“Remote work is the future of work” was definitely among the top quotes of 2020, alongside “You’re on mute.”, “Stay safe, everyone.” and “Why are they hoarding toilet paper?”
But we often forget that remote work has also been our past. Until the industrial revolution, most of humanity worked from home. When the tools of trade shifted to factories and offices, we had to chase them.
And now the tools have once again swung the pendulum back. The explosion of collaboration software popularized remote work in the 2010s. The pandemic further accelerated the trend.
But there is one new trend that is unparalleled in human history, one that has emerged as the most probable contender to define at least the immediate future of work – hybrid work.
What is Hybrid Work?
As the name suggests, hybrid work is a mixture of remote and on-site work. Any organization that accommodates both remote and on-site employees is a hybrid workspace.
Remote work has been a resounding success for most organizations. It’s unlikely that they will switch back to pre-covid status as soon as they can. But 100% remote setup might not be immediately feasible for a lot of companies. Take a look at the results of a recent survey by PwC to understand how American executives feel about remote work.
A natural question to hybrid work is how do we strike the right balance. A company that allows its staff to work from home a few days a week would be a hybrid workspace. Similarly, an organization that lets only certain employees work remotely would also be a hybrid workplace.
Most definitions don’t consider 100% remote teams who have physical offices to be hybrid. Technically all their employees are remote as they aren’t expected to come to the office.
So, simply saying hybrid is the future of work doesn’t tell us a lot. What kind of hybrid is the real question.
3 Steps to Make Hybrid Work Successful
Hybrid workplaces can be more complicated than fully remote teams. Here are three steps to increase their chances of success:
1. Build for Remote-First
Most successful hybrid setups assume remote work to be the default state and the office to be an add-on, rather than the other way around.
This ensures that one physical location doesn’t drive your company culture. For example, Modus Create has offices in three countries – the US, Romania, and Costa Rica. But there is no Modus USA or Modus CR. All Modites from 50+ countries belong to one virtual realm called the Modusland. The offices function as options, not epicenters of influence.
Being remote-first also helps your team develop the rigor of virtual collaboration, which helps consolidate all the work in one virtual workspace. Such virtual workspaces enable distributed team members to feel a sense of belonging and get easier access to information.
A remote-first mindset also helps organizations manage timezone alignment better. They can schedule meetings and calls based on the convenience of all team members, not just those who are in the office.
2. Empower Your Team
According to a survey by smallbizgenius, 40% of people feel that flexibility is the most significant benefit of remote work. This isn’t a one-off result; numerous other surveys echo it. Flexibility is the driving force behind remote work’s popularity.
People appreciate flexible schedules not just because of the convenience but also because they make them feel empowered. And empowering your team is essential to create a culture of ownership at work. Therefore, effective hybrid workspaces usually have teams that can choose between being remote and on-site.
Don’t worry. This doesn’t mean anarchy in the office. You can give a choice to the people and still create routines, just like HubSpot.
HubSpot gives its employees three options to choose from based on how they do their best work – @office (you work three or more days a week from the office), @flex (you work from the office two or fewer days a week), and @home – you work primarily from home. Each employee has the option to change their selection once a year. The perks vary depending on the choice. For example, @office folks have a dedicated workspace in the office, and @flex get a hotel desk. @home folks receive a budget for WFH setup.
By giving a choice and yet creating a structure, HubSpot can create effective routines without jeopardizing the autonomy of its employees. Other organizations, including Microsoft, seem to be heading in the same direction.
3. Hire for Remote/On-Site Fit
For certain positions, being remote might not be feasible. While in some situations, remote work might be the only option. In both cases, setting the right expectations during hiring is crucial. All job openings in a hybrid workspace should mention explicitly whether the position is on-site, remote, or flexible.
Being a successful remote employee requires specific skills such as self-motivation, accountability, and the ability to express ideas clearly. Test these attributes during the recruitment process. Although lack of remote experience isn’t a dealbreaker, it can help immensely, especially for leadership roles. Our partner Miro has some great tips on hiring remote employees.
While hiring remote employees, understand their preferences and familiarity with your technology stack. Experience with Agile project management methodologies is another advantage as it can elevate your team’s ability to collaborate asynchronously.
The Future Is Still Remote
Let’s go back to the 17% of respondents in the PwC survey who answered that they’d be back to the office as soon as feasible. Although in the minority, there are still executives who are not remote work enthusiasts. Remote work is incredibly popular, but not universally so. Unsurprisingly, a hybrid workspace is a popular solution because it makes both camps happy.
But, hybrid work might be the stepping stone to a fully remote future—a way to ease everyone in without rocking the boat too much. In theory, all knowledge work can be done remotely. There are three major reasons why that isn’t the case:
- Technical limitations– The job requires tools and resources that can only be accessed in the office.
- Personal preferences – People want to work in the office due to their habits and previous routines.
- Skills and expertise – People lack the skills to replicate the same quality of work remotely.
With the emergence of next-generation technologies such as Starlink and 5G, technical limitations will disappear.
The new generation of employees who will start their careers remotely won’t have the same affinity for office spaces. As the percentage of people who prefer office over remote work declines, it will get even more expensive for organizations to maintain physical workspaces. We might see a world where physical offices become luxuries rather than necessities.
And as far as skills and expertise are concerned, when has that ever stopped humans?
No wonder most hybrid workspaces have more in common with remote organizations than traditional companies. So, as you lay the groundwork for your hybrid workspace, remember that the future might still be remote.