Whilst remote work is not new, hybrid at scale most certainly is. Many organisations have now begun to work in a hybrid way, and are busy learning what works and what does not on a practical level. The majority of operational plans for hybrid implementation were developed whilst essential homeworking was ongoing, and adaption of approach based on early learning is highly likely. We are also now starting to see some helpful academic research emerging into remote (during the pandemic) and hybrid more specifically.
Broad questions related to hybrid work are however yet to be answered:
- What do we mean by successful hybrid work, from the perspective of different stakeholders?
- Will the concept of hybrid work endure post pandemic, or will the lure of old ways of working (and the deeply held cultural norm of office working specifically) prove too strong? What form of hybrid will we end up with – optimal hybrid, or some sort of watered down version?
- How will organisations adapt to hybrid work and what are the outcomes of hybrid work in practice on critical business issues including wellbeing, inclusion, productivity and leadership?
- Given the many different ways in which hybrid can be implemented, what can we learn about which specific patterns of hybrid work are most successful in terms of outcomes for both employees and organisations? Should employees choose their remote days or should managers control this? Is there a perfect home to office ratio?
- Will hybrid work live up to the very high expectations currently placed upon it, and to what extent will employee preferences and organisational requirements align?
- There have been many predictions about hybrid work (for example, if demand is not met the potential for a ‘great resignation’ and talent shifts). Will such predictions be found to be myth, or reality?
- What is the impact of the technology that enables remote working, especially as this continues to develop? How does it help or hinder, improve or detract?
- How will managers and leaders adapt to the changing demands of hybrid teams?
- What does hybrid mean for wellbeing, inclusion, engagement, and organisational culture? How can we ensure that hybrid is a force for good, and does not make old problems even worse?
- How best to deliver elements of the employee lifecycle, such as induction and learning, when working in a hybrid way?
In 2009, an influential study concluded that at work, distance matters and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. ‘There will likely always be certain kinds of advantages to being together.’ In a post pandemic world, in which we are more competent users of the tech and more experienced in remote work than ever before, does this statement still hold true? What are those things that work best when we are in-person, co-located, synchronous? And which are just watercooler myths?
In the months and years to come, as they hybrid era truly begins, we need to be open minded and constantly curious. We must ask questions and follow the evidence. Only then will we be able to ensure hybrid delivers on its potential.