The hybrid approach to work is gaining popularity. One half of your workforce is in the office and the other is spread around the globe working remotely.
The trend started before the pandemic hit, and its popularity has only been propelled forward after – but is it the best way forward, and what are the caveats of this type of remote work?
The hybrid approach to working is what usually happens when a previously co-located company starts hiring remote workers, so a major office exists with remote workers mostly playing a minor or equal role.
These practices seem like they are here to stay too. A 2021 Microsoft report stated that 73% of employees wanted to maintain or instate flexible working options post-pandemic. It also said that 66% of businesses surveyed were considering redesigning their offices and working practices to better accommodate a hybrid work environment.
This joint shift in attitude from both employees and employers towards hybrid working reinforces its place as a viable working practice option for your company.
Let’s dive a little deeper into what a hybrid working model is, some of the hurdles you might have to cross, and the key considerations to make.
What is the hybrid model of working?
While other definitions may be closer to what we call WFH (work from home), we classify hybrid remote work when one major part of the company works from an office – either full-time or part-time – and another major part is fully remote.
If going to the office is optional and the exception, we would classify it as remote-first, while having a small number of remote workers or even just local people working from home is closer to "Remote OK" or a Work-from-Home scheme.
This hybrid remote model of working allows you to take advantage of working in the office (team’s social connections, effective collaboration, etc) with the benefits of working remotely (fewer distractions, more focus, no commuting).
Hybrid remote work models
Below are some models that you can apply to your hybrid remote working setup.
- Office-centric hybrid - This is when companies require employees to come to the office most of the time, except for 1 or 2 days that they can take to work from home. Many companies also typically don’t allow certain days to be done at home. For instance, some may require everyone to come on Tuesday and Thursday for important face-to-face meetings, and other tasks better done in an office. Asana has adopted this model and allows their employees to establish their work from home schedule.
- Flexible work - This is when employees get to choose their own remote work schedule but still need to go to the office at least once a week. This hybrid model is what companies tend to adopt by default when transitioning to remote work.
- Fully flexible hybrid - This is when there’s full flexibility on whether employees can work in the office or from home. While it may seem liberating, a lack of structure can lead to groups formed between remote workers and those who prefer to be office-bound. Employers need to carefully think about how this setup can be effectively designed to prevent organizational conflicts from arising.
- Remote OK - This is when certain employees can work from home, upon permission. Of course, this depends on the tasks and responsibilities of the employee, and can involve elements of the office-centric hybrid.
- Hybrid remote office - This is when companies allow employees to choose from a list of choices, ranging from being able to fully work remote to flexible work.
- Remote-first - As the name suggests, this is when the company has adopted a remote-first approach and most of their employees interact with each other virtually. Some companies may have a satellite office or offer reimbursement to employees preferring to work in a coworking space.
What are the benefits of the hybrid work model?
Hybrid working is so popular these days because of its easy adoption.
A company that already has a sizable office can set up workflows for remote workers, and build their remote presence right away. For teams that either have specialized hiring requirements or simply big-scale hiring requirements, this can be a lifesaver.
In many areas of the world, access to remote talent is far greater than their local pools. If you are working with technologies or methods that require specialization, hiring people remotely can be the only way to success.
Implementing hybrid remote working practices is also a great starter for a good remote, async, and knowledge exchange strategy for the whole company.
If done properly, it can force people into being more serious about documentation, more aware of timing and thoughtful messaging, and can also allow employees in the office to take advantage of the benefits of remote work, by being more flexible with their commute and Work-From-Home time.
Having half your workforce working remotely or from home also allows you the opportunity to downsize your office. This in itself can free up cash that can be reinvested back into the company.
With all of these points combined, it is also the easiest starting step to seriously evaluate a full all-remote transition.
If you are tempted to close down your office entirely or make it optional for people to come there, implementing a hybrid approach to working first helps you establish whether your workflows can hold up, whether employees are generally open for it, and how well communication continues to work.
The best time to go all-remote is as soon as nobody is showing up to the office anymore!
What challenges does hybrid remote work have?
The hybrid model of working is often criticized because it can stand to the contrary of a remote-first mindset.
