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/ What Is a Hybrid Workforce?

What Is a Hybrid Workforce?

A hybrid workforce is made up of on-site and remote workers who work together regardless of where they are physically. Hybrid work models support more flexible work styles, often letting workers split their time between remote working and in-office work. Hybrid workplaces tend to heavily use collaboration tools like videoconferencing and SaaS-based productivity apps.

Secure Work from Anywhere

Why Is the Hybrid Workforce Important?

Many organizations underwent rapid technology transformation to facilitate remote work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Post-pandemic, it’s clear remote and on-site work models have their pros and cons: months of working from home highlighted the value of face-to-face collaboration, but it also showed that remote work can support both high productivity and greater employee well-being.

To get the best of both worlds, many employers now want employees back in physical offices part-time. The key to sustainable hybrid work is a flexible and adaptable approach, balancing employees’ job satisfaction with the organization’s needs around business outcomes and security.

In light of the competitive landscape and tight job market, organizations will benefit from offering technology-enabled experiences that enable different types of work as well as keep users happy, productive, and safe no matter where they’re working.

What Factors Led to the Hybrid Workforce?

The COVID-19 pandemic was undoubtedly the most obvious and forceful catalyst of the hybrid workforce trend, but with the height of the pandemic now behind us, the trend marches on, driven by other key factors:

  • Technological advancements like synchronous remote collaboration and communication tools (e.g., Slack, Zoom, Microsoft 365) and remote access solutions making it easier than ever to work outside the office
  • Employees’ changing expectations around work-life flexibility, especially among the incoming younger generation of the workforce, many of whom were raised amid critical advancements like ubiquitous internet
  • Employers recognizing benefits of hybrid workforces, such as access to wider talent pools and potential savings on the cost of office space, as well as the value in offering flexibility to attract the most talented workers

What Are the Different Models of Hybrid Workforce?

A hybrid work model that suits one organization perfectly may not make sense to another. Naturally, every model relies on a different combination of in-person and remote work, supporting the needs of different types of workers and industries.

A 2022 survey by workplace management solutions company Envoy lays out four main types of hybrid work schedules, with varying levels of popularity among organizations practicing any hybrid model:

  1. Hybrid at-will: Employees choose when to come into the office, with no set schedule (used by 56% of companies).
  2. Hybrid split-week: The employer designates specific in-office days for specific teams (used by 11% of companies).
  3. Hybrid manager-scheduling: Individual managers determine in-office days for their teams (used by 8% of companies).
  4. Hybrid mix: Different parts of an organization use any of the aforementioned strategies (used by 25% of companies).

Securely Enabling the Hybrid Workforce

Most organizations have looked at how to keep workers satisfied, but many still need a long-term strategy to ensure workers can quickly, safely access necessary data and applications wherever they are. Especially as organizations grow their cloud footprints and move away from traditional data centers, this will be key to ensure seamless, secure access and a consistent experience.

We’ll revisit this topic shortly. First, let’s glance at some of the possible ups and downs organizations and workers face in the world of hybrid work.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hybrid Workforce?

Hybrid workforce models are often called the future of work. They’re an important evolution for many reasons, not only affecting the employee experience, but also providing a variety of organization-level benefits.

Some of the most notable advantages are:

  • Better work-life balance: Hybrid work environments can give employees greater flexibility to choose where they work, configure their workspaces, and exert more control over their work schedules. Hybrid workers also commute less, and dedicate more time to sleep and leisure, than full-time office workers on average.
  • Attraction and retention of talent: Gallup poll data has shown that more than 50% of workers expect hybrid work arrangements, making flexible work options a key way to both attract a wider talent pool and keep workers who might otherwise seek them elsewhere. Hybrid work can also better support people with disabilities or caretaking duties.
  • Cost savings and environmental impact: Hybrid work can lead to reduced costs associated with commuting as well as expenses like real estate and utilities required to maintain physical office space. These things can also have a positive impact on an organization’s overall carbon footprint by reducing emissions.
  • Readiness for the unexpected: A full-featured hybrid work setup can set an organization up to react more deftly to unforeseen events (e.g., natural disasters, public health crises, market shifts) that could disrupt typical daily operations, reducing downtime and losses.

