Productivity in a Hybrid World: Boosting Efficiency for Teams That Can Work Everywhere

In the wake of a huge shift to remote work during the pandemic, businesses and employees are now rethinking their approach — particularly around where work happens.

If you’ve read a single article in the past few years related to the modern workforce, you’ve heard about how hybrid and remote work are the future of work. What may have seemed like a momentary blip at the time has become more common and desirable. Employees today want more flexibility and more freedom to decide what setup works best for them.

Research suggests this isn’t a passing phase, as 74% of U.S. companies have either already embraced or are actively planning to adopt a permanent hybrid work model. In addition, 63% of high-growth companies have turned to a "productivity anywhere" approach, leveraging the advantages of a hybrid work model to fuel their expansion and success.

But this movement to hybrid work isn’t without its drawbacks or concerns. Company leaders and managers worry about the effectiveness of hybrid work models in regard to communication, collaboration, and especially productivity. Rethinking your strategy toward productivity is now essential. To remain effective when work environments and styles change constantly, you need to ensure your team is working together toward the right goals, with fewer obstacles in the way.

Let’s explore how hybrid work affects productivity and how you, as an HR professional, can improve productivity strategies across your organization.

What Is Hybrid Work?

A hybrid work structure means that employees work part of their week in an office setting (with other employees) and the rest at home or in another remote location (not the company office). This style is sometimes called “flexible work” because it allows employees to be more flexible with where they complete their job responsibilities. This flexibility can be manifested in several ways, depending on the industry and the needs of the company.

Most of the time, a hybrid model mandates a specific number of both in-office (or on-premise) days and remote days. Some companies might also allow for “floating” days, where employees can choose where they work.

Sometimes, only some departments in a company use a hybrid framework while the rest work in the office or completely remote. This policy can even apply to specific positions or employees within a company.

Other times, the model might be entirely “at-will,” where employees can choose where they work, at any time during the week. In this setup, employees typically need to request a desk before coming in, as operating a large but mostly empty office usually isn’t profitable.

Of course, not every industry is suited to a hybrid model — it won’t often work for retail, manufacturing, or similar businesses. Hybrid work models are most common in businesses or departments that deal in information or services such as IT, SaaS, finance, and HR.

Why Companies Choose Hybrid Work

While there are a number of reasons companies choose hybrid work models over traditional in-office or fully remote models, the primary reason is a combination of flexibility and work-life balance.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were forced into remote work quite suddenly. While some found it refreshing to work from home, others found it more difficult to separate their work from their personal lives. The effect on mental health was challenging for some, and debilitating for others. Hybrid work emerged as a viable alternative.

Hybrid work provides flexibility while also allowing employees to use the office to create a clear environmental difference between work and home activities. Employees can stay home when they have no need for workplace collaboration, and come into the office when they do. For many employees, it’s the best of both worlds.

However, hybrid work isn’t a great idea for every company. In some cases, security concerns might prevent employees from safely working remotely. Other times, employees may simply prefer in-office work. Before making any major changes to your company’s operations, it’s important to take a close look at the needs of your business and employees, and choose a model that helps your team’s productivity.

Employer Concerns About Hybrid Work

One of the reasons hybrid work has provoked so much discussion is due to productivity concerns. After all, it’s a major shift from the traditional 9-to-5 work model, and it's hard to predict how that will affect overall metrics.

While many employees report hybrid or remote work having a positive impact on their daily activities, not everyone is convinced. The reality is that every work model has challenges — it’s simply about how you handle them.

Lack of Productivity / Time Theft

The most common fear among employers regarding hybrid work is a loss in productivity. Many employers still believe the old philosophy that, “If I can’t see my employees actually working, that’s a problem.” Many worry not only  that employees are less effective in a remote environment — but that they are deliberately not working as hard (or as much) as they do in the office. The topic of remote work often conjures images of a salesperson at home in their pajamas, clocked in but playing on their phone.

According to research from Microsoft, “85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” This is a staggering percentage, but note the specific language here. It doesn’t suggest that hybrid work makes it challenging for employees to be productive — just for leaders to actually trust in the results.

However, the belief that there is a problem does not mean there is a problem. When trying to improve productivity or operational efficiency at any level, it’s better to direct your energy toward solving the problems that actually exist.

In reality, there are some employees who abuse hybrid and remote work setups. But they are not the majority. It’s quite rare to find someone working one hour a day and claiming otherwise — their performance metrics (and recent studies) suggest the opposite. According to research from Coso Cloud, 77% of employees report their productivity has improved by working remotely. What’s more, 30% claim to accomplish more work in less time, while 24% accomplish more in the same amount of time. That’s more than half of employees experiencing significant productivity gains from the ability to work remotely.

