Remote vs. Hybrid: What’s the Right Return-to-Work Plan for Your Small Business?

As we settle into the post-pandemic ‘new normal’, employees across the US are heading back to work — but not everyone is happy about being allowed to go back into the office. 

With many employees still anxious about in-person contact, small businesses are having to make the tough decision about whether to choose a staggered or hybrid return to work plan (or even stay fully remote).

After more than eighteen months of lockdowns and social distancing, some employees insist flexible working is the only way forward, while others are outright refuse to step back through the office door.

Needless to say, the debate over the “right” return to work plan is sparking some major internal struggles, not to mention a lot of HR headaches.

So, how can you make sure your return to work plan suits everyone and helps attract new talent? What are the pros and cons of different return to work options for growing businesses? And how can people leaders and HR pros use different tools to ensure everyone’s on the same page no matter where they clock in from? 

In this in-depth guide, we’ll dive into the remote vs. hybrid return-to-work options, and help you figure out the right plan for your growing company.

Create a return to work plan that’s right for your small business

With almost nine in ten employees saying they’d consider another job if their employer didn’t offer their preferred choice on returning to work, creating the best plan for your company and your employees is currently one of the biggest challenges for small businesses.

But with so many options (and so many employees to keep happy), how do you decide which return to work plan is best?

Here are a few tips to get you started: 

Ask employees for feedback

No one knows what your employees want better than, you guessed it… your employees. Ask — and listen to — employee feedback to find out what type of return to work plan your workers actually want. Here are a few ways to gather great feedback:

  • Send a quick survey
  • Run a virtual open forum
  • Ask for feedback during individual 1:1s 

Know your limitations

Different working models will suit different companies, so it’s important to make sure your decisions are based on what works best for your unique company structure. To help figure it out, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much flexibility do our employees want and need?
  • What’s the real cost of hybrid working for the business? Can we actually deliver on our promises?
  • Can we maintain a great company culture if our employees aren’t spending as much time together in-person? How will we bridge this gap?
  • How can we effectively hire and onboard new employees remotely?

Choose the right tools

Whichever working model you choose, you’ll need flexible tools that allow your company to grow and adapt to the changing work landscape. From a recruitment system that helps you build the most candidate-friendly process possible, to an HR Information System (HRIS) that tracks all your employee functions in one place, there are plenty of tools out there to help you maintain visibility into your teams, no matter where they are.

Return to work plan options: In-office, remote, or hybrid?

Whether you insist employees return to the office or decide to go fully remote, it’s important to make a choice that works for you and your employees.

Here’s the rundown on the best return-to-work options for small businesses:

Working in-office: The pros and cons

From valuable water cooler moments to sharing a laugh during weekly standups, it can be hard to imagine a productive workplace without these small yet meaningful moments.

But reopening the office doors with zero flexibility has its downsides too, leaving a massive 80% of workers not wanting to head back to the workplace full-time.

Let’s break down the highs and lows of in-office working:

Pros of in-office working

  • Socializing is part of the everyday: Company culture is critical for growing companies — and when you see your colleagues in-person every day, it’s easy to work toward building a great culture.
  • Communication is simple: Turning to your colleague for an answer is a lot easier when they’re sitting next to you. In-office working can help reduce communication time and give employees the opportunity to bounce ideas around, creating more room for innovation.
  • Easily identify areas of difficulty: If a project isn’t working, or if two colleagues are having a disagreement, it’s a lot easier to spot when it’s happening right in front of you. Without a clear picture of what’s happening in your teams, problems can fly under the radar.

Cons of in-office working

  • Many employees are anxious about returning to the office: After so long in and out of lockdown, some workers are understandably worried about the potential health and safety concerns of sitting in an office all day.
  • In-office working can increase stress: Especially for employees with young children, elderly parents or other significant obligations, losing the flexibility of remote or hybrid work can cause stress and increase burnout.
  • Risk of future closures: The last couple of years has shown every HR team what can happen during unexpected office closures — and it’s not pretty. Returning to the office too soon could be risky, depending on how the pandemic changes and develops over time.

Remote working: The pros and cons

Since Covid hit, remote working has given many employees the flexibility and autonomy they’ve long craved (not to mention the opportunity to attend meetings in your lounge pants 😅). So, it’s no surprise many workers are keen to keep WFH on the agenda.

But if you’re a small business, does remote working actually make sense for your bottom line? Let’s find out.

Pros of remote working

  • Employees get it: Employees have become accustomed to working from home and many businesses have already invested in the home-office setup — so for many, it makes sense to continue remote working long-term.
  • New hiring opportunities: Remote recruitment opens up roles to top talent in new locations and job functions.
  • Remote work boosts productivity: A two-year Great Place to Work study found remote working increases productivity from around 74% to a high of 87%.

Cons of remote working

  • Company culture could take a hit: Remote working = no more water cooler moments. Although online social events and a killer remote hiring strategy can definitely help, you could find your company culture isn’t quite as strong as it used to be, which could ultimately lead to increased turnover.
  • Employees may be more distracted at home: From screaming kids to the lure of Netflix, there’s a lot of distractions to keep at-home workers away from their desks. Without a strong culture and the right WFH requirements, this could lead to lost productivity.
  • Communication can be difficult: Remember the days you could just turn around to ask your colleague a question? With remote working, communication can take longer and key messages can easily get lost in translation.

Hybrid work schedules: The pros and cons

For many industries, flexibility is becoming a new battle in the war for talent — but in many cases, hybrid working offers the ideal solution.

The first thing to know about a hybrid work model is that there are many different ways to go about it. Here are a few examples of hybrid work schedules to choose from:

  1. The at-will model: Employees are given total autonomy over where they choose to work.
  2. The split-week model: Companies schedule employees to work in-office or at-home on particular weekdays. For example, an FTE employee could work from home Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and in-office on Thursday and Friday.
  3. Shift work: Employees work in shifts, alternating between remote work and in-office work in the morning or evening shifts.
  4. Week-by-week: Employees alternate working in-office or at-home each week.

Pros of hybrid working

  • It could potentially keep everyone happy: If you listen to what your employees want and get your hybrid work schedule right, you could end up with a lot of happy workers. 🤩
  • Hybrid working boosts wellbeing: If your employees believe you’ve scheduled their work plan based on what they actually want, you’re likely to see a huge boost in happiness and productivity. The more your employees feel heard, the more engaged they’ll be.
  • Reduced costs: Fewer employees in the office = less overhead. Most remote tools are much more affordable than office rent, so if this is an option for your company, you’re almost guaranteed to see a reduction in costs.

Cons of hybrid working

  • Some employees aren’t cut out for remote working: For whatever reason, some workers simply want to be in the office. For these folks, hybrid models of any kind could be a major downer.
  • Silos between in-office and remote workers: Especially if you work on a shift model, there may be some employees who literally never cross paths in-person. A lack of social opportunities between certain workers could lead to divisions — and in the worst-case scenario, a toxic work environment.
  • Scheduling could get tricky: Give some employees an inch of flexibility and they could end up asking for frequent changes in their schedule, leading to demands and expectations you simply can’t accommodate.

Welcome your employees back to a better workplace

Many companies have already headed back to the office — but that doesn’t mean you can’t still change your working model to better suit your employees and your business.

Whether you choose remote, in-person or a blend of both is up to you. Just make sure whichever working model you go with, it’s the right strategy for your company and your people.

Flexibility, transparency and a willingness to listen to your employees are all great qualities for any growing business — and if you get it right, you’re guaranteed to boost employee happiness and attract more top talent, no matter what the future holds.

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