One half of the team in an office, the other one globally distributed. The hybrid approach to remote work is gaining popularity – but is it the best way forward, and what are the caveats?
The hybrid remote approach for companies is a very popular model. It's what usually happens when a previously co-located company starts hiring remote workers, so a major office exists While other definitions may be closer to what we call WFH, 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.
What advantages does hybrid remote have?
Hybrid remote is so popular these days because of its easy adoption. A company that already has a sizeable office can setup 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.
Going hybrid remote 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 finally can allow employees in the office to take advantage of the benefits of that themselves and be more flexible with their commute and Work-From-Home time.
With all of these points combined together, it is also the easiest starting step to seriously evaluate a full all-remote transition. It helps you know whether your workflows can hold up, whether employees are generally open for it and how communication works. After all, the best time to go all-remote is as soon as nobody is showing up anymore!
What disadvantages does hybrid remote have?
The hybrid model is often criticised 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 a "second-class citizen" and need to proof themselves extra strongly in order to be taken in account for promotions or positions that may given out.
It's also quite common that the leadership of a company is based in the majority office, bringing more influence to workers who are local, 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, it creates inequality amongst employees. The remote employees have more flexibility in their time and organisation, but office employees have access to office benefits. 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 you make it work?
The fact that this model can work out is proven by many large-scale companies, such as Stripe. However, there are some ground rules that need to be set. In essence, a company should strive to get towards a remote-first mindset as closely as possible, meaning:
- The main form of communication should be async and happen independently from timezones, so that everyone can be included.
- All actions and decisions should be documented and made accessible to the team involved
- If possible, all benefits should be available to all employees, or replaced by something that makes more sense. E.g. catered lunches turn into a lunch budget, and WFH time is available to all.
- Leadership should be majority remote or have a lot of WFH days
- Meetings should be held from own devices, instead of creating a meeting room vs. online atmosphere
For more information on how to make this model work, read our post about bridging the gap between remote and local employees.