If that’s not enough, surveys from PwC confirm the same benefits to productivity. They state that, “Remote or hybrid work boosted productivity in most workplaces. In our survey, 57% of respondents said their organization performed better against workforce performance and productivity targets over the past 12 months.”

This isn’t to say that a hybrid work model is the perfect model. It has its drawbacks and warrants legitimate concerns. But these numbers suggest the models don’t live up to some employers’ common fears. Most of the time, it simply amounts to a lack of trust.

Poor Communication

In a remote environment, all communication is intentional. On Slack, employees never pass the CEO in the hallway or run into colleagues in the break room. Unless your job depends on collaboration with others,  you could usually avoid talking to people in other departments or in higher positions. In that isolation, subtle meanings don’t get communicated very well, either. Hybrid work does mitigate some of these problems, but it can make communication a bit more difficult than in a traditional in-person environment, especially when people are regularly changing locations. Employers often worry that messages are lost and meaning won’t be exchanged effectively in a hybrid environment.

Weak Team Dynamics

While it’s important to maintain professionalism, healthy work relationships aren’t all that different from regular personal friendships. Some level of camaraderie among co-workers is essential to a productive team, as it encourages everyone to work together with mutual respect.

Maintaining this camaraderie (or building it with new teams) in a remote environment where everyone isn’t hanging out in the break room every day can be difficult. Hybrid work can help by providing some in-person interactions, but it’s also important to make time for interaction that’s unrelated to work.

Split Employees and Culture

Remote employees may also feel they have less access to resources and networking within the company (and that on-premise workers have more access). Just like when managers fear their employees are being lazy, this may not be the reality. However, it’s not uncommon to favor the people we see in person on a regular basis over the ones we only interact with digitally. If you’re a manager who’s always in the office, interacting with other in-office employees, you can easily form a subconscious bias in their favor.

A hybrid work model, where every employee has mandatory on-premise days, can mitigate some of that risk for bias. However, you may find that your company culture shifts drastically between those who favor remote work and those who favor in-office work. If you aren’t intentional about crafting a company culture around this work model, it may damage morale over time.

Redefining Productivity

In any work model (hybrid or otherwise), improving productivity starts with defining what productivity actually means to your company.

At Criterion, we believe productivity means making a positive impact on the metrics that matter most for your organization. For employees, this requires time to do real, tangible work, making systematic gains toward the organization’s goals.

The definition of productivity will be different for every organization. Not every metric carries the same weight with every company, and you’ll need to analyze your business model to determine which metrics you care about most.

For example, imagine you have a sales team with multiple account executives (AEs). You may have one AE who makes 80 calls a day and another that makes 120 calls. Let’s say the one that makes 80 calls closes $250,000 in deal value, while the one that makes 120 calls only closes $50,000. Who is more “productive” in this case?

Most organizations would pick the first AE (80 calls) since they made progress on deal value, making more money for the company. However, plenty of sales teams still measure productivity in terms of call volume. While it can be a useful metric (and sometimes it’s necessary to keep people accountable for putting in the work), this proves a point: a different productivity metric might be better for your company’s specific goals.

Obstacles to Productivity

Most often, the obstacles to productivity aren’t people — they’re processes.

Looking at what the AE in the previous example does each day, they might perform hundreds of tasks that aren’t directly making money. Administrative tasks like sending documents, collecting data, or researching prospects might be necessary with your current workflow. However, the AE likely isn’t as productive as they could be. They could be hitting every quota and KPI you set for them, but these cumbersome processes still hold them back from their real work — building relationships with prospects and closing deals.

Common processes that become obstacles to productivity include:

  • Manual syncing with software integrations - Without a seamless API connection, some integrations between platforms require you to manually sync the data. Otherwise, if the integration is automatic, the data may only sync at a certain time (e.g. 8:00 AM every business day). This makes it difficult for employees to trust the data, often requiring an extra step to verify its accuracy.
  • Hunting down and sending documents - There are several documents that you need to keep track of in the workplace. Processes, department-specific information, and spreadsheets of key data should all be easy for employees to access. If you’re using a document control system that isn’t properly organized or indexed, this can be very time consuming. If an employee also has to decide or determine if a colleague has access to a certain document, it can further slow the workflow.
  • Covering responsibilities - When people take vacations or leave for other reasons, someone must cover their responsibilities while they’re away. This often requires emailing different people to determine who can cover the work (sometimes splitting the work among multiple people). You’ll also need to explain each task, and provide the resources to complete it. This can require several hours of work just re-assigning tasks.
  • Pulling data to generate reports - Generating reports about payroll, labor allocation, productivity, and other key HR concerns can be terribly time consuming if done manually. Most workflows first require data to be pulled from several different databases into a platform like Excel or Google Sheets. However, if you can automate this process with software, you can easily shorten your time to insight.

