For a Hybrid Work Model, Companies Can’t Afford to Ignore the Trend

Several people gathered for a meeting, one person is joining remotely and can be seen on a monitor

Steve Jobs once said: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

However, a decade after his passing, Apple employees seem to be taking a stand to tell their company what they need to do via this anonymous letter. According to the letter, they need worker autonomy and flexibility to decide when and where to work.

These employees are not alone. Many members of the workforce whose roles and self-discipline allow them to work remotely share this perspective.

Gallup has studied the experiences, needs and future plans of more than 140,000 U.S. employees since the onset of the pandemic and found that 53% of remote-capable employees expect a hybrid arrangement, and 24% expect to work exclusively remotely moving forward. When asked if they would look for a new job if their employer stopped offering remote-work options, an astounding 54% of employees currently working exclusively from home and 38% of current hybrid workers confirmed that they absolutely would. That is a staggering number and an alarming one for employers amidst the ongoing trends of the “Talent War” and the “Great Resignation.”

Illustration of a hybrid meeting

It’s not hard to guess why, though. A study from Ergotron found that the hybrid workplace model has empowered employees to reclaim their physical health (75%), improve work-life balance (75%) and increase job satisfaction (88%).

The simple truth is that the hybrid workplace isn’t just good for workers; it is also good for business. A recent survey by The Economist found that 36% of respondents felt more focused working at home than in their office. Decreasing distractions and increasing focus could mean a potential gain of US$1.2trn currently lost from untapped employee output each year. A survey of HR professionals by Crain’s found that 78% cite flexible schedules and telecommuting as the most effective ways to retain employees. These are just two of many reasons to move away from traditional office practices. According to Accenture, the “productive anywhere” model was already embraced by 63% of high-revenue growth companies, whereas 69% of companies with negative or no growth reject the concept of hybrid workforces.

Remember “digital transformation?” It was a favorite corporate buzzword for over two decades. It was discussed for years as the next big transition for the modern workplace but never quite came to fruition. COVID-19 made companies get real about it fast, though, forcing their collective hand and pushing digital transformation as a key part of “the new normal.” Hybrid work as a post-pandemic reality is a natural extension of this fundamental shift. The overwhelming employee support for the continuation of the hybrid workplace model demonstrates it is past time employers take it seriously.

An unstructured hybrid work model provides the freedom to accommodate the ways employees work most effectively. An unstructured hybrid workplace is the future for most offices. Those of employers who want to recruit and retain top talent, that is. Notice that I said “unstructured.” That’s because rigid hybrid work policies won’t cut it either, as made evident by Apple employees’ immediate and strong reaction to their rigid structure Hybrid Working Pilot.

Illustration showing one person working in an office and the other remote

Some of the most forward-thinking companies in the country have already adopted the practice. Airbnb recently told employees they can work remotely forever with an option for teams to meet up in person for one week each quarter. Their workers can even work abroad for 90 days at a time and be trusted to do their jobs. 3M announced “Work Your Way,” a trust-based approach that allows personnel to choose whether to work remotely, from an office or a mix of the two. SAP’s “Pledge to Flex” model allows its employees to do the same.

The companies that were open to a hybrid approach pre-pandemic were ahead of their peers when COVID-19 hit. For example, TechSmith – makers of Snagit and Camtasia, my all-time favorite tools in my marketing toolbox – had “WFH Wednesdays” where employees were encouraged to work from home to promote wellness and mental health. This prepared the company to transition quickly and smoothly to remote work during the height of COVID precautions. TechSmith is also testing “No Meetings Wednesdays,” allowing employees space and time to dig into their work, meeting-free.

On a global scale, companies are going even further and are experimenting with a 4-day workweek. Some have already adopted this practice in Europe. This year, 38 companies in the U.S. and Canada are taking part in 4 Day Week Global, a six-month program where companies execute and measure the impact of a four-day workweek, running April through September. I suspect that the 4-day workweek approach will require a mix of remote and hybrid models to be successful, depending on the size and culture of the company.

Creating an effective hybrid workplace is much easier said than done. It requires purposeful planning and intentional implementation. In some cases, it might require a cultural shift. The challenges are plenty. A hybrid workplace demands a highly efficient technology stack, clear and consistent communication, intentional inclusivity, thoughtful collaboration, constant adaptability and persistent connection while fostering creativity and inspiring innovation. It is a potent mix that takes time and energy to establish and nurture.

In this video, I offer immediate things companies and leaders can do to prepare for a hybrid workplace.

One thing is clear – the remote-capable workforce will not accept a traditional office any longer. Leaders everywhere need to take their blinders off and accept that reality. Creating an effective unstructured hybrid workplace isn’t easy. However, the risk of complacency is too high. It is too late for leaders to ask, “can we afford to?” The question they need to be asking themselves is, “can we afford not to?”

Ekaterina Walter

Ekaterina Walter is a globally recognized business and marketing innovator, international speaker, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Think Like Zuck (2013) and coauthor of The Power of Visual Storytelling (2015) and The Laws of Brand Storytelling (2018). Her two decades of experience as a brand marketer and storyteller includes a blended perspective of Fortune 50, start-up, and nonprofit environments. Ekaterina’s thought leadership has been featured on CNBC, ABC, CNN, WSJ, Forbes, TechCrunch, and Fast Company, among others.

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