We’ve been talking about it for more than a year now, but the last few months have only affirmed the fact: hybrid work is here to stay. The myriad research that’s been conducted so far proves that not only do employees want the flexibility of hybrid work, but also that hybrid work has a huge potential to drive better business results. 

But these next few years will be a fascinating test case for this type of work environment. If businesses can make hybrid workplaces lucrative, they’ll continue to follow this structure and the benefits it provides their employees. If hybrid work becomes more of a headache than a productivity enabler, however, we could see companies put more pressure on their employees to return to the office full-time – whether they like it or not. 

So, what is the key to making hybrid work, work for everyone? The answer lays in the connection between hybrid work and technology. 

What Is Hybrid Work? 

Hybrid work refers to any working model where a portion of employees work remote, and a portion work in the office. There are various forms of hybrid work environments. Before the pandemic, the most common hybrid work setups saw a group of employees working 100% of their time in the office, and a second group of employees working 100% remote. 

But there are obvious flaws in that pre-pandemic model. Most notably: a fractured sense of community among remote vs. in-office workers that can manifest into resentment. Office workers who desire more autonomy could be envious of their work from home colleagues, while those remote workers worry about the effects of proximity bias – the belief that by missing out on the “water cooler” connections and face-to-face time with bosses could lead to them losing career advancement opportunities. Without a plan to combat these hybrid work risks, these negative feelings can result in a lack of engagement in work and increased rates of burnout. 

Today, as businesses strategize a return to the office, we’re seeing a far more flexible form of hybrid work emerge. In this hybrid work model, employees have more autonomy in their work schedules. They can decide when and where they work, whether that is in the office, at home, or on a tropical beach somewhere. The new hybrid work centers the experience of employees. 

But this model is not without its challenges as well. A Gallup poll found that 6 in 10 employees want some structure over when they need to be in the office, while only 4 in 10 employees wanted complete autonomy. So it’s clear that while people enjoy flexibility, they don’t wish to do away with structure entirely. Charting a path toward a hybrid work solution that works can easily start to feel like a Sisyphean task. Is it even worth it at all? 

Hybrid Work is Complicated, but Employees Are Adamant On Its Benefits 

Implementing hybrid work in a way that benefits the largest number of employees is a challenge, but it’s in the best interest of the business to make the effort. The research is clear: employees want flexibility, and they know that if they can’t find it at their current company, they can find it elsewhere: 

Organizations that want a successful, productive, and engaged workforce need to implement flexible hybrid work models that reimagine what the office can be, and gives employees ownership over their schedules and work environment. 

Hybrid Work Challenges 

Of course, nothing worth having is easy, and that includes hybrid work. There are many complexities involved in implementing a hybrid workplace, including: 

  • Flexibility vs structure: who should decide when employees come into the office? Is it an executive decision? The manager? The employees themselves? 
  • Mitigating proximity bias and fostering connection between geographically distant employees. 
  • Ensuring that both remote and in-office workers have the resources they need to create their ideal working environments. 

The solutions to these challenges will vary from company to company – but at every organization, IT will play a critical role. 

Hybrid Work and Technology: The Key to Success 

A successfully implemented hybrid work environment won’t be the result of any one team’s efforts. It will take buy-in from the entire enterprise, especially at the leadership level, for hybrid work to be successful. But there is one team who has an inordinate ability to drive the creation and implementation of a successful hybrid work strategy: IT. 

Even before the pandemic, IT leaders saw their teams’ responsibilities shifting. But the pandemic, and our current push towards hybrid work, has completely upended the role of IT in the workplace. Gone are the days of IT simply provisioning hardware and running updates. Now, IT is responsible for providing the technological solutions that make work, work. 

Think about it. For your employees to be productive and your enterprise to see growth quarter over quarter and year over year, what do you need? 

You need the digital tools to make every aspect of work as efficient and effective as possible. From collaboration tools like Zoom or Teams, to department-specific tools and the operating systems we work on, the workplace is now digital. You need to be able to provision the right employees with the right tools to get their work done.  

But for a hybrid work environment to work, you not only need to give employees the right technology, but you have to make sure they have the digital skills to use the technology adeptly. You need to focus on developing their digital dexterity. Are your employees using the software they’ve been given? How quickly are they adopting new solutions? Have you purchased the right number of licenses, or too many? 

And what about hardware? Do employees have access to hardware that works well both at home and in the office? Do in-office workers have the tools they need to collaborate effectively with remote colleagues? 

All these questions can be answered by your IT team. The success or failure of the hybrid work setup hinges on your IT team’s ability to access a detailed view of the digital employee experience of your workforce, no matter where they are located.  

With the right visibility, IT teams can see at-a-glance what hardware is working and what needs to be replaced. They can understand which applications are hindering productivity and quickly send out a fix. In short, they can organize and optimize the digital work environment so that your employees can easily collaborate and stay productive whether they are at home or in the office. 

Read More: Top Tips for Evolving IT Service to Enable Successful Hybrid Workplaces 

The Importance of Employee Sentiment to Hybrid Work’s Success 

There’s still one last piece of the puzzle that we haven’t put together: how your employees feel about their work environment. Hybrid work is complex, and the first iteration implemented by your organization may not be the best fit. Finding the hybrid work model that works for your employees requires a process of feedback and iteration. Employees want to be involved in the process, they want to feel heard, and they want to see the organization acting on their feedback. 

 Can this fall into IT’s wheelhouse as well? Absolutely. 

An IT team focused on the digital employee experience of the workplace needs the whole picture: the technical, and the emotional. With the right tools, IT teams can send out targeted surveys to users at the right time, gathering relevant sentiment data across the entire organization to understand how employees feel about their digital work environment. 

Maybe remote workers feel fine about their Zoom experience on their laptops, but employees in the office are frustrated with the faulty connection between their computers and the in-office systems. IT could fix this type of issue on a case-by-case basis – but they also might gather sentiment from employees over time, take this feedback to leadership, and ultimately decide to provide a new and improved collaboration solution for in-office and remote workers. 

Gathering sentiment is also critical to understanding the impact of any hybrid work policy the company enacts. For instance: if the company implements a mandatory “three days in the office” policy, IT can engage with employees to gauge whether productivity is up or down, how many more meetings they’re attending, and how they feel overall about this structure. 

To make a hybrid work solution that works for everyone, employee sentiment and a clear picture of the technology running the workplace is vital. By combining sentiment data with technical information, IT teams and leadership can adapt their hybrid work plans to meet the needs of employees – resulting in greater employee engagement, productivity, and retention. 

Prioritizing the digital employee experience as enterprises transition to a hybrid work model will result in greater business outcomes over the long term. 

Dive Deeper: How IT Can Solve the Most Important Hybrid Work Challenges