How To Improve Productivity in a Hybrid Work Environment

In our decades of experience working with HR departments and companies across several industries, we’ve discovered that, most of the time, the path to enhanced productivity requires improving processes that hinder employees from doing their best work.

However, it’s also important to remember that your employees are people, not formulas. Productivity is influenced both by practical and relational factors within the workplace. While company processes are important, so is the way your employees emotionally engage with your company, your brand, and the rest of their team.

Here are some strategies to help your team move the needle in a hybrid work model:

Divide Tasks by Work Location

In a hybrid work model, collaborative tasks are usually best done in the office while deep, solo work is best done remotely.

For example, if you have a company or team meeting where you plan to discuss anything moderately difficult, have that discussion in person. Gather your team members in the office to do things like:

  • Roadmap discussions
  • Develop a plan that affects multiple departments
  • Collaborate on new strategies
  • Provide feedback sessions

Attention and engagement are enhanced in person. When people sit in a physical room for a meeting, they are more likely to engage. Meeting via Zoom doesn't always have the same effect because the physical environment (i.e. a home office) has become overly familiar. You also want to be able to read the nonverbal communication in the room as you present your ideas, which is difficult to do virtually.

On the other hand, remote work is often well-suited for daily solo tasks like sending emails, cold calling prospects, coding, writing, or small design projects. Anything where a person is able to focus directly on a task for a long period of time can often be done remotely. In some industries, you can even host client calls on your remote days, since they probably won’t be coming into the office anyway.

Optimal productivity in a hybrid model can be achieved simply by scheduling the right tasks on the right days. Take the time to figure out which environment is most conducive to the desired outcome for each task. Encourage employees to do certain types of work at home so you can make the most of your in-office time.

Streamline Time Tracking and Payroll

Time tracking is an essential administrative task that can easily become a distraction or a waste of time when done inefficiently. Most of the time, it requires too much manual effort. Despite available technologies, many companies still require employees to enter time on a physical card and submit it to HR for entry into the payroll system. However, this can lead to duplicate data entry and errors, which only creates more manual effort to correct.

Instead, implementing self-service time tracking empowers employees to quickly enter time on their own. This is best done through a clock-in/clock-out interface, with certain parameters (like geo-fencing) to prevent time theft.

The system you use should then feed directly into your payroll process to calculate wages automatically (with approval from HR if necessary). This helps ensure accuracy between time records and paystubs. Otherwise, manual payroll calculations for each employee can take entire working days to complete. If your staff includes union workers, then collective bargaining agreements and local union rules can make the task more complicated and time-consuming. A streamlined payroll system saves your HR department time, which can be used for more productive tasks.

Improve Communication

Workplace communication is more than sending messages via Slack or email. It’s also about how other, less direct information is transmitted (and to whom). Especially in information-centric industries, sending and receiving messages takes up a lot of time. You can dramatically improve productivity by making some communication processes more efficient. Consider areas such as:

  • Notifications about employee requests - How do managers receive notifications that require action about time off or other requests from their employees?
  • Document control systems - Do employees have access to the documents relevant to their jobs or do they constantly have to request these documents from management or HR? How much time is spent finding and sending documents to colleagues and clients?
  • Company news and department-specific updates - How does your company receive updates about events, policy changes, or new resources? Do you send a company-wide email? Do you have a method for sending messages only to certain groups or departments all at once, or do you always have to rebuild the recipient list for each email?
  • Follow-up notifications (internal and external) - All too often, important messages are ignored, not received, or forgotten about entirely. This requires additional work (and mental bandwidth) for the sender to hold the recipient accountable for a response. Time spent following up on these messages could be spent doing more productive activities. Ideally, follow-up should be automatic, so that the recipient consistently receives notification without any manual effort.

Your system for managing information and key company processes should also be reliable and easily accessible. In some organizations, particularly government departments, these systems are not well-built for remote work. Especially with legacy systems, connectivity and infrastructure can severely limit how well employees can access the system from home. This makes a consistent hybrid schedule impractical, as employees may still need to go into the office on remote days because they can’t connect to the system remotely. If the employee’s week has been structured for optimal productivity based on location, those gains are diminished by poor technology.

Be Wise About Metrics

Often to combat time theft, many companies introduce screen monitoring software to track employee activity during work hours. These technologies take screenshots or brief recordings of an employee’s mouse activity during certain times to ensure they aren’t just running the clock and doing nothing.

While these are certainly effective at holding people accountable, they demonstrate a serious lack of trust with your employees. This can damage morale and engagement (for both in-office and remote teams), which will make the problem even worse. Plus, monitoring the tracking means one more task taking up the valuable time of your HR department.

Instead, consider which metrics are most important for each setting. If you plan to do more collaborative work in person and more solo work remotely, you probably shouldn’t hold an employee accountable to the same metrics each day of the week. This will vary widely depending on your industry, your company, and even specific departments and positions.

