Reinventing Work: Gaining Insight into the Hybrid Model
By: Kianna Turner
The fusion of in-person and virtual work has emerged as a viable option for labour. As an initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, diverse industries had to adapt the way work was structured and turned what was, in the recent past, a sparse opportunity into a method that has exponentially increased in popularity. The emergency shift from traditional (co-located) work to an online world proved to be a strenuous learning curve. Two years later, it provides an attractive alternative for companies and workers. Although many workplaces have polished their approach, significant improvements are needed to standardize hybrid practices. Hybrid work is stuck in the middle of traditional and remote work, absorbing the good and bad of both. The reinvention of work has changed the workplace; teams need to learn new ways to collaborate, accountability and output are tracked differently, work-life balance is altered, and the relationship to the physical office takes new meanings. The “new normal” begs questions beyond these for researchers and laypeople alike on the best practices to follow for successful outcomes. In particular, industrial-organizational psychologists (I/O) will have their hands full for years to come and will be pivotal in understanding and enhancing new ways of work. Industrial-organizational psychologists study human behaviour in the workplace (see Appendix A). They create various solutions to improve the work environment with this knowledge.
Current research suggests that hybridization merges the benefits of traditional workplaces (i.e. socialization, smoother collaboration, greater creativity, dedicated spaces) and virtual work models (i.e. flexibility, autonomy, reduced carbon footprint, cost-optimization) in financial and intangible domains (Mortensen & Haas, 2021, Global Workplace Analytics, 2021). Remote work is particularly successful for positions that do not require physical presence for completion, such as knowledge work. For hybrid models to be suitable, the worker’s role must be able to be completed remotely in addition to having adequate infrastructure available in the country they reside. Only 18% of positions fit those requirements (Sokolic, 2022). Sokolic (2022) discussed that “studies show that employees with higher levels of education, well-paid employees, long-distance commuters, and employees in industries such as IT or certain education sectors tend to keep their productivity levels constant.” Further, remote work can “increase coordination costs, reduce social interactions and knowledge sharing, and decrease collaboration” (Australian Government, 2020, as cited in Sokolic, 2022). For a majority, co-workers play a significant role in daily socialization. Therefore, isolation and loneliness are prevalent challenges when working from home and lead to decreased innovation, motivation, and satisfaction; this could be considered the most significant downfall of purely virtual work. Socialization is a fundamental human need that cannot be synthetically replicated. Yang and others (2021) found that in remote environments, dull tasks reduced productivity by 6-10%. In contrast, tasks requiring concentration improved productivity by 11-20%. This data provides insight into what setting (at-home or in-office) different activities should be divided. This means that colleague interactions should occur in person, whereas deep work should be facilitated remotely (Yang et al., 2021). The participant responses on preferences compiled by Yang and others (2021) supported the former findings, showing a large preference for co-located meetings and training rather than through teleconferencing options such as Zoom. Current research is lacking on the ideal composition of days spent in co-located offices versus work-from-home offices, but the findings above point us in the right direction for what that might look like.
One of the most lucrative aspects of hybrid work is that it provides flexibility and autonomy over when and where employees choose to spend their time (Sokolic, 2022). Global Workplace Analytics (2021) showed that it is one of the highest-ranked benefits for the modern jobholder. The greater flexibility has contributed to people being happier with their work-life balance (Sokolic, 2022, Hill et al., 2010, as cited in Yang et al., 2021). When compiling time spent commuting, it is estimated that “a half-time telecommuter saves the equivalent of 11 workdays per year” (Global Workplace Analytics, 2021). The intersection of work and personal life has shifted to allow people more time to focus on the things that matter to them, such as family and leisure time. Many people also find that hybrid work gives them more flexibility for travelling, provided that the technology used for their role is portable and an internet connection can be found elsewhere. From a business standpoint, providing flexibility has been shown to increase employee retention and reduce absenteeism because it improves overall satisfaction and motivation. It also provides options for people to work when they are ill or cannot physically attend the traditional office (Sokolic, 2022). These factors bolster company efficiency and growth.
Because the physical dimension of work has shifted to include home-based offices, telecommuting has made it more difficult for workers to create differentiation between work and personal lives. Xie and others (2018) identified “boundarylessness, multitasking, non-work-related interruptions, and demand for constant learning” as characteristics of hybrid work. It has become more challenging to “un-plug” afterwards because there is not a sense of clear division between work and personal lives (Gratton, 2020). In order to avoid burnout, Kennedy and Porter (2021) say it is helpful for workers to use strategies like the Eisenhower Decision Matrix to determine how to prioritize tasks efficiently (see Appendix B). Another vital factor is a private and distraction-free environment. Ideally, dedicated and tailored offices in the home environment need to replicate a traditional office for maximum productivity (Yang et al., 2021). When looking at the environmental quality of at-home workspaces, Yang and others (2021) found a positive correlation between higher calibre technology, ergonomic furniture, and a dedicated work area with employee satisfaction and productivity.
