Picture your first job in a homogeneous, office-based company. You walk down the sea of gray cubicles to your desk. If you were working around 10 years ago, your setup probably included a PC with a massive tower and a small monitor. You had your handy stapler and some file cabinets surrounding you. Maybe it looked like Office Space. (Did you have a red stapler?)
At the time, the purpose of cubicles was to give people a space to focus with no distractions. In fact the inventor of the cubicle concept, Robert Propst, was trying to develop a workstation that cancelled out the noises of coworkers' telephone calls and typing while maintaining a fluid and efficient office environment. He originally proposed stations with walls of different heights to maintain a sense of camaraderie while staying organized. Companies of the time took and distorted his concept into a way of fitting the most employees in the smallest amount of space.
You have a morning meeting with your manager promptly at 9 am every day and you and your coworkers begin packing your things to get the heck out of the office at 4:45 pm (if your manager isn't looking.) Employee autonomy is not a priority. Meetings are conducted in conference rooms or over the phone. Perhaps you even have conference phones in meeting rooms for conversations with employees or clients located off site. Everyone is required to come into the office every day.
After a few years, you leave this company for a new job. This job has a fancy, modern office with a brand, spankin' new open office floor plan. This is another formerly avant-garde design idea that was meant to promote collaboration, brainstorming, and free-flowing ideas. Gone were the cubicles and solo work spaces of the past. This company was beginning to adapt to the needs of the modern employee, but after a few years, it still felt confined.
Perhaps you were working on the marketing team and were never client facing, yet you still had to dress business professional or business casual every day. Maybe your company even implemented casual Fridays where you got to wear jeans! The workplace was moving toward putting the employee first, but you still had to commute in to the office from the suburbs every day for your "9 to 5." Technology began to advance with laptop computers, enabling more movement, but a laptop within an office still felt structured.
The next phase of development in work structure and environment was the advent of telecommuting, virtual employees, and video technology. While allowing some employees in certain situations to utilize video conferencing technology or work remotely is a step in the right direction, limiting flexibility for other employees creates tension and inequality in the workplace.
As companies grow and develop, they need to suit the needs of the current workforce, which happens to be comprised of millennials. A lot of millennials. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials (those currently between ages 22-37) make up 35% of the U.S. labor force, making them the the largest group represented.
Millennials are digital natives and technology is an integral part of their workplace success. As the millennial population in the workplace has grown, PC sales have trended downward. Simultaneously, laptop and tablet sales are climbing as the market adapts to the modern employee.
The modern employee is tech savvy as millennials become managers and leaders of organizations. The idea of the 9 to 5 office job has quickly become antiquated, opening the door for new work environments, new management styles, and an entirely new idea of what a workspace means. Sixty-two percent of U.S. employees work remotely at least once a month, and over half of global companies allow remote work.
Enter the hybrid company.
Hybrid companies have a new model of work where the employee has the autonomy to choose how, where, and when they work best. So what is a hybrid team or a hybrid company? This is an organization that allows employees to choose between working in an office or workspace, working remotely, or alternating between the two. Hybrid teams allow employees to have control over their hours, when and where they work, and where they are the most productive.
This may sound like complete anarchy. No rules? Won't employees take advantage of this system? On the contrary, the top reason that employees choose to work remotely is productivity and focus. In fact, 60% of employees with flexible work options are more productive and engaged in their work than those with structured, homogeneous (entirely office-based or entirely remote) teams.
Hybrid teams don't conform to any one work environment because all employees work differently. All employees are managed differently, too. When given the choice, here's the breakdown of how often global employees work remotely.
Hybrid teams won't work without the right resources, technology, and support. If your company offers remote options, start by encouraging employees to take advantage of remote days, or a flexible schedule. At many companies, remote work is technically allowed, but not encouraged by leadership, so employees don't feel comfortable doing so. Actions come from the top down, so try to lead by example and work remotely at least once a week.
Next, equip your team with the technology they need. A team of hybrid employees requires a messaging app, video conferencing platform, shared files/documents, and employees need a good Wifi connection if working from home. Some suggestions for technology for hybrid teams are:
Finally, be aware of inequality. If you allow some employees to work remotely for specific reasons, you risk creating unequal remote work opportunities across your team or organization. By providing flexibility for some workers and not others, you fall into the category of old school companies that required all employees to fit into one work model. The purpose of hybrid teams is to increase employee autonomy for all workers, no matter their personal or professional situation. This also means that leadership should have the same guidelines as individual contributors.
Studies have shown that organizations that allow flexible work actually have better relationships between management and direct reports. Boundaries from previous office environments where the C-suite is in a closed-off fancy office are dissolved, allowing employees of all levels to bond, connect, and grow together.
While managing a hybrid team presents its own set of challenges, the biggest being building team culture, modern technology helps to bridge the gap and create a workplace that supports employees working remotely, from an office or shared workspace, and everything in between.