How to make a hybrid work model work
Everywhere you look or listen, hybrid models are being celebrated as the “future of work.” But with offices re-opening left and right…where does that leave us all today?
The Workshop team and three absolutely outstanding panelists came together to have a realistic and transparent discussion about this massive shift in the way we structure our organizations, our schedules, and our lives. From tackling executive concerns to dialing in the details of day-to-day communication, we addressed some of the major logistical questions that hybrid work inevitably brings up.
Our panelists included:
- Nadia Harris, founder of remoteworkadvocate.com
- Nancy Wood, Director of Operations at Flawless Recruit
- Alyssa Heusinger, People Partner at CircleCI
- Jess Spangler, Senior Account Executive at Workshop
You can watch the entire panel interview here, or just read through the expert answers below!
Question 1: Who does a hybrid model work for? Who does a hybrid model not work for?
“Hybrid models are not cookie cutter. There’s not just one way to work remotely or one way to work in a hybrid environment. And so really I think that hybrid work can work for just about anyone, as long as you’re creative and flexible. That being said, there are some limitations in certain industries or certain job roles that you just can’t work around. So if you think about that traditional or the real extreme of “there is no office and nobody ever comes in” and “you’re at home and you do whatever you want wherever you want, whenever you want”…that obviously isn’t going to work in something like biotech.
You can’t take your experiments home with you. You can’t take them to South America when you want to work remotely for a month. And so there are certain limitations like that, where you have to do your experiments, collect your data. And when you’re doing your data analysis, when you’re writing your papers, when you’re doing reports, that’s stuff that can be done from home. And so even companies that have limitations like that can have some flexibility. And as long as you’re creative and flexible, I think you can find ways to have a remote model or a hybrid model in really many, many instances.”
“I think it really is strongly dependent on the culture of both your company and the departments that you have. In the tech space, we see that they’ve historically really been more remote friendly, especially those engineering and product teams. They have that flexibility you can work from literally anywhere. We have some engineers that’ll work from a beach, which is great. Love that for them. What we’ve seen is more that the go-to-market side typically has really thrived off of that in office energy, being able to be there and talk with one another, collaborate with one another. But again, as Nancy was saying…obviously during the pandemic, we’ve really seen that these teams have really been stretched and have seen what they have been able to do in fully remote environments. I think it’s really proved that we can expand who is truly able to have and adopt that hybrid model. It just, again, it’s going to be dependent on what that office culture is. That company culture is what you’re communicating and prioritizing for everyone.”
“There is no one size fits all approach here. And I get many questions like, okay, so how do you do hybrid work? Can you write a hybrid work manual? And I’m like, no, I cannot. Unless I understand the context…there may be industries where, for example, in the production industry or manufacturing, I’ve seen global companies saying, ‘Hey, the entire back office will now have a remote-first mindset. And we’re cutting down on our office space, but production will remain on site.’ Obviously, that being said, we may have find that we’ll get that flexibility in roles, which we want…on the other hand, there is this model (for example, in the banking industry), it’s always going to be super, super strict, and in the past they are saying no, because of security and because of data, we will never allow flexibility.
But they are now becoming more and more flexible. Not all of them. There are quite some controversial statements online that we can research — like Morgan Stanley saying everybody has to come to the office, but other ones are completely contradictory, saying, ‘Hey, we’re looking for your employees to come join us because we will be flexible in the banking industry.’ So again, I think that every company should really think in the first place about the why and perform a very simple SWOT analysis saying, ‘Hey, how do we deal with a shortage of talent or a local talent pool?‘ And that’s the reason why we will go towards hybrid. That being said, some team members will be forever remote and some will stay onsite. It’s an individual business case all the time.”
Question 2: Do employees want hybrid work or just more flexibility in general?
“I think that they ultimately want flexibility, but that is often going to translate into a hybrid model. I think in particular, what I’ve seen in, especially the tech space, we hire more of millennials, gen Z. We have a lot of those that are entering our workforce and they want to be able to work from home a couple of days, do their laundry in between meetings, go to a doctor’s appointment without formally logging PTO. But they also want that opportunity to go operate with their peers when they want to. And so I think it ultimately boils down to the fact that they just want to feel trusted to do their job and empowered to do it, and oftentimes on their own schedule. Can that be achieved with an in-office model that just allows for flexibility? Absolutely. But I think it’s also going to be harder to compete for talent in that space with other companies that have adopted a fully hybrid model.”
