Remote work may be the dream for many employees, but business leaders are often less starry-eyed about the model — preferring to be able to keep an eye on staff. Enter the hybrid working model.
A mix of in-office and remote work seems balanced in a post-pandemic world.
Hypothetically, it means bosses can offer some flexibility without losing touch with their team or facing declining productivity.
But in reality, a hybrid work model doesn’t work for everyone, and ensuring a net positive outcome for businesses and employees begins with telling the unvarnished truth about its opportunities — and limitations.
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What Is A Hybrid Working Model?
A hybrid working model sees employees divide their time between an office or work site and working from home (or their local cafe, etc.)
Reasons for adopting a hybrid working model vary, but generally, employers are looking to:
- Reduce overheads by reducing the size of office space that needs to be leased and maintained, with fewer desks, devices and equipment.
- Increase flexibility and well-being for employees. Employers who foster work-life balance and let people work from home are in-demand, so a hybrid model can help attract and retain talented people.
- Increase productivity by enabling more time for focused, strategic and creative work that can be done independently, away from interrupting colleagues and disruptive meetings.
A key limiting factor in a hybrid working model is that employees must be able to physically show up at a specific location at specific times.
It doesn’t mesh well with a fully distributed team working asynchronously, which could be considered the gold standard in flexibility.
Employee feedback collected by Culture Amp across more than 1,000 Australian organisations in 2022 found that managerial support for remote work and workplace well-being had the biggest impact on people’s plans to stay in their jobs.
What Are The Variations Of The Hybrid Working Model?
Leaders are often relieved to find out that hybrid work models can be implemented in a number of ways:
- Hybrid by choice: Employees choose which day(s) to come into the office. Some companies have a remote-first approach but maintain an office or meeting space that employees can visit at will if or when they’d prefer in-person interactions.
- Hybrid roster/schedule: The company will assign specific days for on-site and remote work by team or function. Knowing exactly when different people will be in the office lets a company carefully manage resources and floor space. A typical schedule might be three days in the office and two days from home, but it could be any combination or even alternating one week in the office with one week at home.
- Hybrid manager scheduling: Managers will choose which day(s) their team comes into the office to suit meetings and projects.
A combo of all three options specific to each team and employee is the rarely practised hybrid mix model. For instance: the marketing team is fully remote, while the finance team is in-office.
Does The Hybrid Model Have Critics?
The tension between employees’ desire for flexibility and leaders’ concerns about the productivity of employees is currently playing out online.
In a recent Twitter thread, venture capitalist David Sacks argued that while small teams might be able to stay connected digitally, remote practices don’t scale across hundreds of employees.
Sacks said it’s time to admit that remote doesn’t work and essentially means people work less.
He also raises the old adage of “managing by walking around” and how this can help leaders transfer their enthusiasm to employees — and drive better performance as a result.
While Sacks believes being together in an actively-managed environment is the more sustainable approach for larger teams, we’d argue it’s not an either/or scenario.
Hybrid models can offer the best of both worlds, provided you have the right culture, people and processes in place.
CEOs Are Divided About Hybrid Work.
As companies grapple with their return-to-office plans, their leaders are quick to justify the merits of their positions.
Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp – a 50-person software company – posits:
He argues that providing as much flexibility as possible within the constraints of your business needs is wise, because it amplifies employee engagement and well-being.
Conversely, Disney CEO Bob Iger mandated that employees must return to the office at least 4 ways per week, arguing that:
Whilst Iger’s position is the type that grabs headlines, it represents a minority, with only 5% of CEOs overtly saying that returning workers to a physical space is an HCM priority for 2023.
Whether the low number represents reluctance by CEOs to have uncomfortable conversations in public or legitimate support for hybrid work remains to be seen.
What Is The Ideal Number Of In-Person Days?
A number of high-profile companies have embraced a hybrid working model, including Microsoft and Meta.
- Microsoft’s website provides clear guidance on its hybrid approach, acknowledging there’s no ‘one size fits all’. Roles are offered as either fully remote, up to 50% remote or fully on-site, with employees able to negotiate work schedules with their manager.
