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Future of Work

Does Hybrid-Remote Work, Work?

November 2, 2021
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6 mins

We dive into the argument for and against hybrid remote work by tapping experts in the industry. Determine if remote, hybrid, or office is right for your business.

Sarah Archer
We dive into the argument for and against hybrid remote work by tapping experts in the industry. Determine if remote, hybrid, or office is right for your business.

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The pandemic forced employers to shut down offices, but as in-person collaboration becomes safer, leaders are faced with a choice: remote, hybrid, or office work. 

CEOs around the world are setting the bar for what’s possible within organizations that were historically tied to the office. 

Pinterest took it to one extreme by paying $89.5 million to terminate their San Francisco office lease, but others aren’t willing to close their office doors completely. Microsoft, for example, is taking the hybrid remote work route based on their company-wide survey results, which yielded the desire for flexible remote work options. 

We’ll dive into the argument for and against hybrid remote, why it’s urgent to announce a remote work policy, and how companies can navigate the unknown of hybrid remote work.

What is hybrid-remote?

people working hybrid remote in a conference room

Hybrid remote work, or partially remote, is a practice where companies give their employees the flexibility to work both in the office and remotely.

The term can be used to describe many different versions of the practice. Some companies, such as The Coca-Cola Company, use hybrid when referring to the fact that some employees can work from home permanently, while others are tied to the office due to the nature of their position, such as manufacturing.

Other companies, such as Amazon, attribute hybrid work to a set number of days that employees are expected to work from the office and work from home. It rejects employees from moving away from the office’s physical location but allows them the flexibility to work from home part-time.

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Why is now the time to offer flexibility?

Hybrid is nothing new. 

Organizations used to rely on offering one to three work-from-home days per week to recruit top talent.

But the pandemic barged in on the novelty of hybrid remote work. Today, flexibility is a necessity when recruiting and hiring top talent; not a perk. 

Businesses are sharing their experiences when they don’t offer a flexible remote work policy and it’s backfiring.

We spoke with hundreds of leaders who were faced with refreshing their remote work policies as a result of the pandemic. Here’s what they said. 

Why do experts say that hybrid doesn’t work?

woman working remotely

Many leaders we spoke to believe that the hybrid approach is flawed and acts as a band-aid to a much deeper organizational issue. 

John Riordan, Director of Support at Shopify, believes that hybrid isn’t a solution to remote work.

He said that most companies are still undecided when it comes to the in-person vs. fully remote argument. And rightfully so. Anyone who tells you what's going to definitively be the right answer is bluffing.

The big question is: how should leaders navigate change when the end destination is unknown?

Riordan explained a few strategies that are emerging, “You have leaders that put a resolute stake in the remote-first camp due to company values. You have leaders who look to their sunk costs and expensive leases to decide on in person. And you have the vast majority of leaders, waiting to see what their competitors will do.”

But not all of these strategies are the answer. 

“We're witnessing a giant game of corporate chicken because of these undecided leaders. It's a defensive strategy. They're afraid to be wrong. They're choosing "hybrid" to get the best of both worlds,” explained Riordan. 

In his opinion, the problem with this approach is that their hybrid strategy isn’t fleshed out. If you ask many "pro-hybrid" leaders what they imagine hybrid 2030 to look like, they won't be able to describe it. For these leaders, "hybrid" is a tactic to buy time. Meanwhile, talent is flocking towards companies that have a clear, long-term strategy.

Riordan is confident in his own employer’s approach: “Shopify is attracting amazing folks because they know what to expect. We're remote forever. The cost of sitting on the fence is losing this huge opportunity of talent.”

He warns those opting for a hybrid middle-ground to seriously reconsider as most leaders don't realize that hybrid work can get ugly, fast. 

“Unregulated hybrid work risks disenfranchising a large percentage of your people. Remote workers turn into second-class citizens and miscommunication festers. It's not uncommon to see strategy and culture fragment based on where people are working from,” he said. “Beware of the middle ground of hybrid work. The middle is an area you can't get wrong, but it may be the place where you can't get right.”

Michael Alexis, CEO at Teambuilding, feels similarly. 