“I think everything tends to go towards the direction of smart working, of really knowing that it’s not just nine-to-five, commuting, clocking in, clocking out. But actually my observations are that in the service industry, as a matter of fact, it’s designed to be relying on the output. And not only on the time spent at work, as it was a hundred years ago when manufacturing production was actually growing and thriving. I do believe that right now we’re going more towards adopting a flexible work model where we really measure the result by not how many hours we’ve spent working, but the output that we’ve delivered. This is completely justified for the service industry, where a physical presence is valued only when it comes to collaboration, teamwork, engagement, brainstorming, bonding, things like that, but isn’t really about being super productive.
“It really is more about flexibility than specifically hybrid work. I think people in general want to feel like they have control over their lives, you know, and work is so much a part of our life that the flexibility allows people some sense of control, some sense of agency. And, and as far as maybe where that need or desire comes from, if we think of the traditional office, I think there’s office environments and a lot of ways we’re built for a certain type of person, a certain perhaps extroverted type versus an introverted type. And having the flexibility creates a slightly more inclusive environment for people of different work styles and different needs to be able to choose the place that’s going to work best for them, where they can do their best work. And so I think it is about flexibility, more so than a specific model or type of hybrid work or remote work.”
Question 3: Logistically, how is a hybrid model best implemented? For example: should employees choose their own work-from-home days?
“That really differs, but I’m going to give you some examples. So in corporations where we have sometimes even thousands of people…we need to have it structured. The flexibility needs to be structured. Okay. As crazy as it sounds. So it’s usually this way in terms of talking about office space, the availability of desks to work at, or cubicles. Because they still stay in some cases, and conference rooms. So companies say, okay, if you’re implementing the hybrid model locally (meaning we always had local talent and it’s going to stay this way), then we expect people to come to the office twice a week. Three times a week they can work from home. Or the other way round. And there was usually a ratio of how many desks per the total number of employees we have available. Thinking about an estimate, how many people will physically be in the office during the week.
And usually it’s designed this way, we obviously do bookings in terms of conference rooms and everything. It’s based on the work planning for every team. So again, if it’s teamwork, brainstorming, collaboration, then we do see that the office is definitely playing a significant role. A great example that you can follow from is Google. They are saying the very same thing. They’ve always been priding [themselves] for having that amazing campus. They’re not letting go of that. But then on the other hand, I also see companies that say, ‘Hey, work wherever you want from, but if you really want to meet, come to the office.’ when you feel it’s justified. It really differs a lot, but primarily with all the work and guides that I’ve been designing, and that I observe at different companies, the office is really for teamwork and deep work can be done from home or elsewhere.”
“It’s so much about the company culture that you have or the one that you’re trying to build and develop. Some companies are going to embrace the idea of asynchronous communication really, really easily. And it’s going to be a lot easier for them to maybe have an environment where yeah, pick, choose, come don’t come. But there are some where it’s going to be harder to embrace that idea of not having a set time or schedule for certain activities or events or conversations. So I’ve seen some really great models where it’s ‘everyone on the team has to be here on Tuesdays.’ That’s when we’re going to schedule our manager one-on-one so we can get face time with employees. That’s when we’re going to schedule department meetings, that’s when we’re going to put on the company all-hands.
So you really manage the company calendar in a way where you are optimizing that together time, that team time. I think there are different ways you can do it from a recruiting standpoint. I’ll say one of the challenges that we run into is, as companies are opening back up, we do still want to have a personal connection to candidates. And so when it comes to the traditional onsite interview, that’s really hard to do. Often not everyone at the company is a qualified interviewer or a trained interviewer. And so if we’re trying to put together a six-person panel, we’re going to need all six of you in the office at the same time to meet this candidate. And so I think there is the reality that we can have flexibility, but we might have to put some boundaries on it.