Workers take on significant expenses to obtain and maintain employment in any model. Traditionally, commuting to work is a major expense and is sometimes the main barrier to employment. Hybrid work reduces the expense associated with daily commutes. Still, it comes with other costs, such as increased utility usage at home and the need for more supplies that employers may not cover. More data is needed to adequately cross-compare the associated costs. Nevertheless, there is a reduction in gas, parking, and food expenses. It is estimated that each year hybrid workers can save from $600-$6,000 (Global Workplace Analytics, 2021). Positive outcomes (satisfaction and productivity) were increased by financial and training support from companies to upgrade home-based work areas, thereby taking the financial strain off of workers (Yang et al., 2021). While more research is needed, I suspect that the hybrid work model surpasses the other four models of work regarding the cost-benefit analysis of financial factors combined with intangible factors such as quality of life.
Reducing power imbalances to ensure fairness is an obstacle of hybrid models. Hybrid characteristics and positioning can affect the hierarchy of power in the workplace differently compared to traditional models. Workers may find that in the hybrid model, they either have an advantage or disadvantage in promotions and recognition than they typically would. This is partly due to varying levels of visibility to upper management and resource access. As Mortensen and Haas (2021) point out, those working closer to their superiors will be more likely acknowledged and rewarded for their efforts. In contrast, employees who are not seen as frequently will be perceived as putting in less effort, even if they are doing more. Proximity biases can lead to uneven attribution and ripple problems in collaboration efficiency. Leadership is essential in selecting and motivating employees for any working model. However, remote work provides different challenges to effective leadership. The lack of supervision can make it challenging for accountability, communication, recognizing where people need help, and creating a shared sense of community. Some areas of I/O psychology seek to answer questions such as: how can you improve talent selection remotely? How can you manage personnel when they lack supervision? And how do you determine if employees are engaged or burnt out? Management needs to be equipped with suitable approaches if they want to prosper. This begins with selecting the right candidates for the job. Industrial psychology targets the question of talent assessment and acquisition and provides systematic approaches for weeding out candidates who would not be an asset. For example, impression management is a popular topic in I/O psychology. This is when people control how the hiring team or other superiors perceive them. Many people will fake their behaviour or personal attributes to gain favour from the hiring personnel or their bosses. If organizations know how to assess applicants properly, they will be less likely to hire people who are not fit for the role and could become more of a liability than an asset. Other important factors in reducing the managerial challenge involve having a solid onboarding process, frequent communication, and performance evaluations (Mortensen & Haas, 2021, Gratton, 2020). Strong onboarding involves:
- Introducing new hires to the whole team,
- Setting clear expectations and rules,
- Creating a sense of community by instilling company values and vision,
- Communicate early and often throughout employment.
Strong leadership within a company will ensure that projects and goals are tracked, employees are recognized, and purposeful team meetings frequently occur (Mortensen & Haas, 2021, Gratton, 2020).
Not all work can successfully transition to remote operations, nor do some professions need to resume old practices. Many different configurations of hybrid work are paving the way forward for new models in the post-pandemic world. Workplace culture powerfully influences how employees think, feel, and act within their roles, inevitably impacting company growth. Enhancing worker outcomes is not just an altruistic direction from employers but has shown to be a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties. However, if implemented improperly, the hybrid model will not reach the desired outcomes. Characteristics of hybrid work will undoubtedly benefit from investing in industrial-organizational knowledge to understand the nuances of the emerging ways of work.
Gratton, L. (2020, November 9). Four principles to ensure hybrid work is productive work. MIT Sloan Management Review. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/four-principles-to-ensure-hybrid-work-is-productive-work/
Kennedy, D. R., & Porter, A. L. (2021). The illusion of urgency. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 8914. https://doi.org/10.5688/ajpe8914
Latest work-at-Home/Telecommuting/Remote work statistics. (2022, January 18). Global Workplace Analytics. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics
Lazzara, J. (2020, April 22). Industrial-organizational psychology – Psychology 2e. Maricopa Open Digital Press. https://open.maricopa.edu/intropsych/chapter/industrial-organizational-psychology/
Mortensen, M., & Haas, M. (2021, February 24). Making the hybrid workplace fair. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/02/making-the-hybrid-workplace-fair
Sokolic, D. (2022). Remote work and hybrid organizations. Varazdin: Varazdin Development and Entrepreneurship Agency (VADEA). https://www.proquest.com/conference-papers-proceedings/remote-work-hybrid-organizations/docview/2644087108/se-2
Xie, J. L., Elangovan, A., Hu, J., & Hrabluik, C. (2018). Charting new terrain in work design: A study of hybrid work characteristics. Applied Psychology, 68(3), 479-512. https://doi.org/10.1111/apps.12169
Yang, E., Kim, Y., & Hong, S. (2021). Does working from home work? Experience of working from home and the value of hybrid workplace post-COVID-19. Journal of Corporate Real Estate. https://doi.org/10.1108/jcre-04-2021-0015
Image from Psychology 2E, Chapter 13: Industrial-Organizational Psychology