Hybrid work schedules for a productive office
Hybrid work schedules are increasingly the norm as we return to the office. They’re attractive because they allow for an almost limitless variety of work arrangements. This in turn can lead to cost savings and happier employees, among other benefits.
In this article, we will explore hybrid work schedules, along with how companies can use them to make a more productive and cost effective work environment.
What is a hybrid work arrangement?
A hybrid work arrangement is any that combines in-office work with remote work. Hybrid work is incredibly malleable. Every hybrid workplace will look a little different, with its own bespoke combination of working styles.
Like everything, the hybrid work model presents pros and cons.
When facility managers (FMs) organize the hybrid office well, organizations can expect benefits such as increased productivity and flexibility, a better use of space, and the accompanying corporate real estate cost savings.
It can also lead to a better employee experience and work-life balance, along with better health and safety in the office.
Meanwhile, the main cons of hybrid work—namely communication and collaboration issues, and that it can be difficult to implement—can be ameliorated with the right tools and the right work schedule, which we’ll cover below.
What is a hybrid work schedule?
A hybrid work schedule is the actual timetable that organizations use to implement hybrid working in real time. It needs to accommodate workers who alternate where and possibly when they work. Therefore, companies should design work to let all team members to their best from anywhere.
A hybrid work schedule is quite different from a standard work schedule. It has to merge people working in different workspaces into one cohesive and productive unit.
It is also different from a remote work schedule, which simply accounts for remote employees.
Ultimately, we know that Zoom fatigue is very real. Working from home (WFH) all the time doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need actual face time.
By the same token, the latest surveys of workers are confirming what we already suspected. That the majority of workers want more flexibility, along with some degree of hybrid working. Going back to the 9-to-5 just won’t be on the table for most organizations.
A hybrid work schedule is what offices can use to create a new, flexible working schedule that minimizes the downsides of both remote and in-office working, while maximizing the upsides. This can make it incredibly complex to manage, demanding equally complex hybrid working tools, which we’ll cover below.
It will also look quite different from organization to organization. This is depending on what hybrid work model and related initiatives they are following, and how and when they divvy up work tasks.
Specifically, we are currently seeing 4 such models emerging:
1. Traditionalist schedules
The traditionalist model focuses on full-time, in-office work. It’s the model for companies that struggle with remote work, such as law or finance firms that use an in-person apprenticeship model, or pharmaceutical companies where employees need access to their complete lab.
These companies will need plans to account for social distancing in the office. There may also be specific teams that can work remotely. Otherwise, their office time and schedule will look much the same as it did before COVID-19.
2. Architect schedules
Companies embracing the architect model are trying to capitalize on the cost savings associated with hybrid working. While employees may appreciate hybrid work, architect companies are mainly embracing it to reduce their real estate portfolio.
Employees following an architect working schedule can expect more remote days. They’ll be able to book desks on request at select offices, typically for in-person work and collaboration.
3. Nomad schedules
While companies following a nomad model will look and feel similar to architects, their reasons for embracing remote and hybrid work are quite different.
Namely, nomad offices primarily focus on employee demand for the workspace, not real estate savings. Saving money is always a nice perk. But these companies are focusing on balancing employee needs, schedules, and work-life balance in the best possible way.
Similar to architects, nomad workers may need to be in the office for collaboration, but can expect many remote days each week as well.
4. Pioneer schedules
Finally, pioneer offices are at the most extreme end of the hybrid spectrum. For these companies, it’s the employees themselves who get to determine when and where their workday will be. They can spend every day of the week at the office, every day of the week at home, or toggle between as their hearts’ desire.
These companies will need flexible seating, robust communication tools, and the latest technology to manage their workflows and decentralized teams. These companies need a crystal clear plan and a system to support it, or they risk chaos.
With such a wide variety of work options now available, organizations should carefully consider both their work model and their employee preferences before committing to any major new office schedules.
What are the advantages of a hybrid schedule?
As we’ve covered, the benefits of hybrid working are now clear. That said, it only performs well when FMs are also able to implement a workable hybrid schedule. Ultimately, it’s the right hybrid work schedule that can really make or break hybrid work for any organization.
Having a clear schedule can help improve team work in a hybrid environment. Only when employees know when they will be working, and when their co-workers will be working, can they effectively plan their tasks .
The office is no longer the default location where all the work gets done; it’s the hybrid schedule that is now defining work.
Like OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara said in a recent interview, “for the majority of industries that are able to embrace flexible work, the office is becoming more of a destination. Employees don’t go there just because they have to be there. They go because there’s something they’re trying to accomplish. Whether that’s collaboration with another team or within their team, planning, reviews, brainstorming and similar activities.”
This type of collaboration and project management can only happen when a hybrid schedule is able to maximize and coordinate everyone’s schedules.
Examples of hybrid work schedules
The sky is technically the limit when it comes to hybrid work schedules. That said, the following are the most popular ways to actually implement this new way of working.
Cohort Schedules/Working In Shifts
It’s time to rethink ‘shift work’. In today’s office, working in shifts (or cohorts) is becoming increasingly popular as a way to manage hybrid schedules.
In this method, workers are placed into cohorts, ideally chosen to maximize team work and collaboration. Each cohort will get a set schedule. This way, when they work in the office and when the work remotely never changes. For example, one cohort may work the first half of the week or month in the office, while working the second remotely.
This model is highly predictable, and it’s therefore easier to maintain that many other hybrid working schedules. That said, planning still needs to be specific to avoid creating counterproductive silos.
