promotions.

Today, companies need to be courageous enough to say what worked in the past does not work anymore.

Bob Helbig is media partnerships director at Energage, a Philadelphia-based employee survey firm. Energage is a survey partner for Top Workplaces.