Choosing The Right Hybrid Work Model To Attract Top Talent


April 25, 2024


180 Engineering

The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are still reverberating. Most notably in the workplace, white collar employees have embraced the shift to working remotely. For many, this was a new work model that created an improved work/life balance. Post pandemic, many employees remain keen to work from home at least part of the time.

Employers aren’t quite as keen about hybrid work. Since 2021, return-to-office (RTO) mandates have frequently made the news as companies attempt to go back to traditional five-day in-office work weeks with mandatory office hours and attendance. Workers balked at the earliest RTOs and they continue to balk, making their feelings known by resigning en masse (such as at Twitter in 2022), staging walkouts in protest (as at Amazon in 2023), and threatening to unionize or quit (as at Farmers Insurance in 2023). Despite ample evidence that the majority of employees do not want to return to the office full time, companies continue to issue RTOs, believing that mandatory office hours will improve productivity, company culture, and revenue.

In a terrific piece at MIT Sloan Management Review, Brian Elliott argues that, while many companies assert that worker productivity is a core issue driving RTO mandates, insisting on the traditional five-day in-office work week will cost companies their best performers. As Elliott points out:

… in a world of globally distributed teams, falling back on management-through-monitoring is falling back on the weakest form of management – and one that drives down employee engagement. There is mounting evidence that mandates don’t improve financial performance. Instead, they damage employee engagement and increase attrition, especially among high-performing employees and particularly those with caregiving responsibilities.

In sectors where unemployment is traditionally low and attracting top talent is becoming increasingly difficult – including engineering and information technology – it’s critical that employers create workplaces that meet the needs of their employees. As workers resist giving up their hard-won improved work/life balance, flexible work arrangements will be key to attracting and retaining top talent.

The Promise Of Hybrid Work Models

While workers want flexibility in how, when, and where they perform their work, they don’t necessarily want to work fully remotely. A piece at HubSpot points out that among workers who are capable of working remotely, the majority (41%) of employees prefer hybrid work models, while 32% prefer fully remote work, and 27% prefer fully on-site work.

The good news is that hybrid work arrangements are beneficial for employers too, offering a middle ground for employers and employees. There are several different hybrid work models to choose from that can be adapted to meet both employee and employer needs. But regardless which model is chosen, hybrid work offers several benefits including:

  1. That improved work/life balance that today’s workers crave, with reduced stress, less time spent commuting, and more time for activities outside of work.
  2. A wider talent pool for employers, with a higher volume of applications for open roles and the ability to recruit from a wider geographic area since some employees may be willing to travel longer distances if only required to be on site a few days a week.
  3. Greater productivity, contrary to popular belief, since workers are happier and less stressed, and find it easier to focus with fewer distractions at home.
  4. Cost savings for employers on overhead, including the potential to downsize office space, reduced heating/air conditioning costs, and lower expenditures on office supplies. A piece at LinkedIn cites a survey that found that businesses may see a cost savings of $10,000 annually for each employee who spends half their work week at home.
  5. Cost savings for employees on commuting, parking, office attire, and eating out.
  6. Environmental benefits by reducing commutes, greenhouse gas emissions, and traffic congestion which can contribute to sustainability efforts and corporate responsibility initiatives.
  7. Beneficial changes to company culture that support employees and that build resilience for business, since remote/hybrid work plans can help companies withstand rapid shifts and disruptions.

There is little doubt that hybrid work arrangements hold a lot of promise for both employees and employers. But, implementing a hybrid work model isn’t as simple as deciding which days employees are expected to be in the office. There are actually a number of different ways that hybrid work arrangements can be configured. It’s important to consider the pros and cons for each, so that you can choose the best model to optimize performance, employee satisfaction and, ultimately, the success of your company.

Hybrid Work Models

When it comes to hybrid work, there are three basic frameworks: requiring employees to be on site for predetermined days or core hours, encouraging employees to be on site on predetermined days or core hours, and allowing employees full autonomy in choosing when to work on site and when to work from home.

Within each framework, different models of hybrid work can be further defined.

