Hybrid offices: Is this the future of work?

It has been more than a year since many University of Utah faculty and staff began working remotely to protect themselves from COVID-19 and stop the spread of the virus throughout our community. Now, thanks to that time in quarantine and the rising number of fully vaccinated people, those who have been working off-site can come back to campus and resume their pre-pandemic routines. While most are anxious to return to the office, some have found benefits of remote work they aren’t ready to leave.

“Many departments are implementing a hybrid model,” said Dori Nottingham, associate director for training in the Department of Human Resources. “Most people love telecommuting. We’re asking departments to determine on an individual level, case-by-case, if the productivity and strategic needs are being met for the university.”

Of course, there are jobs that cannot be done remotely. Those who teach or work in clinical settings and labs need to be on-site to best perform their jobs. There is no single hybrid model. For some departments, this model could be that all employees work both on- and off-site part of the time. For others, the model could be a mix of full-time telework employees and full-time on-site employees.

“We’re asking departments to think creatively on what that flexibility would look like in the future,” said Nottingham. “It has to be based on the position and the needs of the department.”

There are some rules every department has to follow when setting up their hybrid offices. Every employee not returning to campus needs to fill out a form laying out their reasoning for telecommuting, their proposed work schedule and any university equipment they will be using. The form then needs to be approved by their supervisor and submitted to Human Resources.

While hybrid offices are likely to be common for the foreseeable future, it is unknown if they will be a long-term alternative to more traditional workplace models. While some employees might not be ready to be in the office full time now, there could come a day where they want or need to be. It all depends on how well the hybrid models work.

It’s important for managers to develop a hybrid model that considers the importance of in-person interactions in order to continue to build relationships and trust with their teams. Nottingham said, “I hope that we can make telecommuting sustainable to increase employee satisfaction and continue meeting the university’s strategic needs.”