Hybrid Teams: The Best or Worst of Both Worlds?
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 20 seconds
Hybrid work is in demand. A recent study by Slack found that 72% of surveyed employees want a combination of office and remote, with only 12% wanting to return to the office full time.
But what is the optimal arrangement? Is hybrid a better alternative to fully co-located work? Is a fully distributed team better than hybrid?
Your answer depends heavily on your individual experience. Company culture, location, individual choices, and personal circumstances naturally influence work environment preferences . The structure you were familiar with prior to the pandemic influenced the quality of your remote work experience, which in turn influences your working model preferences moving forward.
Evaluating the effectiveness of remote work based on experience during COVID-19—at an individual or company level—is inappropriate because:
- Companies were forced to adapt quickly, without time to shift their mindset and create thoughtful strategies for optimizing tech stack, improving infrastructure, or upskilling employees.
- COVID has resulted in extra constraints on caregivers, for example, childcare and schooling has not been consistently available for working parents.
- Forced work from home is not the same as sustainable, location-independent remote work.
- Opportunities for social interaction and travel even outside the workplace have been limited due to safety measures.
However, now can be the perfect time for companies to take stock of how workplace structures fit into their strategic future and larger goals. Once executives—who see remote work as temporary—make conclusive decisions and bring back employees to the office, it will be difficult to shake up the status quo once again.
This spring we are hosting a series of conversations focused on hybrid teams during our monthly Networkplaceless events. To start off the series, we hosted our first debate-style event in March. Attendees were randomly assigned to groups to advocate for, or against, hybrid team structures. Participants shared personal stories and were challenged to consider alternate perspectives. We’ve combined these shared anecdotes with our years of experience working with teams, to outline where hybrid has advantages over in-office or fully distributed, and where it falls short.
Hybrid is better than 100% in-office because it offers:
- Flexibility and choice. Some companies who offer hybrid work allow individuals to tailor their schedules based on individual needs. This, plus allowing employees to be location independent, creates more freedom and autonomy.
- Wider talent pool. Offering remote work options can allow companies to tap into talent pools that deliver stronger fits for the skills needed than those available locally.
- Extra time with family and friends. Work from home means less time spent commuting, more time connecting with loved ones, and greater opportunity to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
- Potential real estate expense savings. While closing offices altogether could eliminate real estate costs, rethinking and downsizing offices to become centers for collaboration, client interactions, and team gatherings can also positively impact your bottom line.
Hybrid is better than 100% remote because it offers:
- Stimuli created by the variety of work environments. When employees can pick and choose when to come to the office means a change of scenery and variety of work environments, which can stimulate creativity, facilitate relationship building, and limit isolation.
- Comfort of in-office environments. Especially now, a year into a pandemic, employees are craving a return to any sense of “normal.” One of those comforts is returning to an office. Many teams have still not figured out how to build relationships and foster collaboration remotely.
- Solution to isolation. While forced work from home isn’t the benchmark for successful remote work, it is important to note that remote workers do experience isolation. Offering a location for employees to come together can help to alleviate this concern.
- Reduced cost for teams with hardware requirements. With a hybrid work environment, organizations benefit from centralizing capital resources, such as studio equipment.
Hybrid is worse than both 100% remote or 100% in-office because:
- Two employee groups emerge. Organizations need best practices for both in-office and remote employees. Plus, there’s the added work of continuing to align the culture and experience for both groups.
- It’s primed for workplace inequities. Creating equitable workplace experiences for both in-office and remote employees can be challenging. Existing challenges of equity, inclusivity, and accessibility are exacerbated by presenteeism and proximity bias.
- Complexity increases. Setting rules, parameters, and policies for two (or more) employee groups can be highly complex. Plus, with employees in many locations, legal and HR issues abound.
- Remote employees are left out of decision-making. Because of the incremental steps required, in-office teams—especially in-office leaders—have a tendency to forget about informing remote employees of, and including remote employees in decisions.
- Leaders are unprepared. The top voted concern of our Networkplaceless group was “Leadership’s preparedness to have difficult conversations, evaluate performance, and trust remote employees.” Leaders are inexperienced at leading and motivating remotely, and too often aim to replicate in-office practices for virtual environments. In a hybrid environment of managing both in-office and remote employees, leaders will need to cultivate an entirely new set of skills.
- “Hybrid” is undefined. As more companies announce a hybrid approach it’s clear that there is no universal definition of how hybrid would actually play out at each organization. Some companies define hybrid as having roles designated as remote vs in-office, while others refer to hybrid as having all employees report to a central office one to two days per week.
- It’s still an experiment. What people say they want might be disconnected from what a company can do well. Organizations are taking steps to be responsive to the new trends and demands of a hybrid-remote workforce, but there isn’t enough evidence for most companies to clearly understand what will be effective.
- Executives are out of touch with workplace realities. The reality is that flexible policies don’t match execution. Executives spend time crafting policies meant to be all-encompassing, but fail to follow through on support with training and proven practices at every level of the organization. As one hybrid-experienced leader shared, “we had a policy on paper that wasn’t very truthful to the power structure within the organization.”
Regardless of preferences for co-located, hybrid, or fully remote, the group universally agreed that succeeding at effective and meaningful work all depends on how companies execute and follow through with ongoing support.
Where do you net out? Is hybrid work the best or worst of both worlds?
If your company is exploring hybrid teams and needs guidance in thinking through an arrangement that will work for your organization or needs support in following through, our team is ready to help.
Katie Scheuer, Learning Experience Lead at Workplaceless
Scheuer helps teams, leaders, and companies thrive in hybrid and remote environments. A former career coach, she has spent her career guiding adults to develop new skills to achieve their personal and professional goals. In 2019, she quit her job to travel through Asia and Europe, and is currently digital nomading in the US.
Follow her on LinkedIn.