That means that there is a constant danger that remote employees can become "second-class citizens" within the workforce needing to prove themselves more than their colleagues in the office in order to flourish and be recognized within the company.
This often leaves workers feeling like they aren’t fully being taken into account for promotions or positions that may be given out.
It's also quite common that the leadership of a company is based primarily in the office which has a two-fold effect – they themselves aren’t getting the benefits of a hybrid work model, but also a perception of (or maybe even actual) more influence to local workers, as they have more opportunities for exchange and more visibility.
That further leads to a divide between office workers and remote workers.
Last but not least, there is often a sense that hybrid working can create inequality amongst employees.
The remote employees have more flexibility in their time and organization, a perceived sense of freedom. While the office employees have access to office benefits. Or remote employees might need to join out-of-working-time meetings, but office employees spend time on their commute.
It all levels out eventually, but you will always get into awkward positions where some employees would prefer the benefits of the other party, which is difficult to solve.
How can I make hybrid working successful?
The fact that a hybrid working model can work well is proven by many large-scale companies, such as Stripe. However, some ground rules need to be set.
In striving to achieve a successful hybrid workforce the key is setting expectations early, taking into account workspace considerations, and setting clear boundaries.
In order to create your hybrid workplace there are some other things to consider too:
- Communication – implementing best practices for a workforce that actively includes their remote workers into relevant interactions.
- Leading from the front – flexible working practices where leadership sets a good example of abiding by them.
- Balanced compensation – ensuring your remote workers and your office workers are both feeling the benefits of working for the company.
- Maintaining your company culture – Successful hybrid working practices rely on a strong culture of trust, transparency, communication, and shared purpose.
Let’s explore these in more detail.
Prioritizing an async form of communication for your hybrid office
Communication across time zones and the barrier of the web is best done through async communication.
In its essence, async communication channels consist of mediums that do not require or even expect instant replies. Formally, they are defined as having the ability to deliver messages, even if the counterpart is not online.
Async communication comes in many forms: You can adopt email as your central way to communicate, you can use a forum-like software like P2 or Basecamp, or use a specialized piece of software like Twist. More than the tool, it's important to stick to the async workflow:
- making sure that messages are complete and comprehensive. Not short and fast
- not expecting immediate replies
- using rich text, links, and emojis to give background information and show emotion
The reason for using asynchronous communication as a standard for your hybrid working practices is that it's easier to follow discussions and decisions after they have happened.
While instant messaging software like Slack tends to lose histories or make them hard to follow, async communication usually follows a strict flow that can be archived and read even days after a decision was made.
Hybrid working and stakeholders accessibility
A major error is that companies using the hybrid approach to work tend to have team members work remotely, but never let stakeholders, founders, and managers work from home.
To build an environment where remote and in-office workers are equal, and hybrid working can flourish, it is also important that key people in an organization are mixed between the office and remotely, even if it's just for a few days per week.
This also removes the feeling of missing out: Suddenly, decisions have to be discussed online or be written down to discuss them. If key people in an organization work together from an office, it's easy to make decisions and lead discussions in that limited circle. People working remotely miss out on that.
Meetings are also a big consideration for a hybrid model. It’s not uncommon for meetings to be a mix of office-based workers in a large meeting room and single remote workers joining online. Meetings can get hectic and messy pretty quickly like this.
You can counteract that by establishing best practices for hybrid meetings - making people join from their own devices, have meetings exclusively online, and adopt online tools to brainstorm, conceptualize and discuss.
Balanced compensation for remote and office-based hybrid workers
There's a big chance that your in-office workers have access to perks that your remote workers don't: be it snacks in the office, exciting break rooms, maybe even catered lunches, or an in-house gym.
Fully remote workers, in particular, miss out on this and you need to be able to compensate for this in some way or another.
In some cases, that means putting more cash in your remote employee's hands, in others it means pre-defined budgets or a different set of perks where needed.
Especially once it comes to international remote work, things get even more complicated.
Clear communication is the key here. Make sure you talk to your employees about their expected compensation, about the deductions they have to expect, and the key benefits that are usual in their country.
Sustaining your company culture in a hybrid work environment
The question around maintaining your company culture when your team is split due to the hybrid working model is an important one to consider.
