Adopting a hybrid work model isn’t a “follow this playbook” strategy. There are many types of hybrid work — not all types will work for you.
To build the best hybrid work model for your team, your company culture, and your organization’s long-term goals, you must first get familiar with the many options in front of you.
What: Office-centric hybrid lets employees work from home as long as they visit the physical office space a number of days per week.
Why: To provide some flexibility without sacrificing serendipity and the human touch. It’s the lowest rung on the hybrid ladder and can either be a welcome policy or a dealbreaker for employees, depending on how you roll it out.
An office-centric hybrid strategy can work but your employees need to be able to justify the gains from working onsite several days a week. In many cases, they can’t.
What: An office exists and employees are free to walk in at will but there’s no strict policy demanding that they do.
Why: A flexible hybrid approach is a step ahead of an office-centric model and it offers employees more control over their time.
A flexible hybrid strategy works when a company is willing to invest in the technology that makes communication and collaboration possible and as well, design policies to guide the switch.
After nearly two years of working fully remotely, Twitter reopened its offices on March 15, 2022, in a push for a flexible hybrid policy. All employees are still fully remote and they’re not required to work onsite —they just have the option of visiting whenever they feel like it.
What: A remote-friendly hybrid strategy is essentially the same as the flexible hybrid approach we discussed above, but in this case, companies prioritize asynchronous working and there are no strict working hours.
Why: Remote-friendly hybrid work is built on trust and is designed to help teams achieve better work-life balance, whether they choose to meet or work remotely 100%. A remote-friendly model can come in handy when you have a global workforce across different time zones who can’t possibly check in every day.
Employees are only required to be accountable to their teams and meet reasonable deadlines so that work can go ahead, no matter their timezone or where they’re located in the world.
Asynchronous work radically opposes the industrial revolution office culture, and as Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic (fully distributed since 2005, with no offices since 2017) puts it, “your customer is not buying how many hours a day people are at their desk. People don’t want a drill, they want a hole in the wall. The old model of work wasted people’s time.”
What: Deviating from a hybrid model, remote-first refers to a workplace where working remotely is the default and companies come to depend on asynchronous communication tools and systems to stay in touch.
Why: Remote-first is the future and it aims to drive productivity without making work the center of an employee’s life. Research shows that remote-first teams are better engaged and ultimately more productive, which in no small part is thanks to an employee-friendly work experience.
Notable examples of remote-first companies include Gitlab, Basecamp, Google alternative DuckDuckGo, Toptal, and Buffer.
Gitlab has been fully remote since 2013 when co-founders Dmitriy Zaporozhets (based in Ukraine) and Sid Sijbrandij (Netherlands) started building a company around an open-source project.
Nine years later, Gitlab is a publicly-traded company valued at $6.71 billion, powered by 1,500+ employees across the globe — and still has no physical office.
Likewise, Buffer’s team of 85 is currently distributed across seven time zones spanning 12 hours and crossed $19.7 million in annual recurring revenue in 2021.
The benefits of a hybrid workplace strategy
No matter the strategy you choose, hybrid work offers a variety of benefits.
Increase employee engagement
Hybrid work may reduce the number of hours employees spend on work every day. But it manages to increase productivity while doing that.
Why? If employees can find a balance between their personal and work lives, they can dedicate more bandwidth to their careers and get more done in less time.
Reduce turnover & boost retention rates
Millions of workers are willing to quit if a job doesn’t offer enough flexibility to suit their lifestyle.
Hybrid work helps you compete in a labor market where employees are willing to take a cut in pay to work more flexibly.
Tackle burnout & help staff build better work-life balance
Onsite work ticks all the boxes necessary for employee burnout.
The flexibility hybrid work offers can help your employees take back control of their time, set better boundaries, and achieve more work-life balance.
Save on real estate & onsite utilities
Companies spend anywhere from 2 – 20% on real estate for workspaces.
When you factor in lunches, furniture, gigabit internet, etc. the numbers can look more substantial.
A hybrid workforce will eventually come to rely less and less on physical offices as everyone switches to their preferred work style and as a result, you get to save on rent and utilities.
Making the switch
Be intentional about tackling proximity bias
Proximity bias is the idea that employees who work onsite will be perceived as more productive, responsive, and dedicated, and will have better chances of getting promoted and advancing in their careers.
Hybrid doesn’t work if your remote employees can’t expect fair footing with those working onsite.
Engage employees in the decision-making process
No matter how eloquent your plans to switch to a hybrid model sound, eventually, what matters is the changes it brings about in your company’s culture and your employees’ lifestyles.
You need to use employees’ feedback to keep refining your hybrid work policies to achieve your desired ends.
Measure your performance and double down on what’s working
Performance assessment starts with asking the right questions to help you understand how your hybrid work policies are affecting your employees (remote workers and their onsite colleagues alike), company culture, productivity, and general employee satisfaction.
This includes questions like:
- How quickly are action items getting completed?
- Has productivity increased or dropped since your switch to hybrid?
- Are employees reporting better work-life balance? Or do you still have managers sending messages over Slack at 10 PM Friday night?
- Are employees comfortable unplugging from time to time, or will they face passive aggression for not being “committed enough” to the team?
- Do you factor in each team member’s time zone when planning meetings or do certain team members have to jump out of bed by 4 AM to catch up on daily standups?
Invest in asynchronous communications tools, systems, and culture.
The evidence points to the fact that asynchronous communication helps build a better employee experience in the workplace. But there’s more to it than yet another SaaS license.
Signing up for Loom is the easy part, but designing a culture where it’s okay to reply to messages an hour later rather than mashing up your keyboard right away takes more work.
An asynchronous culture includes letting employees design their work schedules, choosing video conferencing and recorded messages over real-time, onsite meetings, and letting hybrid workers optimize for their well-being with flexible working hours.
Stick to the fundamentals of hybrid work
These fundamentals include:
- Assuming good intentions
- A commitment to privacy
- Giving onsite and remote employees equal footing and opportunities for growth, and
- Providing feedback proactively
Build a culture of feedback & set clear expectations
Create onboarding documentation that clearly defines how quickly to manage check-ins, reiterate ideas, reply to messages, take time off, share feedback on projects, etc.
Hybrid work arrangements often fail because boundaries are not clearly defined and employees have to figure it out themselves. As a result, employees and managers have to figure out how to navigate team building alongside their full-time work.
For a hybrid work environment to truly work, you need to design inclusive, yet enforceable policies for how colleagues should communicate, handle deadlines, ship deliverables, and manage their workload, both inside and outside the office space.