Remote First

The remote-first model prioritizes remote work, with in-person work scheduled only occasionally, when necessary or advantageous. Work on site may be entirely optional, with dates and times chosen by the employee, or mandatory on certain days or core hours. When employees are in the office, work typically focuses on team meetings, collaboration, and social or team-building activities.

The remote-first model offers the most flexibility and will be attractive to many workers. It’s likely that employees can be sourced from a wider geographic area, since they will be required to commute to the office only occasionally. It also offers the most cost savings to both employers and employees.

While studies increasingly show that remote workers do not experience the productivity and engagement issues that some leaders worry about, there are still some challenges to address in teams that are primarily remote. In particular, the infrequent in-person interaction can pose some difficulties with communication, collaboration, and team-building. It can also be difficult developing and maintaining company culture when employees are infrequently on site.

Office First

In the office-first model, employees are expected to work primarily in the office but have some options for limited remote work. For example, remote work might be allowed on an exception basis for specific tasks or for employees who need to work while also attending to personal commitments. Because of the nature of the work they do, some employees have little choice but to work on site the majority of time.

The focus on face-to-face interaction and collaboration in the office-first model is usually beneficial to collaboration, teambuilding, and the adherence to company culture. On the flip side, however, the limited flexibility may make it more difficult to attract and retain talent since many workers are looking for roles that allow improved work/life balance.

Fixed And Flexi Hybrid

A true hybrid work model allows employees to split their work hours 50/50 between the office and home. This solution, where possible, is often the best since it recognizes that no one work model fits all.

Fixed Hybrid

With a fixed hybrid work model, companies designate specific days or core hours for working on site, so that employees follow a consistent schedule. For example, employees might be scheduled to work in the office at the beginning of the week, to allow for collaborative teamwork that forms a foundation for remote work at the end of the week.

There are definite benefits to the fixed hybrid work schedule. Most significantly, the predictable schedule of this model can help employees plan their non-work activities more easily, contributing to a better work/life balance. And, since a better work/life balance is a high priority for many workers, this work model will likely contribute positively to attracting and retaining top talent.

The drawbacks of this model are relatively minor. The rigid schedule may make it difficult for employees to manage occasional personal commitments or emergencies. More significantly, however, the talent pool will likely be more localized and slightly smaller than with some other models, since on site attendance is regularly required.

Flexi Hybrid

While this work model splits on-site and remote work 50/50 as well, employees have autonomy in choosing when they report to the office based on their personal preferences and the requirements of their tasks. That said, they may not have total flexibility in their schedules but may need to perform some or all work during established core hours.

This is one of the best models to allow for improved work/life balance since employees can schedule their work, whether in office or remote, around their personal commitments. As with the fixed hybrid model, the talent pool may be somewhat smaller, restricted to workers located relatively nearby, since some in-office work is required. Another drawback for this model is the complexity of managing and communicating with a team without knowing where the team members will be located on any given day. That complexity might also affect team building and collaboration.

Core Hours

With the core-hours model, the employer schedules specific hours for things such as collaboration, meetings, and synchronous work. While employees must work as scheduled during that time, In the core-hours model, a company schedules specific hours for real-time collaboration, meetings, and synchronous work between team members. This work may be done virtually or on site. Outside of those core hours, employees have the flexibility to choose where they complete their work. This arrangement provides an excellent work/life balance for employees, since they can plan their time outside of core hours around their personal preferences, the tasks they need to complete, and their personal commitments.

There are other benefits to the core-hours model too. Teamwork and collaboration will be optimized and it will be easier to establish company culture than with some other models. If employees are allowed to work their core hours remotely while virtually connected to their teams, companies will be able to tap into the rich global talent pool when needed.

The biggest potential problems with the core-hours model, where employees may remain fully remote, are managing synchronous activities across multiple zones and understanding cultural differences and how to manage diverse teams.

Clearly, there is no one way to create and establish a hybrid work model. The one that you ultimately choose should consider the needs of both your company and your employees. Whichever model you go with, it’s important to establish and communicate clear policies around hybrid work so that your employees understand their responsibilities and your expectations.

It may take a bit of work to finesse and finalize your hybrid work model and the policies around it, but given the widespread benefits of hybrid work, especially its potential to attract and retain talent, it’s an important step to take.