The Appeal of the Hybrid Model

Nonprofit Leaders on the Future of Work

by Danielle Gauthier

Posted May 19, 2021

With the start of the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofits in every sector had to quickly transition to working from home – a model that was, for many, entirely foreign. Now, over a year later, nonprofits are reflecting on the successes and challenges of their staff being fully (or mostly) remote and how this period has permanently altered their organization’s work model. We recently surveyed 30+ organizational leaders from varying nonprofit sectors and sizes to understand the decisions they’re making about their organization’s future work model and the factors they’re weighing most heavily. Read on to discover 4 key takeaways…

For most, remote work is here to stay – but as part of a hybrid model.

The majority of our survey respondents (two-thirds) reported that their organizations had reached a decision about whether their staff will be returning to the office-in person, and of those respondents, the vast majority (74%) will be using a hybrid model. Meanwhile, 21% will return to the office full time (all of whom belonged to the education sector), and only 5% will work entirely remotely. For many, the pandemic revealed the multitude of benefits of remote work: the convenience, sustained or increased levels of productivity, and improved work-life balance, among others. At the same time, many have missed the chance to brainstorm and connect with coworkers in the organic nature that in-person work facilitates, and that’s hard to replicate remotely. Leaders are seeing the hybrid model as the best of both.

There was near unanimous agreement about which factors played the most important role in the decision to return to the office (and cost wasn’t one of them!).

Health and safety and employee productivity/performance were consistently named at the top of list. Meanwhile, employee satisfaction/retention and organizational culture were close seconds. This aligns with the decision of most organizations to pursue a hybrid model. Interestingly, costs were, by far, the least important factor, according to our survey respondents.

The decision to go hybrid feels essential for employee satisfaction, but organizations recognize and are planning for the hurdles it’ll present – and drawing a distinction between short-term and long-term approaches.

While organizations have undoubtedly gained expertise about how to make remote work successful, they recognize that how they thought about and facilitated remote work during a pandemic will not fully apply to remote work of the future. One respondent shared that their organization has partnered with a consultant to better understand their employees’ desire for remote vs. in-office vs. hybrid working conditions, so that they “can establish more enduring policies for September and beyond.” They shared that the decision to go hybrid does not come without concerns: “In many ways it is easier when [either] everyone is working remotely [or everyone is in-person]. What will it be like when it is 50/50 on any given day (and not always predictable as some workers have hybrid schedules during the week)?” Their executive team is wrestling with some key issues, including “which positions are remote, [whether] we require staff to be ready to come into the office when needed, [whether] there will be days that everyone from one team is present, what benefits we will offer to staff working remotely to establish their home offices, [and] what staff we will allow to be out of our geographic areas entirely (for whom local travel to one of our offices would not be a regular option).”

Another respondent echoed these concerns: “We’re making a distinction between how we want to head towards the future of work for the longer term (say in 5 years) vs. when it is safe for more staff to return to the office thanks to vaccinations. I expect we’ll come up with a hybrid model, but the when’s and why’s we would require some or all staff to be in the office (a team meeting? collaborative work time?), and what that means for how much shared office space we need to keep… still needs to be worked out.”

For some organizations, a hybrid model will be department-specific as opposed to individual-specific.

A couple respondents shared that they anticipate that departments that do not rely as heavily on in-person interactions, such as IT and Finance, are more likely to move to a permanently remote plan, while other departments will adhere to a hybrid model. There may be a level of variation within departments as well; for instance, staff who perform functions such as gift processing may end up being remote more often than not, while frontline fundraisers will often be in-person. In all cases, leaders are thinking about how to ensure that should certain departments/functions adopt a work model different from the organization’s majority, there’s effort made to create a cohesive culture across the organization.

• • •

While many organizations are still figuring out how to structure their post-COVID work models, one thing’s for certain: the time to decide is now. Of the survey respondents who are returning to the office in some capacity, more than half (60%) will do so in the next 1-3 months, and the remaining 40% will do so in 3-6.

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