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

Two years ago, if you asked people to define a workday, most would have said they spend 8 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 coworkers, and how they balance life challenges.

Hybrid Work

Here is the new reality of today’s world of work: Companies need to experiment with flexible work arrangements or risk losing employees to the 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 non-traditional hours. Or encouraging different ways of collaborating. Better technology. Additional perks, new benefits.

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

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

For example, people who work in health care, retail, construction, and education are probably less likely to work from home. And although most workers might be on site, that does not mean everyone is. That is part of the challenge.

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

An analysis of 3 million employee surveys by Energage shows fully remote employees are more engaged in their work than fully onsite employees (59% vs. 52%). Not surprising, senior leaders prefer to be onsite 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?

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

Organizations that advocate for people 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 The Washington Post’s partner for Top Workplaces.

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