And as far as implementing it goes, it’s about open communication. It’s about not just saying, here are your boundaries, but saying, here are the boundaries, because the reality is we’re growing. We need to recruit, we need to interview people and we need you to be here onsite, and we need to have it a little bit easier to schedule those things, whether right or wrong. I’ll also say a lot of times, I do think of like HR a little bit in terms of parenting, you know, not that employees are children…but a lot of the same philosophies can come into play. So, you know, your kids want to be able to pick their outfit, but you also don’t want them wearing the Spider-Man pajamas every day, all week long to school and church. So you say, okay, here are three outfits, take your pick. You know, they have a choice, they have flexibility, but you are offering some control, some options that can direct and guide your culture from there. There are different ways and strategies you can do it, but those are some of the things that might help along the way.”
“If you have that set on the calendar for me as an employee, that seems like it would help really have some consistency. And then I know, okay, every Tuesday I’m in the office, that’s not the day that I do my doctor’s appointments or have the plumber come or whatever. And it just helps kind of have some sort of like schedule that you can rely on and adhere to. And then maybe the other days you can be more flexible.”
“Speaking from the tech industry perspective where it’s a lot more in place, we’ve leaned a little bit more heavily on the department level. And again, bringing back that cultural element, we see those differences in looking to the department heads on what really makes the most sense for their organizations. Our tech teams are leaning more towards having that model of hoteling…checking out the desk, if you want it, and you can pop in. Whereas some of our more customer support or sales teams are just in those designated cubicles. We know they’re going to be in our office area and we know they’re going to be in there more often. It is just kind of leaning more on the different cultures that we’re seeing within there, and then leaning to what’s the team culture that you want to be setting up. So I think giving that flexibility and empowerment really helps instill ownership, both for the department leaders, as well as the team members. I think they feel a lot more heard when they’re establishing this as ‘we’re trying to look to the future,’ and what going back to the office looks like or setting up post-pandemic working models looks like…really just making sure that people feel heard with that. We’ve found that works pretty effectively.”
Question 4: How do you address equity concerns across a hybrid workforce?
“Especially as the people partner role, we see this every day…fairness and equity is such a huge part of every company culture, regardless of the model that you’re looking at. I think there are a handful of things that really contribute well to this. First…is just making sure that you have a sense of values that your decision-making is going to be rooted in. That makes it so much easier to have that north star that you’re looking at to guide your decision-making. It makes it easier to articulate the whys for your company and your department, and why you’re making the decisions that you are. It’s not personal. You have that real foundation.
And we’ve all talked about a little bit, but really fostering that culture of trust is going to be huge in this. Really focusing on building those relationships while they’re in office or remotely, taking time to get to know your team members and build those relationships again…it’s going to help make sure that they’re understanding better where you’re coming from. You’ll have a better cadence of communication. So I think that’s important. Also, being transparent with your decision-making as much as possible…a big part of people’s perception of equity is rooted in that transparency. Then lastly, this is one near and dear to my heart, but I think holding all of your team members accountable is really, really important to making sure that people continue to feel valued in that there’s a level-playing field and fairness across the office. Ehen people feel like others are doing their jobs well, really delivering results, and being held to that same standard, it really goes a long way in creating that culture where a sense of fairness is really pervasive.”
“Before I get directly to the response: Many companies are having this discussion of ‘how to convince people to come back to the office.’ I see this a lot. And I even recently wrote an article about it, with the same title, explaining in the first sentence, I believe we should not convince anyone to do anything. Because it’s justified. It’s just exactly the way Alyssa said, we’re all grownups, we’re all adults. This is not daycare, you know, to push somebody to do something they don’t want to do. And if it’s really justified, we have the why, we really have it explained, and we are very transparent about it. So again, if I’m applying to work as a dentist, it’s obvious that I’m not going to be aggressive because somebody else is working remotely. This would be complete nonsense.
So I think in the very beginning of the boundaries of saying what this role will look like, what we expect, what the reason is… then I do believe it’s really justified for that person. It is definitely sensible to actually physically be present at the office right now, not just to do it from home, because I see that I am not really able to deliver the results that we are talking about here. So if it’s justified, if it makes sense, we have the why.
