Embracing hybrid work: The pivotal role of digital workers

Why digital workers play a pivotal role in embracing hybrid work

Since the world reopened post-pandemic, companies have been trying to strike the right balance between remote and onsite office work. Plenty of teams are back in the office five days a week, and some remain fully remote, but a sizable group is somewhere in the middle. This blend of the two has become known as “hybrid work.”

In theory, hybrid work gives employers and employees the best of both worlds—the convenience of working from home along with in-person collaboration. But sorting out the details has been harder than it seems. Should people be able to choose when they come into the office? How can teams collaborate if their hybrid schedules differ?

While a number of large companies have been grabbing headlines about calling their employees back into the office, many others are maintaining more flexibility. For instance, Allstate and Verizon let individuals and teams decide for themselves where they work. And Pinterest only requires its employees to come into the office at least once a year for “culture building” activities.

I firmly believe that hybrid work is here for the long haul. The numerous advantages it presents—productivity enhancements, cost savings, and improvements in employee well-being—are too significant to ignore. For employees and managers contemplating the best hybrid model for themselves or their teams, it's important to weigh these benefits against potential challenges.

Why hybrid work is here to stay

Many leaders initially saw remote and hybrid work as a temporary, pandemic-related adaptation, but it’s become a widespread adjustment to how we work. There are several reasons for this, ranging from happier, more productive employees to substantial cost savings for companies.

A global study commissioned by Cisco showed an overwhelming 82% of respondents were happier and more motivated in their roles after moving to a hybrid model. Another found that “77% of those who work remotely at least a few times per month show increased productivity, with 30% doing more work in less time and 24% doing more work in the same period of time.”

Besides improved employee well-being and productivity, hybrid work can unlock considerable savings. One estimate by Global Workplace Analytics showed companies could save around $10,000 per year for each hybrid employee in the form of lower rent, utilities, cleaning services, and office supply expenses. IBM saved around $50 million by downsizing its office space, and Aetna saved nearly $80 million by taking the same steps. On an individual basis, employees that work from home half the time can save up to $6,000 per year on commuting costs. Avoiding that time in the car or train also means getting back up to 11 workdays per year.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, younger generations are telling employers that some form of hybrid work is non-negotiable. Generation Z has very different attitudes towards work than their counterparts. They’ve never known a world without flexible work models and aren’t ready to give it up any time soon. According to McKinsey, “workers 18 to 34 years old are 59 percent more willing to [quit] than older colleagues if [hybrid work] is taken away.”

Hybrid working is universally popular amongst all generations who have been quick to embrace the many benefits the model offers…by splitting their time between home, a local workspace and their company headquarters, employees are benefiting from a significantly improved work-life balance with substantially less time and money spent on commuting.

Mark Dixon, CEO, International Workplace Group

The different types of hybrid work

When it comes to hybrid work, there’s no one-size-fits-all. If you’re a manager trying to determine the right balance between remote and onsite work, consider these different models:

Fixed hybrid

In a fixed hybrid setup, employees are required to come into the office on specific days of the week. This can be done a couple different ways—in a split-week model, some teams may come in on Mondays and Wednesdays, while others are in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Another option is a week-by-week model, in which teams spend an entire week in the office, followed by a period of working remotely.

There are a few key advantages to a fixed model. Teams can be together in person on the same days, and companies don’t need as much office space. However, it restricts employee flexibility on choosing where to work, which is a drawback for many employees.

Flexible hybrid

In a flexible model, employees choose their work location based on their day-to-day priorities. They might work from home when they need to focus on an individual project, and head into the office for brainstorming or training sessions.

Companies can further tailor this model into an office-first or remote-first setup. An office-first model, such as the one Google has adopted, encourages employees to spend at least three days a week in the office and two working remotely, but gives them the autonomy to choose the specific days.

Conversely, a remote-first model is best for teams that can do most of their work from home, and only need to meet in-person some of the time. Coinbase switched to this structure in 2020. Employees tend to prefer the freedom this model gives them. But it raises challenges for companies, especially around space planning and getting everyone together.

Picking the right structure can feel daunting, which is why some companies like Hubspot let their employees change their model on a yearly basis. Ultimately, the right model depends on you and your company’s unique traits.

How digital workers are streamlining the transition to hybrid work

Hybrid models can undoubtedly improve job productivity and fulfillment, but these benefits aren’t solely attributed to hybrid work—a range of technologies, particularly automation, also play a crucial role.

A recent survey commissioned by UiPath found that 60% of respondents believe that automation can address burnout and improve job fulfillment. Moreover, 57% favorably view employers that support employees through automation initiatives. The evidence is clear—employees are increasingly seeing the efficiency, productivity, and other benefits that automation unlocks. We call this group the Automation Generation.

The Automation Generation does not represent a specific age or demographic, but rather, the professionals embracing AI and automation to be more collaborative, creative, and productive. This generation of workers wants these technologies to enrich their work and personal lives and prevent them from feeling like robots themselves.

Get your free copy of the UiPath 2023 Automation Generation Report.

Digital workers, such as UiPath Robots, can also be a game-changer in helping companies and workers adapt to a hybrid environment. By taking care of repetitive and mundane tasks, these software robots function as digital assistants, freeing up human employees for more complex and creative work.

For example, hybrid work presents a range of challenges for IT, especially managing network security both at home and in the office. Delegating tedious tasks to digital workers leaves IT staff with more bandwidth to deal with technology issues that need a human touch.

But IT isn’t the only department that faces challenges presented by hybrid work—human resources (HR) has also had to adapt in various ways. Chatbots can support HR teams by guiding new employees through company policies, team introductions, and other aspects of onboarding. Natural language processing (NLP) capabilities, like those offered by UiPath Communications Mining, also allow modern chatbots to automatically answer questions these new employees may have.

The future of work is hybrid, and digital workers can make it easier for everyone

For certain companies, the traditional in-office model will remain. But for many others, the various benefits of hybrid—from cost savings, to increased efficiency, to employee well-being—make it a key competitive advantage going forward.

As companies and employees continue to navigate this new era, leaning on digital workers for support will be crucial in striking the right balance between home and office.

Get articles from automation experts in your inbox

Get articles from automation experts in your inbox

Sign up today and we'll email you the newest articles every week.

Thank you for subscribing!

Thank you for subscribing! Each week, we'll send the best automation blog posts straight to your inbox.