Return to Work: How to successfully implement a hybrid work model

Industry expert explains why employee choice is key

Return to Work: How to successfully implement a hybrid work model
There are different ways to implement a hybrid model because it can be a spectrum.

This feature is the third installment in our Return to Work series. Over the last few weeks, COS has been speaking with safety pros from all industries to help businesses and organizations come up with the best strategy for bringing employees safely and healthily back to the workplace. Previously, we discussed improving air quality, and how video interviews can help companies stay safe.

With the return to work a reality for many companies in Canada, employers have been thinking about how to safely bring employees back into the workplace. Nevertheless, telework has been a necessity for the last year or so, and many workers have now gotten used to – and even embraced – working from home.

So how can businesses and organizations conciliate these new expectations with business prerogatives? The solution may be a hybrid work model – but what does this mean?

“Hybrid translates to ‘work from anywhere’ – so it’s not work from home, it’s not return to the office, it’s really work from anywhere,” says Deepak Bharadwaj, VP and General Manager at ServiceNow – and responsible for employee workflow product lines.

ServiceNow is a software company which has developed a digital platform to help companies manage digital workflows.

For many years, says Bharadwaj, the reason for coming into the office was based around the need for employees to be supervised.

“Over time, that pendulum has shifted more and more towards knowledge workers doing more innovative work – so the reason for coming into work became collaboration,” he says, and the office became more so a place of social interaction.

But, as mentioned before, with the pandemic a lot of workers found that they were able to work from home. Which means that with this current return to the office, a return to a physical workplace becomes less a business imperative and more of a choice.

A successful hybrid model

So how can employers successfully implement a hybrid model?

There are different ways to implement a hybrid model, because it can be a spectrum.

On one end there are companies wishing to bring employees back to the office, and then figure out how to implement a more flexible work model once they understand who actually needs to be in the physical workplace – with other employees working from home.

Other companies may want to start from scratch – which Bharadwaj says is what many ServiceNow’s clients are doing. On this end, the assumption is that most employees don’t physically need to be in the office space and so those who go into the office are those who really need to be there – or want to be there.

“There’s pros and cons for both ends of the spectrum; many organizations are opting for something that’s in between, depending on the role,” he says.

Companies wishing to work towards a hybrid model may also want to take a phased approach, especially with the current pandemic push for worker safety.

Furthermore, some workplaces and roles may be better suited for a hybrid model than others. And if moving toward a hybrid model, organizations need to rethink company culture to ensure that offices are more inclusive and understanding of those working from home.

As well as this, employee health and safety remains a concern as the pandemic continues to take its toll in North America.

Employee choice

Fundamentally, it boils down to choice.

The future of the hybrid model may well be mostly up to employees themselves and their wants and desires. Some employees in the same role may have very different needs to enhance their productivity.

“It's really about where do these employees really want to work? And how do they want to work? And so giving employees that choice is starting to gain a lot more traction,” says Bharadwaj.

And with this choice also has to come innovations: “How do we create the set of tools and technologies in order to be able to support these employees to actually leverage the choices that they’re making,” he says.

Asks Bharadwaj: “Is there a winning formula? Or maybe a set of winning formulas, if you will, that depend on culture, depend on the type of work and depend on the individuals.”