There have to be some boundaries because in the end, it’s not about me as the manager. It’s not about me as a worker and employee. It’s about us as a team. What is the best way for us to get things done and to be closer to delivering our results, that’s the bottom line.”
“The last year and a half has been a time of just flex and the unknown…it is really important that we have that real human-to-human conversation that says, this is where we’re at today. I don’t know where we’re going to be at six months from now, but here’s how we make decisions. So back to what Alyssa said about having a good, strong core foundation of values and a decision-making framework, and making sure everybody understands that, can be really important because I think you can start to build trust there.
I think mainly the management layer is really, really important. Context is super important, right? We want every individual employee at the company to understand how a decision was made and why it was made. When they have questions, more often than not they’re probably going to go to their manager. They’re not going to necessarily go to HR directly. They’re not going to go to the decision-maker directly. And so it’s really important that our managers not only can repeat the company line about how the decision was made, but they really truly understand and embrace it. So I would say whenever there’s some sort of change, you really need to engage that management layer, that first line to make sure that the message is getting across in that the context is being shared appropriately.”
Question 5: What kind of communication processes and procedures should be put in place if you’re adopting a hybrid work model?
“That’s my favorite question, honestly. Cause it’s all about how do we do it…you know, formally, how to design it. And I’m always working with the hard stuff, which is the toolkit, the processes, procedures in hybrid and remote-first companies. And that’s why I believe that there are four pillars that we really have to take into consideration. You can also read about them on the website. Some of them are really technical, but what I believe is that in terms of communication, we have to talk about tools. We have to talk about processes, procedures. We have to structure communication into synchronous and asynchronous. That’s really important, and determining when we use which kind.
And structure all our communication channels…we have tons of tools out there. I observe companies and I ask: which tools do you use? And they would tell me — one team — one team would tell me Skype, Slack, WhatsApp messenger, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meets, email, text message, phone. And I said, why are you making your life so difficult? You know?
And make all processes transparent. If we have the synchronous communication…how do we make sure that somebody who’s working out of the office is not left behind? So that being said, I do believe that in terms of communication flows, hybrid companies should really try to embrace as much as remote-first companies do [in terms of] documentation and transparency and equal access to all that, for everybody who is on the team.”
“I think Nadia really hit the nail on the head that those tools and systems are really key. The only thing that I’d really add to that is to make sure that you’re setting those expectations early, whether that’s in onboarding or as you’re just getting ready to roll that out. It’s okay to even acknowledge, ‘Hey, we’re figuring this out as we go. We’re new to this.’
Make sure that you have those clear expectations set on what systems you’re using, what’s the type of cadence, what’s our SLA. That sort of thing is really important, regardless of that model.
Being cognizant of all of your team members that might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget for an international company. And it’s so easy to forget that we have APAC team members that aren’t going to see this, or if we schedule a Zoom at 9:00 AM, that might seem great for everyone. [But we need to be] mindful of the fact that there really are different groups, there’s different learning styles. There’s different ways that people receive information. So just think through your intended audiences.”
“It’s really about knowing your audience and your employees or your audience, right? There are some folks who might lean more towards video or more towards written conversations or communications, but I’ll say…one of the things I’ve struggled with in my job is drafting these communications. I understand how important context is, and I try to give people context, and then I’ll get feedback that that message was too long and it includes too many details and people don’t really care. But if I shorten the message, then somebody comes at me with 20 more questions and I’m like…well, I had that in the original message. And so now what do I do?
So one of the things that I always think is great to have is your summary, the article abstract, if you will. The piece that says, if you just want to know the end result, here’s what you need to know. Here’s how you can implement it. Here’s what’s changing. But for the people that have those follow-up questions, give them access to it, have a link to a broader description, a longer set of processes or workflows or whatever.
People need to know where they can get information and they need to be able to get it when they need it. Streamline your platforms. Don’t have 16 different ways to video call people, make sure people know where to go, and then make it accessible, make it easy. Put it right in front of them, because sometimes you’ll read that description once and it’ll stick with you forever. And there are some times when you’re going to need to read it 2, 3, 4, 5 times. You’re not going to remember it until it’s relevant to you.”
Watch the entire panel interview on hybrid work (and the live follow-up questions, which start 39 minutes in) on Youtube here.