- Meta let all employees switch to remote roles in 2021, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg feeling optimistic that remote work at scale was possible by leveraging tech like videoconferencing and VR. But come September 2023, many employees will be forced to return to the office three days a week to “get more done.”
- Goldman Sachs is already back in the office full-time.
- Meanwhile, JP Morgan is back 3 days per week, with CEO Jamie Dimon on record saying that WFH “doesn’t work for those who want to hustle“.
Clearly, the jury is still out. What is clear is that we’re living through a giant social experiment that will be a topic of discussion in every future MBA program.
For now, the information space favours leaders who are able to make fast (and likely imperfect) decisions, taking market, economy and employee feedback into account.
(Related: Best Recruiting Software For Hybrid Teams).
Benefits Of A Hybrid Work Environment.
From the employees’ perspective, improved work-life balance is the top advantage of a hybrid working model.
- A self-reported study of more than 8,000 hybrid workers found employees use time more efficiently and are more productive under a hybrid arrangement. In fact, employees reported spending 86% of their time at home working, more so than if they were in the office.
- Meanwhile, an Owl Labs survey of 2,300 US workers in 2022 found two-thirds of workers would immediately start looking for another job if the ability to work from home was taken away.
Proponents of hybrid work arrangements argue that it:
- Reduces costs: By allowing employees to work remotely, you can reduce overheads (up to $11,000 per employee per year!) with smaller offices and lower energy costs.
- Improves employee well-being: 74% of surveyed Cisco employees reported that hybrid or remote work improved their family relationships, and 82% said working from home made them happier.
- Increases productivity: Research by productivity monitoring company Prodoscore found that if an employee was highly productive in-office, they’d also be productive at home (and the same is true for slackers).
- Improves diversity & inclusion (D&I): Hybrid models help you attract more diverse candidates who value flexibility, like young mothers and people with a disability. That can improve your skill set, reduce groupthink and create better morale.
Why Most Hybrid Work Research Is Wrong.
Corporate studies are notoriously poor at eliminating methodological issues and biases. Conducted by 3rd party survey providers on behalf of brands, these are often taken as gospel by mainstream media, despite lacking the necessary rigour.
An example of journalists failing to interpret study data correctly is on full display in Microsoft’s much-lauded announcement that leaders are suffering from “productivity paranoia”.
Shown above: employees were asked about the extent to which they “feel productive” while leaders were asked about their “confidence” that their employees are productive.
Everything is under control, was Microsoft’s message. Your concerns about hybrid work have no merit – can’t you see the data?
Yet, anyone with an undergraduate science degree could see that the “study” was deeply flawed, for at least two reasons:
- Self-reported feelings of productivity and actual productivity are not the same thing. In fact, underperforming employees often feel busy while not delivering commercially relevant results – because they prioritise tasks poorly, multitask or get distracted.
- Randomisation is critical for reducing selection bias. While the research firm made reasonable attempts to create a broad and inclusive sample, I didn’t see any evidence of the opt-in method being sufficiently randomised.
Business decisions are only as good as the data they are based on, and cause-effect relationships are very difficult to establish with certainty.
Study data can help, but in a world where it’s possible to cherry-pick studies to support any conclusion, I recommend you always refer back to the basics:
- Randomised controlled studies are the gold standard of effective research.
- Corporate–funded, self-reported employee surveys are not.
(Related: Four Day Workweek: The Ultimate Perk?)
What Causes Hybrid Workplaces To Fail?
The hybrid model is very effective at amplifying existing issues in your business. To a large extent, hybrid workplaces fail for the same 3 reasons that all teams fail:
- Lack Of Accountability. Have you set clear expectations and performance metrics? Are you regularly providing feedback on how they’re doing vs how you expect them to be doing?
- Poor Visibility. Do you have sufficient systems for measuring progress towards goals your team is accountable for? Are you strict on removing vanity metrics (e.g., hours worked, meetings held, website traffic) and measuring outcomes (e.g., revenue, conversions, leads)?