There are ways to maintain and even build a culture within the company that keeps everyone feeling connected. Let’s have a look at some of the key ways you can do this:
A shared purpose
A shared purpose is key to any company's performance. Having your entire team at every level be aware of, and driving towards, a shared purpose is critical in building the culture that you want at the company.
This is arguably easier to do when everyone works in the office as there is an energy and enthusiasm that can build around you and your colleague discussing strategy or your customers.
This gets a lot more difficult to foster when your team is dispersed as they are with hybrid working. It’s not impossible, however!
Leaders within your company will have to be open and intentional in their articulation of the overall goals and purpose of the work everyone is doing. You want to make sure that every employee, whether in the office or working remotely understands how their work is uniquely connected to the overall aims of the company, and why it is important.
Scheduling time for the entire team to discuss the work they are doing through virtual meetings is a great way of presenting the same opportunities that office interactions offer. The more you do this the more normal it will become.
Having clear communication around this, and open dialogue will help maintain that sense of a shared purpose and keep a positive company culture alive. At the same time, online hangouts, such as virtual coffee breaks or watercooler moments allow remote employees to get to know their fellow colleagues outside the context of work.
Accountability is incredibly important in fostering an effective hybrid working culture and driving productivity for your company. When leaders are disconnected from their team this can be harder to enforce.There are always going to be difficult times for everyone, and in those circumstances, you are going to want to be empathetic and supportive.
But not being in an office together to read those social cues on a daily basis to know if there is something going on or they have just been dropping the ball does have its difficulties.
Conflict is a part of a good working culture, but being at a distance, conflict can be less constructive. People may bury issues that they would have otherwise spoken about, which in the long run can often cause bigger problems.
The key to solving this for hybrid working is to make sure leaders are perceived as being available and present (and actually be both of those!). Making sure your workforce feels like they can talk openly and that their voice is being heard and considered reinforcing their connectivity to the work and the company is important.
That way, when questions around accountability arise then the conversation can be constructive.
You and your company leaders being open and available is also a reinforcement of the accountability in place. ‘Out of sight out of mind’ is something that needs to be actively fought against to keep the culture alive and well.
Company wide transparency
Office culture tends to foster gossip, which has its positives and negatives, but what it does mean is that everyone at the company tends to hear about the good, the bad, and the ugly in an organic way.
The transparency this develops in the company is ultimately a good thing but is hard to replicate for hybrid remote workers.
This again reinforces that feeling of disconnect that is so important to stamp out in a hybrid workplace.
The solution to this is actual transparency from company leaders to all members of staff about what is going on at the company. The good and the bad.
- For instance, regular company wide ‘town hall’ meetings are an opportunity for everyone from every department to come together and update each other on what’s going on. This generates and reinforces that sense of cohesion among the workforce, and builds a positive culture. These meetings are easily conducted online and are arguably easy to manage that way.
- Regular internal newsletters can be sent to update employees on current happenings.
- You can also organize lunch-and-learn sessions to inform remote workers of small changes taking place in the company.
How should I start with the transition to hybrid remote working?
If you've made it this far then congratulations. It’s great that you are considering setting up a hybrid working environment for your company.
You are now armed with the benefits that a remote workforce can bring to your business, but also the challenges that will be in your way and how to overcome them.
Now it's time to start the transition to a hybrid working model, and bringing in remote working practices.
What’s the best way to start? Honestly, there is no harm in diving straight in at the deep end, sending people home today (especially managers and key stakeholders) and seeing where things get rough. If you're in a company that carries a lot of risks involved in remote working, then setting some ground rules may benefit you in your transition.
Remembering always, clear communication, open accessibility, and expectation setting will help ease you through the process of implementing hybrid working practices, and keep your company on track.
As already mentioned, the great thing about hybrid remote work is that you can experiment with things, see what works for your company’s progress, adjust, and work towards a full transition to remote working if that’s the end goal.
To reiterate, it is important that remote and in-office employees can see eye-to-eye. It's crucial not to rely on meetings or having people online to get things done, and that employees are on board with the changes that are coming.
If you have those things in order, nothing can stop you!