He said, “Hybrid isn’t the best of both worlds. It’s a shaky compromise that holds you back from achieving the benefits.” 

Michael’s a firm believer that hybrid is a short-term fad that limits the freedom that comes with remote work. He goes on to say, “If you are required to come into an office even one day per week, then you need to live close enough that you can easily commute. This restriction means you can’t fully enjoy the freedoms of remote work, such as living in a lower cost of living area, owning fewer vehicles, and planning your time consistently.”

Why do experts say hybrid works?

guy video chatting with his coworker

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many leaders who say that hybrid remote work is the solution to their employees’ desire for flexibility and human connection. 

Malte Scholz, Co-founder, CEO, and CPO at Airfocus is confident that hybrid is the future for businesses. He said, “Hybrid work is a good choice because it can easily be adjusted to a business’ needs. For example, some people may work remotely all the time while others stay in the office. Another option is having people decide on their own schedule and come to the office from time to time. The combinations are endless and the main purpose is to provide a system in which people will feel productive, connected, and engaged.”

Scholz believes that hybrid remote work allows people to make the best out of both traditional systems of work. It provides an option for those who don’t feel like they’re a fit for remote work and those who don’t feel like they’re a fit for the office. 

Another argument for hybrid remote work is tied to the offering a productive work environment for everyone.  

Christelle Rhoaut, CEO at Codi, has been leading a hybrid-remote team for over three years and believes that the future is a hybrid-first, decentralized network of offices close to where professionals live.

Rhoaut explained how leaders can approach hybrid remote work in a sustainable way: “One critical pitfall with hybrid work is enabling a two-tier system where remote workers become second-class citizens. Companies can avoid this by providing local workspace benefits and home-office stipends to all employees, ensuring that everyone can be as productive and engaged in their daily work environment.” 

She’s a strong believer that hybrid work necessitates a move away from evaluating employees based primarily on attendance. It’s a move towards a work culture that emphasizes performance and no one will get points just for showing up and looking like you’re working.

Rhoaut’s take on improving work culture and how managers measure performance is a message to companies considering hybrid remote work. 

A hybrid future calls for radical change in the way companies approach work. Leaders must establish rules for asynchronous versus synchronous communication, leverage time in the office to bond with one another, and revamp how meetings are conducted if not everyone is on the same playing field.

Why is it urgent for companies to decide for or against hybrid remote work?

There is a sense of urgency for companies to make a decision on their remote work policy, even if it’s iterative. 

As companies announce their transitions back to the office, employees are showing loyalty to their newfound flexibility rather than their company’s back-to-office plan. That means resignations are happening fast and it’s up to leadership teams to offer remote work in some form to keep their staff happy and engaged

The same is true for employers who wait. It’s becoming common for employees to have a wandering eye for companies that offer more flexibility rather than risk waiting to hear what their employer offers. 

When employee attrition is at stake, companies must act fast. 

That’s why now is the time for employers to send out employee pulse surveys to better understand if they prefer full-time remote work, hybrid work, or a return to the office. 

How to navigate the unknown of remote work

After speaking to several organizational leaders, we narrowed down three key pieces of advice for leaders who are navigating hybrid remote work: 

  1. Be transparent about how your hybrid remote policy is ever-evolving. Leaders will learn from the employee experience and iterate when necessary. 
  2. Employers must survey their employees to understand exactly how they feel about hybrid remote work. Their policy should reflect that.
  3. Employers must invest in management training to ensure that in-office employees and remote employees have a consistent experience to avoid lenience when it comes to being recognized or supported. 

As you navigate the unknown, consider what other changes you can make to support your next move. For example, consider investing in change management, the practice for dealing with a transition within an organization’s process or goals. Hiring or appointing an internal expert in the field can help your leadership team and people adapt to a large organizational change. 

Whether you choose remote, hybrid, or the office, remember that your leadership team and balance sheets shouldn’t always call the shots. Your people are the backbone of your organization, therefore, your decisions should reflect their opinions. 

Meet the Author

Sarah Archer

Sarah is Head of Content Strategy at Kona and MBA candidate at Boston University. She helps leaders prevent burnout and build culture in remote organizations.

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