- Lack Of Belonging. Remote employees can become less connected to the pulse of the organisation. Do you offer mechanisms to offset inevitable exclusion from ad-hoc hallway meetings, informal decisions and reminders of the company’s mission?
How To Pay Overseas Employees?
If part of your workforce is overseas, you will have to run payroll in foreign currency. Avoid using obvious, expensive options like PayPal. We reviewed Australia’s best international money transfer providers to cut your overheads.
How To Implement A Hybrid Working Model?
Cutting and pasting your existing policies, processes, culture and tools across your in-house and remote teams is not the right approach.
Hybrid teams will exacerbate existing issues you’re currently ignoring and introduce a number of new ones. How to overhaul existing workplace structures:
1. Help Managers Shift From Micromanagement To Accountability.
Stop applying “brick and mortar” management practices to hybrid and remote employees.
A shift from task- to goal-focused performance management is instrumental for moving away from “if I can’t see you, how do I know you are working” mindsets.
2. Build Systems That Maintain Information Flow.
Reinforce the importance of logging discussions that lead to decisions, including alternatives considered and objections raised.
Effective asynchronous decision-making depends on never leaving relevant team members out of the loop. Lack of information leads to a loss of power, which undermines people’s credibility.
3. Prevent Disintegration Of Company Culture.
First, don’t fall into the trap of providing remote and onsite employees with different onboarding experiences. This creates two cultures – one for remote employees, the other for in-person staff – and leads to unhealthy rivalry.
Second, focus on treating remote staff as active participants rather than afterthoughts.
For example, rather than creating recordings of company events for remote workers to watch later, plan around time zones to integrate remote workers into your events in real-time.
4. Set Up Effective Home Office Spaces.
Most home offices are an afterthought, set up on kitchen tables or in uninviting spare rooms.
Upgrading employees’ home offices increases well-being while eliminating lacklustre video conference setups. Budget about $1,000 – $2,500 per person on a standing desk, ergonomic office chair, and help with setting up an ergonomic home office.
5. Treat Productivity Tracking Software With Caution.
Monitoring employee productivity through screen capture and time-tracking apps is effective for managing freelance, casual and part-time staff.
However, surveillance is suboptimal for full-time, long-term staff you plan to fully integrate into your company culture – and may actually hurt productivity.
(Related: Work From Home Checklist For Your Employees).
How Hybrid Work Has Evolved.
The hybrid work model became normalised post the COVID pandemic, but it had existed before then to a lesser degree — ever since reliable internet made working from home feasible.
Did You Know?
The Arielle team is comprised entirely of hybrid and remote workers since 2012. We have people in the UK, USA, Cyprus, Serbia and Indonesia.
Due to the risk to people’s health during a highly contagious global pandemic, many roles that didn’t have to be performed in-person became remote almost overnight.
Transitioning to remote operations during the pandemic required a major reshuffle of the systems and management styles used by organisations, and quickly.
- Project management, collaboration and messaging tools like Slack, Trello and Monday.com became more commonplace.
- Use of video-conferencing tools boomed as virtual meetings became the default channel for providing feedback to team members and onboarding clients.
- Employee monitoring software was adopted in an attempt to keep track of employees’ activities and accountabilities.
The transformation to hybrid work was somewhat chaotic. But employees loved working from home. They loved no commute. They loved seeing more of their family. And they didn’t want to return.
Final Word On Best Hybrid Work Model Practices.
Hybrid workplace arrangements are at the epicentre of the tug-of-war that’s occurring between employers and employees in 2023.
Whether a hybrid work model will benefit or hurt your business depends on your company’s maturity, mission, culture and size. Most employers who are honest with themselves admit that they have more questions than answers.
- What is clear is that the value of in-person collaboration is difficult to replace.
Hybrid work fails the quickest at companies that underestimate its importance and get giddy with the idea of hybrid employees, transplanting their existing culture, management techniques, communication strategies, handoff processes and tools into what they mistakenly view as an evolution of their working arrangements.