Because cohorts mitigate the amount of people using the office at any given time, this model works particularly well for nomads. It is also an easy way to manage social distancing.
Staggered schedules can work well for traditionalist companies that need to accommodate primarily in-office work while maintaining social distancing. Like the name suggests, workers still come into the office each day, but their start and finish times will be different. This can keep everyone in the office, while avoiding pileups at the elevator or security stand. It can also ensure that there are never too many people in the office at once for safety concerns.
And furthermore, it is completely employee driven. It’s the employees themselves who get to determine when, where, and even how they work. They are thus in charge of their own hybrid work schedule, which can change from week to week.
Since an agile office is a bit of a free-for-all, FMs will need to ensure an organization is using comprehensive workplace management software to keep everyone on task and onboard.
Now famously embraced by Google, many companies are moving towards a hybrid schedule that allows for three days in office—often Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—and two days remotely (thus, Tuesdays and Thursdays).
According to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google parent Alphabet Inc., this gives employees just the right balance between the benefits of both working styles, which is likely why we’re seeing it adopted by more and more companies.
Ultimately, no matter what schedule a company settles on, the important thing is to ensure workers understand how to use the office and what the company expects from them. The onus will be on FMs and organizations to accordingly establish a good hybrid schedule.
How do you go about setting up a hybrid work schedule?
A hybrid work schedule may sound good, but it only actually works when it’s carefully constructed with workers’ needs in mind.
“Communication with employees is key in the new, flexible workplace,” says Cocchiara. “They need to make sure all employees are informed on how, what, when, and why. And that is a big challenge.”
Because of the lockdown, organizations were thrust into remote work, with little or no preparation. Thanks to digital workplace solutions and FMs who stepped up to the challenge of their new pandemic workplace, many companies were able to adjust to their new normal quite well.
As we move into the new new normal, companies now have the time to be more purposeful with their hybrid work schedule. This can lead to even better results.
Specifically, FMs should follow the following steps to create the best possible hybrid work schedule for their organization.
Conduct an initial assessment
Before making any changes to their working schedule, FMs will first want to assess their current office setup and requirements. Ideally, consultations with employees will also be at the heart of any assessment.
As part of this initial assessment, FMs may also want to take advantage of scenario planning software. This allows them to virtually test any proposed updates before making any physical changes on the ground.
Develop a hybrid work policy
Of course, employees always need clear guidelines, but hybrid work can especially muddy the waters. Companies will have to ensure employees fully understand what they expect of them, when, and where.
For this reason, FMs may want to collaborate with their HR counterparts to ensure employees understand their new schedules and what is expected of them.
One of the biggest struggles for hybrid employees is being able to see who else is using the office on a given day, and/or who is planning to use it in the future. It’s only when they’re able to plan their schedules in alignment with their colleagues that they’ll be able to maximize collaboration.
“Companies need to remove barriers to adopting the hybrid model,” says Luke Anderson, VP of Product and Strategy at OfficeSpace. “It needs to be easy for employees to find what they need, book desks, and feel comfortable and productive.”
This improved visibility can be accomplished with the right technology, which we’ll cover next.
Use appropriate technology
An office is only as good—or productive—as its tools. That’s why to support the hybrid work schedule, FMs will need to adopt an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) with the following features:
Communication and collaboration tools
A no-brainer, this is the simple software that replaces the water cooler, along with the more complex options for meetings and project management. Think email, an employee intranet, and cloud-based work processing and spreadsheets. Virtual meetings can be improved when they are integrated with calendars, and popular tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams work better when they are integrated with the complete IWMS.
Planning tools for move management
Especially in the early implementation stages of a hybrid schedule, employees might need to move around a lot. Having improved stack planning and move management software can make this easier for everyone.
Desk and room booking
Assigned desks typically go out the window with hybrid schedules. But spending any amount of effort trying to find a place to sit can be a big problem. That’s why hybrid offices need real-time desk booking and room booking software that is easy-to-use and accessible anywhere. It will also need to handle a variety of flexible seating options, including hoteling, hot desking, and activity-based working.
Is the new hybrid schedule really maximizing space utilization? This is a question that can only be answered with software that tracks how employees are interacting with a physical space over time.
Health and safety
This is critically important, because employees only want to return to the office if it is safe to do so. IWMS that can improve for physical distancing and make compliance with health regulations easier can go a long way in this regard.
Wayfinding encompasses all the tools that employees can use to find the people, resources, and spaces they need. Unsurprisingly, it needs to be planned and implemented well in a hybrid office, where people may be less used to their physical space. It can be optimized by using IoT sensors and digital signage.
Finally, hybrid work schedules don’t need to be permanent. They can and should be adjusted as makes sense for the company and its workers.
Specially, FMs should choose an IWMS that includes detailed reporting and analytics, so they can use that data to make improvements to the schedule and space utilization where necessary.
Employees should be encouraged to provide feedback at this stage in the process as well, because a hybrid office will only be sustainable when it benefits everyone on the ground.
Like Andersons says, companies want the ability to iterate.
“They want the ability to try things within reason and to respond to signals they’re getting from their employees,” he says. “OfficeSpace is helping them by providing tools and analytics to make those types of determinations.”
What does hybrid mean for work?
If we’ve learned anything from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that companies that stay flexible and are willing to adapt are those that survive.
For now, this means experimenting with different hybrid schedules. Just as important, it also means staying open to any new arrangements that may be coming in the future.