As with any big shift, there are some potential disadvantages, but many can be solved with a well-considered approach and the right technology. Let’s take a look:

  • Shifts in company culture: Things will change in large and small ways as physical spaces continue to meld with virtual ones, and in finding the best way forward, there’s simply not a one-size-fits-all answer. Organizations will have to look closely at helping workers manage work-life boundaries, when face-to-face interactions are and aren’t critical, and more.
  • Complex people management: Managers may need to reassess their management instincts amid the changing dynamics of employee engagement, evaluations, meetings, working hours, and more. In a December 2022 interview with Fortune magazine, then-CEO of Slack Stewart Butterfield said, “I think the secret is to not make them feel like their autonomy is being denied or that their ideas aren’t important, while still giving them some structure.”
  • Secure access and user experience challenges: Increased technological dependencies and the worldwide push to the cloud have increased demand for fast, safe, seamless, and consistent user experiences so workers can get things done. The main culprit here is legacy technology not suited to safe remote access or the cloud—VPNs and traditional firewalls most of all. Learn more about eliminating the risk and complexity of legacy VPNs and firewalls.

Long-term effectiveness of any hybrid workforce model will ultimately depend on how the organization accounts for the above while aligning solutions with their goals and their workers’ needs. Of course, weighing the pros and cons is just one piece of the puzzle. You also have to get your hybrid workforce working in the first place.

How Do You Build a Hybrid Workforce?

If you’re trying to build or maintain an effective, successful hybrid workforce, your best starting point is a carefully considered strategy built to suit your company culture as well as broader work culture, the technology and communication tools available to you, your organization’s management ethos, and more. You’ll need to:

  • Make sure your organization is ready. Moving from a traditional workforce model to a hybrid one is challenging, as you’ll need to consider team member and management expectations, work processes, roles and responsibilities, and more to understand what your hybrid workplace model will look like.
  • Set clear guidelines and rules. Help everyone in your organization understand what the work week will look like in a hybrid model, including expectations for in-person meetings, working hours, use of coworking spaces, attendance, and so on as appropriate for your organization. Clearly delineate communication and data security standards.
  • Consider how you define productivity. If your organizational model permits, shifting to a hybrid model can be a good time to reevaluate what “getting work done” looks like. Hybrid employees expect the flexibility to model their remote workdays to fit their needs, and it may no longer be practical to assess productivity simply by hours worked.
  • Train employees and managers alike. Help your hybrid teams understand hybrid work dynamics and remote work best practices, especially around cybersecurity. Effective management looks different in this new normal, and it can have a profound effect on employee productivity, work-life balance and well-being, and your overall company culture.
  • Invest in the right technology. Even the best laid remote workforce plan won’t work without effective technology to foster seamless teamwork between in-person and remote employees. Beyond the standard video conferencing and productivity software, it’s critical to keep your users productive and secure with tools that ensure a fast, secure user experience.

How Can You Secure a Hybrid Workforce?

The two keys to securely enabling your hybrid workforce are ensuring great user experiences and protecting your enterprise and users against modern cybersecurity risks.

The future of work is hybrid. To support that effectively, you need to secure connections, assets, and employees wherever they connect from. And for that, you need the cloud native Zscaler Zero Trust Exchange™ platform.

Our cloud-delivered platform was built to balance user experience and security by offering:

  • Fast, seamless access from everywhere: Direct SaaS application peering and access via the broker closest to the user ensures traffic always takes the shortest route between users and destinations, with no need for VPNs and firewalls.
  • Reduced risk: The platform enforces microsegmentation by creating one-to-one connections between users and applications, reducing the attack surface and preventing lateral movement of threats, even if user accounts are compromised.
  • Flawless digital experiences: IT teams can get ahead of poor end user experience by monitoring digital experiences to optimize performance, rapidly fixing any application, network, and device issues before they impact productivity.

Enable secure access to the internet, as well as external and internal apps, from anywhere on any device. Enforce business policies that follow the user, unifying security regardless of location. Provide better user experiences with proactive network, app, and device performance monitoring.

 

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Zscaler helps organizations worldwide secure and empower their hybrid workforces.

Suggested Resources

How Security and User Experience Can Power Your Hybrid Workforce’s Productivity
Read the white paper
2023 Hybrid Workforce Predictions
Read the blog
SSE Insights: How to Secure Hybrid Workforce
Watch the video
Zero Trust Is Here to Stay. Is Your Organization Ready?
Read the blog
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