The Flexible Working Dilemma – What Makes the Perfect Hybrid Model?

This article by LeadingRE President, Global Operations Chris Dietz was originally published by PropertyWeek:

Since the easing of the lockdown, we have found ourselves in a new phase of the ever-evolving employment cycle: trying to readjust our office habits after working from home for nearly two years. Some companies have called their employees back to the office full-time; others fully adopted flexible working a la Silicon Valley and reimagined their business culture entirely. However, the majority of firms have gone with a hybrid model, allowing employees to work remotely some days of the week and come into the office on others.

We have all heard arguments for and against working from home, and the truth is there is no one way of ensuring employee satisfaction and productivity in a modern workplace. All offices and corporate cultures have their own best practices, which reflect their individual needs and the company’s ethos. As long as the needs of the business and clients are diverse, the work model can also be flexible, in order to accommodate ever-changing industries and the external factors that influence them.

It is clear many employees enjoyed the greater flexibility that came with the pandemic, and this is an element of work that has been adopted as businesses sought to reintroduce office life and face-to-face contact. The hybrid model is a great way to optimize productivity, in addition to being flexible and forward thinking. As exciting as this is, we are failing to come up with a unified standard for what that hybrid working model will entail across our industries. According to Forbes, 70% of workers prefer remote working, whilst over 65% of workers want opportunities to spend face-to-face time with their colleagues. Business owners and management, therefore, face a conundrum, and many have gone the extra mile to ensure offices are better equipped to offer flexible working within their infrastructure.

But how flexible can hybrid working really be? Do we all have the same understanding of what hybrid working means? What does it actually look like in practice? Recent studies show that employees and employers have no interest in going back to the office five days a week. Some companies, especially those in the tech sector, are proposing the reverse of most hybrid model working conditions, such as allowing employees to work from the office only a few weeks per year. It seems the most popular variation is going to the office for two or three days a week and working remotely on the others – which brings a new set of questions: do employees pick and choose which days they come into the office? Or, do we simply have set days when everybody comes in?

If the days are pre-determined by the company then the workspace will become a more social environment, which would help employees enjoy the benefits of face-to-face interactions and brainstorming, not to forget morale and team building. It would also give staff an opportunity to book client meetings on those days, which is a vital cog in the global real estate industry, for example. Considering the office would be empty during the rest of the week, it would also cut operational costs.

On the other hand, giving employees the responsibility to choose days most suitable to them could have a positive impact on promoting a healthy work-life balance. However, this could present obstacles with effective diary management, as employee schedules would be independent to their colleagues, therefore limiting collaboration time.

There are endless options when it comes to the hybrid model, and the truth is a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Giant corporations and start-ups have different staff requirements – tech and creative businesses might prefer full flexibility, as much of the work is desk-based while architects may need more time in the office to work on drawings and design plans. If we did all switch to remote working entirely, we could see offices close down across the globe and town centers become ghost towns. There can be structure within hybrid work, as long as we see this shift as an opportunity.

The property industry has always been considered more traditional than others, as it requires in-person interactions, and most buyers would prefer to see properties before making a decision. However, the great benefits of technology during the pandemic illustrated a hybrid approach on VR viewings and virtual meetings as well.

Companies can maximize the effects of hybrid working by committing to current technological advancements and set a new standard for themselves. Investing in team building, increasing the use of internal organizational tools such as Asana, Teams and Slack and doing research in order to create the best hybrid model for them. Setting rules and boundaries that align with the company culture and the demands of the employees can foster a highly positive work ecosystem. Let’s be innovative, bold and explore the most efficient ways of building a new workforce culture.