There is no doubt that the pandemic has changed perceptions of remote work and sparked new ideas for balancing the need for productivity, health, creativity, and the need for teams to be in the office.
Hybrid work has been at the tip of the internet’s tongue, but how feasible is it to have everyone on a hybrid schedule across different industries? To get to the bottom of this question, we reached out to some of our clients and asked how their organizations responded to the pandemic, what creative solutions they found, and how their employees feel about these changes.
What is Hybrid Work?
If you have ever Googled “hybrid” work, you’ll see many opinions on what it means, but there is no standard definition. BuiltIn.com defines Hybrid Work as “a plan that incorporates a mixture of in-office and remote work in an employee’s schedule.”
Think about those excluded from the conversation based on this definition. Manufacturing, first responders, and delivery workers can’t pick up laptops and do their work at the kitchen table. While the push for hybrid work is palpable, the reality is that some employees cannot work from home. The good news? This “hybrid” shift has sparked the conversation on how employers can be flexible for their employees, and the 9-5 norm doesn’t have to be the only option.
What Does Hybrid Work Look Like?
We are seeing many clients invite their office employees back with safety regulations in place, but not everyone is ready (or wants) to go back to the office full-time.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters, for instance, has been open to having corporate workers on-site since June, but delayed their full office reopening and hybrid work plans until the new year. Employees have enjoyed the flexibility and autonomy that remote work provides but also miss the connection and culture that comes with working on-site. Although on any given day a few employees will work at the office, many remain at home for various reasons.
Another Noto Group client, Dutch Bro’s, is officially back in the office after sending all corporate employees home at the beginning of the pandemic. Flexible hours let employees fill their time to maximize productivity – leaving it up to the teams to decide when to come into the office. For those working on-site, extra safety precautions have been taken. Desks are spaced out and a barista now oversees the in-house coffee station to help keep the area sanitary and safe.
GU Energy Labs has held tightly to their top priority of humans first and figuring out how to tie in the business to accommodate them. They recently sent out a survey to understand how employees feel and how the company can support them.
One significant benefit of working from home is the time saved from not commuting. Another is that the team only hosts meetings when necessary. How many times have you gone to a meeting only to realize it could have been an email? According to GU Energy, that lesson has been learned, and everyone is more efficient with it.
The findings are that employees value flexibility across the board.
Those Who Can’t Participate in Hybrid Work
For those who cannot work from home, GU Energy has been working to implement flexibility in scheduling (including manufacturing). For example, if you are a working parent – what hours make the most sense for you to work?
The needs and responses from COVID have not been all good nor all bad. Those who have continued to report physically to work have had real concerns for their health. On the flip side, they have also been able to continue that in-person companionship, which has further developed a stronger sense of community.
To provide some ease to employees, one of our clients opened up the option of flexible work. Flexible work is a generic term that could mean staggered hours for employees, proving that the traditional 9-5 doesn’t have to be the standard to maintain business practices.
Two-thirds of Stumptown employees are retail and manufacturing based and therefore have to come into their worksite – be it a roastery or a café – to do their jobs. Finding a rhythm in scheduling to keep employees spaced out and safe while continuously keeping up with broad preventative measures have been fundamental in protecting employees who cannot work from home in their job function.
Challenges With Going Remote
For Dutch Bro’s Coffee, the immediate concern was maintaining strong culture with the community of employees spread out. Through creative leaps in learning and events there have been great strides that help translate culture over a virtual interface. It has been a massive undertaking, but with events such as virtual mixology classes, they have been able to keep their culture alive.
Stumptown shared that much of their community and culture are founded on the simple pleasure of connecting with others and enjoying a cup of coffee together. They’ve introduced new ways to foster that same experience, such as hosting coffee tastings over Zoom, and continue to try new ways to connect with each other.
On the topic of culture, all the clients who spoke with us touched on employees feeling disconnected. Paired with limited social activities from the pandemic, this can leave employees feeling quite alienated. Brainstorming sessions, impromptu coffee connections, and cross-functional communications are more challenging to arrange outside of an office setting.
Another common challenge our clients face with hybrid work is encouraging employees to disconnect from work. Without separating an office and home life, it can be easy to blur the lines and not know when to put work away for the day.
Additionally, working from home can come with distractions. For example, one of our clients commented that parents working from home might have a child interrupt a meeting or otherwise need their attention during work hours.
Another client has seen that different employees face different challenges. While one employee may feel much more productive working from home, another may find it highly distracting. Some may express improved self-care practices, while others say they are having a tough time staying positive. Finding equilibrium to meet the needs of all employees is no easy feat.
What’s the Verdict?
A few of our clients close with the following comments:
Dutch Bro’s Coffee has been highly impressed with how productive the team has been working remotely. At least for HQ, some type of hybrid/remote work is here to stay.
GU Energy is very comfortable working with a flexible model. After asking the team which option they prefer, the top answer was working remotely with predetermined days to come into the office. GU sees that flexible schedules are working and are very valued by the team, so they are working to stay as flexible as possible, aiming to serve the needs of their employees, teams, and the business through flexible scheduling and work locations.
Stumptown has realized the diversity of its teams and the different talents within each group. This has been the starting point in determining how to support employees moving forward as there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
If there is one thing we have seen from our clients, it’s that they care about their employees’ opinions and want to provide the best options for their teams. While not every group can (or wants) work from home full-time, our clients have gone out of their way to maintain some balance for employees in this new arena.
We cannot accurately predict the future, but we have seen that mission-driven organizations are taking this time to listen to their employees and pivot their working environments for the better. The workforce has never been in a space to make such a significant shift. Almost every industry has been affected by the pandemic, but the responses and needs couldn’t be more different. While the classically defined hybrid model may not be the way of the future, more flexible options are here to stay.