After more than a year of enforced remote work, it’s clear that WFH is going nowhere. Hybrid remote work is the future – and while this is definitely a good thing, it raises new concerns for companies, many of whom are already struggling to keep up after such rapid digital transformation. Creating a sustainable, equitable and productive hybrid remote schedule for all employees is no easy feat, and we must take into account factors like autonomy, collaboration, culture, and importantly, ensure there’s a sense of equity between team members—no matter what their schedule looks like. So if your company is moving to hybrid work—whether long- or short-term—here’s everything you need to know to create a hybrid remote schedule that works for everyone.
When creating a hybrid remote schedule, it’s important to remember that the post-pandemic world is a very different to that of 2019. The past year was one of enormous change, and one of the biggest shifts in the workplace has been a desire to build more human-centric relationships. Employee autonomy and flexibility lie at the heart of this, and for your schedule to work long-term, people need to feel like they have enough control over the ways they work. What this means is that the level of flexibility given to employees must be carefully considered, and you need to think about whether your schedule will sufficiently support your employees’ desire for autonomy. A study by Gensler found that 52% of people want to work from their office between two and four days a week; 29% want to remain in the office full-time, and 19% prefer to work from home full-time. So, it’s important to figure out what your own employees want, as this should inform how much flexibility your schedule provides. Then, you need to think about collaboration between departments. When you can’t rely on the spontaneous collaboration of an office, how will you ensure collaborative work doesn’t suffer? How will people know when they can collaborate in-person with their coworkers, or when they should schedule meetings? And when half the team is WFH and the other half is office-based, how will you ensure company silos don’t form? Equity is another super important factor to consider when drawing up a hybrid work schedule. One of the biggest benefits to working in an office is that they act as social levellers, guaranteeing a degree of fairness between employees. When this is replaced by hybrid working, you run the danger of creating two profoundly different employee experiences. Think about how you’ll navigate equity; do some people or departments need to be in-office more than others? If so, how do they feel about that? How will you ensure nobody gets special treatment, or is overlooked? And finally, regardless of the type of hybrid remote schedule you create, how will you manage it? What tools will you use to keep everyone’s plans visible? Successful remote work hinges on robust communication, and though it might sound counterintuitive, this generally requires a remote communication structure. Without having asynchronous, transparent communication, ensuring fluidity between the office and virtual workplace is almost impossible. You need to make sure that all employees are kept in the loop, and are aware of exactly where their coworkers and managers will be working from, and on which days.
So, now we’ve covered some of the most important points to consider when creating a hybrid remote schedule, let’s take a look at some of the main schedule models, and their pros and cons.
Cohort schedules enable employees to work in the office on certain days or weeks on a regular basis. A perk of this is that it means everyone knows who will be in the office and when, making it much easier to plan ahead. It also involves minimal management, and because it provides equal access to the workplace, it offers a degree of equity. However, cohort schedules may not provide enough flexibility for some employees, as the days they have in the office (or out of it) might not be compatible with their own schedules and responsibilities. Collaboration can also be stunted, since many coworkers won’t have the opportunity to meet in-person in the office.
Staggered schedules involve employees coming in at set times to avoid overcrowding – so it’s a good choice for workplaces with lots of employees, or workplaces where there are different tenants. It offers a degree of predictability, and takes little oversight to keep on top of. Plus, because anyone who wants to work in the office has a set time they can come in, it provides equal access to the workplace – though it may take time for people to realize which shifts work for them. In terms of flexibility, however, staggered schedules aren’t ideal, as the time slot you assign to each person might not suit. Collaboration is generally better here than with cohort schedules, but it will probably still be limited, as many employee shifts may only overlap for a couple of hours.
Then there are custom schedules, which change each week. This involves managers coordinating with their employees to set their schedules depending on the current need to work together in the office. One perk of this approach to scheduling is that it allows managers to ensure coworkers are able to collaborate together in-person whenever it’s important. It also ensures equal access to the workplace, as anyone who needs to be in the office to get stuff done can be assigned a spot. However, unless managers take the time to work with their employees to create schedules they’re also happy with, it may not provide the desired amount of flexibility. Because people won’t know when they’re in the office until their manager tells them, predictability is also low, meaning planning becomes more difficult. To manage this approach smoothly, a lot of time investment is required, too.
Another custom approach to flexibility is allowing employees to set their own schedules without supervision from management. Obviously, the big perk of this is flexibility, as employees have full control over when they go into the office. Collaboration also works well with this model, because employees can choose to come in based on the days they need to work with certain people. Plus, because employees have planned their own schedules, they can usually stick to them, ensuring predictability and planning don’t suffer. However, in terms of equal access to the workplace, this model isn’t ideal, and there may be competition to come into the office on certain days of the week (e.g. Friday is the least popular day to work onsite, and Tuesday and Wednesdays are the most popular).