Many use hybrid as an umbrella term to indicate a mix of remote and in-office employees. They also use the term blended employees. These are employees who work in-office some of the time and remotely the rest of the time. This group of employees is distinct from those who work full-time in the office and those who are full-time remote. (Note: Full-time remote employees sometimes meet with other employees for team retreats or other special events during the year. But they do not go into the office to do their usual work for any meaningful amount of time.)
There are three hybrid workforce variations to consider as an employer. Each variation has advantages and challenges.
General Challenges with Blended or Remote Employees
There are two general challenges with any of the hybrid workforce variations that are important to address, including:
- Biases | Remote employees are likely to be disadvantaged by being “out of sight” more frequently. It requires more work to create trust and belonging with and among remote workers. Leaders who are in-person may inadvertently give more attention and perks to employees they see in person. Meanwhile, remote employees may be less likely to speak up or question decisions.
- Equity | Employees who work remotely more of the time may be in less equitable work situations than their in-office counterparts. Their Internet service may be relatively slow and their workstations may cause pain or discomfort. Additionally, their immediate working environments may be more distracting (e.g., noise, light, temperature), and they probably won’t have access to free office supplies (e.g., printers, a dedicated work phone, etc.).
Here are examples of three hybrid workforce variations.
Hybrid 1: Full-Time Mix
One of the hybrid workforce variations is a mix of employees being either full-time in-office or full-time remote. This variation requires enough office space for all full-time employees.
- It’s easy to know where each employee is on a given day or week.
- Working groups/teams can develop communication and collaboration patterns for this stable configuration.
- You need less office space when some employees are remote.
- Communication | To the extent that working groups contain both types of employees—or remote only employees—clear and concise communication is critical. You want attendees to be able to pull out the important points of communication quickly and easily. Social time and hard conversations should definitely happen over video.
- Collaboration | If everyone who is collaborating on a given project is in the office, there aren’t any special hybrid challenges. However, when collaboration happens among individuals who are not co-located, care should be taken to implement best practices for that situation: Use the appropriate communication channels or apps (e.g., collaborative real-time whiteboards that live in the cloud, Slack channels, polls for voting). Trust among team members is important and needs to be built and maintained. Respectful behavior is even more critical.
- Biases | All of the general challenges above are true with this variation. In-office employees may develop deeper bonds. Thus, they may unintentionally marginalize remote employees.
Hybrid 2: Come Together
Another hybrid variation is when employees spend some time in-office and sometimes remotely. Also, they do so in a concerted way at regular intervals, so that every working group is in-office together and remote together. Everyone in the group is a blended employee. For instance, a given working group may be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and work remotely the other days of the week. (Or one week in the office each month, etc.)
- Organizations require less office space when different working groups use the office on different days.
- All working group members experience similar working conditions at the same time. So the problem of remote workers becoming disadvantaged isn’t an issue.
- In-office time can focus on collaboration, team-building, trust-building and engagement. Remote time can be for focused individual work.
- Communication | Best practices for communication hold. When working group members are remote, it’s particularly important.
- Collaboration | Time in office should be for work best done collaboratively or using resources that are in office.
- Bias | In-office time helps create and deepen belonging and trust (when the culture and the leaders promote those qualities). In turn when employees are remote they are more likely to give colleagues the benefit of the doubt. Because all working group members have the same in-person/remote schedule, differential treatment based on in-office status is non-existent.
Hybrid 3: Employee Flex Plan
Finally, sometimes employees are blended, full-time in an office, and/or full-time remote. For some hybrid workforce variations such as this one, you can set times when everyone—or most everyone—is expected to be in office, such as collaborating on projects.
- This variation provides more flexibility to employees, hopefully minimizing attrition and making hiring easier.
- The schedule provides working groups and organizations predictability. It also gives them the ability to make maximal use of their in-office space. There may be some opportunities to take advantage of co-location, but the people who need to collaborate on a given day may not necessarily be in the office at the same time.
- To the extent that all or most employees come into the office at least some of the time, a sense of culture, trust, and engagement can develop. However, this doesn’t necessarily include teammates who may be on a different in-person schedule.
- Blended employees may welcome more flexibility and control over their commuting schedules.
- Communication | Although there is a predictable pattern to who is in the office on a given day, the pattern differs for each employee. Therefore, it can be hard to track in-office employees day-to-day. In turn, this doesn’t capitalize on many of the return-to-office advantages. Because working groups may not be co-located together, communicate clearly and concisely. Best practices for communication hold.
- Collaboration | This variation does not help in-office collaboration unless relevant employees are co-located at the same time. Thus, best practices for collaborating with mixed co-located/remote groups hold.
- Biases | Those who spend more time in-office develop deeper connections and trust and may be more likely to receive high-status assignments compared to remote workers.