Remember, the key is to consider what is most important for moving the needle at your company and enforce the metrics that directly relate to those goals. If an employee is truly only working a short amount of time each day, you don’t necessarily need to track their screen as proof. Chances are, if they aren’t working enough, they won’t be meeting KPIs either.

Generate Labor Reports Regularly

At the same time, you need to keep a close eye on your team’s actual productivity. Don’t assume you know how they’re performing — get a clear vision. Generating workforce analytics reports is one of the best ways to tell if your hybrid strategy is working.

Try to correlate specific parameters with outcomes. Don’t just look at how well people performed in remote environments versus in-person. Divide those metrics by task, department, day of the week, and time of day. If you change your strategy at some point, divide your reports to show what effect each strategy or policy change had on employee KPIs, then back that up with direct feedback from team members. This can help you isolate which techniques are working (and which ones don’t).

Listen to Your Employees

The goal of hybrid work is to offer your employees more flexibility and a better work-life balance. Trust what your employees have to say about their experience. Most employees want more freedom to choose what works best for them. If that helps their engagement, they’ll likely work harder toward the goals you care about most.

If hybrid work isn’t the best solution for some workers, let them come into the office when it’s best for them. If remote work better suits some people, allow for it as much as possible. Conduct regular feedback sessions to understand how your employees feel about their work setup, and tailor it accordingly.

How Criterion Improves Productivity

We built Criterion HCM with HR departments in mind. After decades of helping companies improve their operations, we’ve developed a robust system that makes collaboration, reporting, information management, and other key HR processes more efficient and effective. Here are a few ways our system can improve productivity for hybrid work:

Better Communication and Collaboration

In Criterion, you can post messages to the entire company, a specific department, or even custom groups via a central feed. This means no more emailing company-wide updates. You can simply select your group, post your message, and trust that everyone will receive the update in their feed.

For time off requests and specific tasks, Criterion offers a central hub for notifications. For example, when an employee requests time off, the manager doesn't have to search for that request or remember to check a specific database. That notification is brought to the same central hub as an action item, allowing them to approve or reject the request in the same interface. You can also set up these notifications to send emails to managers and other stakeholders at the same time, ensuring everyone is accountable for their action items and reducing time spent on follow-ups.

All of these communication features are configurable, so you can control exactly how certain types of information are transmitted across your company.

Streamlined Transfer of Responsibilities

Criterion also provides a robust employee and position management system. You can create a company structure with a map of positions, each with responsibilities unique to the position and employee. Then, when an employee has an approved time off request or takes leave for a certain period of time, an administrator can easily transfer the responsibilities of that position to another employee for the duration of that leave period.

No more gathering documents and briefing the employee on each task in detail. All of the information they need to cover the other employee is routed to their Criterion interface to complete. This can include delegating access to the covering employees which they would not normally have. This delegation of responsibilities is date-specific, and upon the return of the employee, the system reverts to normal operation, removing access and notifications from the other person automatically. When the employee returns from leave, the system can be configured to revert back to the normal operation, removing access and notifications from the other person automatically.

Granular Document Management

In Criterion, we’ve simplified the transfer of information via documents. We provide a central database for document control with granular permission management so you can choose who has access to what information. For processes and company-wide documentation, you can instantly make these available for employees to access in every department.

At the same time, you can make pay stubs, W2s, and employee-specific documents available only to certain individuals. Our clients who use this feature have seen tremendous gains in productivity. HR departments have decreased service tickets drastically because employees can access information without requesting it from a manager, instead of generating a ticket that takes days to resolve. You can also create custom workflows for the document lifecycle, ensuring that each document is maintained for record-keeping or safe and secure disposal.

Final Thoughts

Hybrid work isn’t for everyone, but it can be successful when your strategies are tailored to the needs of your business and workers. It requires balancing the needs of employees with those of the employer. But these needs aren’t always at odds. Most people just want to do meaningful work that fits with their schedule and temperament. They want a workplace that supports their development and allows them the freedom to do their best work — wherever that may be.

To improve productivity in your hybrid work setup, look at your methods closely. Are they helping your employees make real progress on the metrics that truly matter to your organization? Are there processes that cause inefficiencies? Can you automate tasks to save your employees valuable time?

Criterion HCM is built with HR professionals in mind, to help you put your workforce at the center of your operation. Streamline the hiring of top talent, automate complex payroll, and handle any HR challenge with a highly configurable system made to work with your model of work and the tech stack you prefer. Book a demo to learn how Criterion can improve your team’s productivity in any environment.

Richa Singla
HCM Implementation Manager with 12+ years of experience across Professional services, Solutions and Business Strategy Consulting.
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