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Hybrid work isn't new, but you'd think it was by the headlines lately.
Big companies, like Yahoo, have tried and failed at hybrid work since pre-pandemic. Unfortunately, instead of using history as a lesson, many companies today are moving full speed ahead to repeat the same mistakes.
If your company is going hybrid or you're searching for a new role, make sure to look out for these 4 hybrid work red flags.
One important note: the term 'hybrid' is currently being used for several different types of work. This can be both confusing and misleading. Today, I'm focusing on 'forced hybrid' work.
Traditional hybrid work allows for the options of both a remote and office environment. Forced hybrid work has both environments, however, they force team members into the office certain days of the week (ex. Monday/Wednesday/Friday or at least 3 days per week in the office). While traditional hybrid can feel like it provides even more freedom, forced hybrid reduces agency, limits options, and causes significant problems.
A big issue I've seen lately is that team members think they're getting the traditional hybrid approach, then companies choose the forced hybrid approach. This miscommunication results from everyone using the term 'hybrid' to refer to a broad spectrum of ways to work.
Red Flag 1 - The Decision Maker Is in Person
Many companies are trying to appease disgruntled workers by telling them, "Don't worry! You can work some days from home. The only people required in the office full-time will be management." But this is a huge red flag.
When the people making the decisions aren't experiencing the remote environment or aren't affected by those decisions, they end up setting up ineffective practices that degrade the remote workplace.
They also impose practices optimized for office work (instead of taking advantage of the digital world benefits) because they become wrapped up in their own experience. Without experiencing the virtual environment firsthand, the in-person management team cannot see what is working and what is not.
Red Flag 2 - Reduced Remote Work Benefits
Remote work is all about giving agency to the individual on where, when, and how they work. Hybrid work removes this agency.
By forcing people to be in the office on certain days of the week, location independence is the first to go. They can no longer live where they want. Instead, they have to stay within the vicinity of the office.
Hybrid work also keeps people living and working in states/cities they might not even like. Their home space is usually smaller since living close to city locations where offices reside generally tend to be more expensive with less space. So team members likely won't have a space for a home office or multiple work zones, further diminishing their experience when they have a chance to work remotely.
Time independence is also eliminated. The night owls who have gotten used to starting their workday later will have to get used to an alternating schedule. They'll be able to work within their ideal hours on the days they can work from home but then have to adjust to working regular hours during their days in the office. Team members end up with whiplash from bouncing between two extremes, which is a frustrating struggle for the individual.
Red Flag 3 - Unequal Opportunity Distribution
Many companies who were remote during the pandemic and are now switching to hybrid never adapted the writing-first culture required to be successful. Having team members back in the office where they can rely on shoulder taps and interruptions will only make this worse. Their remote workers will be left in the dark and won't have the resources they need to do their job successfully.
Remote workers at hybrid companies also tend to feel forgotten. When it comes time for raises and promotions, managers in-office tend to overlook the invisible work of their remote team members and instead focus on the team members they recently had lunch with in person. Because they see the people in the office, those are the first people they think of when it comes time to hand out opportunities. Instead of advancement being about the quality of work (like in remote-first organizations), it's about external factors of availability in the office.
How do you ensure an equal chance for someone in the office and outside the office to contribute? This is a question that many have asked, but no one has yet to solve.
Red Flag 4 - Commuting To Spend Time on Zoom
The people I've seen excited about current hybrid plans tend to either be older (and missing the familiarity of the office) or managers (who felt out of their element and didn't get the training they needed to manage remote teams). However, I've seen both of their excitement diminish over the last few weeks as they experience the reality of commuting only to spend their workday on Zoom. Many of them didn't realize that they weren't going back to their pre-2020 way of work.
Instead, they're getting the worst of both worlds: The commute and interruptions from office culture plus endless virtual meetings from the unhealthy remote world. This causes people to question, "Why am I at the office when I could be doing the same thing (but more comfortably and saving time) from home?".
The issue here is that companies aren't being intentional around when they want people to work in person. Instead, they're settling on the lazy hybrid strategy of defining set days in office with the vague reasoning of "collaboration". This ends up feeling like a waste of time to team members and leaves them disgruntled.
So what's the solution? Hybrid work is the least developed of the three work models: in-office, remote, and hybrid. Until companies stop repeating and start learning from the four mistakes above, the hybrid approach will continue to be the worst of all worlds. If you have a strong desire towards either in-office or remote work, I advise you to just pick one.
If companies are still set on hybrid work, they need to let go of the forced hybrid approach. Instead, design a remote-first environment that offers the option of an office to work from if a team member desires. Be strict in developing a culture that does not force or put unsaid expectations to be in the office.
As Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, said: You need to design a work environment where "there are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done."
Next, create a co-working space budget, so those who want the office experience but want to live elsewhere have the option. Build a solid async-first culture for both in-office and remote team members, so everyone has the resources they need to do their job, and there is visibility around the work being produced. Finally, intentionally use the office space for activities that benefit from a synchronous approach like yearly team retreats or quarterly planning.
One thing to be aware of is that even if you do all of the above right, you will likely see office use taper off, and the company choose to go fully remote after a few years. This happens as people better adapt to remote work and teams grow more distributed. I've seen it happen many times, even pre-pandemic, with companies like Buffer and Basecamp. Highly recommend reading those linked articles to get an inside look at why they chose to go 100% remote after spending years on the hybrid approach.
Ultimately, there is no one right way to work, but there are several clear wrong ways. I hope becoming aware of these red flags helps you know what to look out for and keeps you from repeating the same mistakes.
Companies choosing a hybrid model where:
- The decision-makers work in person
- Remote work benefits are reduced
- They haven't solved for unequal opportunity
- You're commuting to spend all day on Zoom
are choosing the worst way to work.
Quote of the Week
“Life rarely changes in a positive way without an increase in responsibility.
That can mean taking ownership of your health or committing to a relationship or starting a business.
Whatever it is, if you want the trajectory to change, the amount of responsibility usually has to change.”
- James Clear
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In Case You Missed It
What did you think of this issue? What do you hope you'll see in the next one? Feel free to reply to this message or DM me on Twitter @mar15sa.
I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!
Founder, Remote Work Prep