After working remotely during the pandemic, many teams—and their leaders—noted a boost in productivity and greater employee satisfaction. Still, some of the natural collaborations that happen in person have been lost, and some workers miss the camaraderie of the office. Is a hybrid workplace the answer? Here’s what business leaders are saying.
How do you feel about hybrid teams?
“Modern employees expect an element of flexibility in their role. Hybrid working models serve as a great middle ground that provides the ease and flexibility of remote work combined with the innate benefits of in-office collaboration. Adopting a hybrid model also allows a business to retain space to meet clients, conduct training sessions, socialize outside of working hours and collaborate on important projects. However, hybrid teams can struggle to retain the culture and cohesion of fully in-office teams, especially as businesses are still coming to grips with the concept. Additionally, hybrid environments have the potential of creating a divide between those who choose to remain in-office and those who work remotely, resulting in reduced collaboration and feelings of bitterness.”
—Teresha Aird, co-founder and chief marketing officer, Offices.net
“The biggest downside of your team being fully remote or fully in-office is that your business might not have the same adaptability [as others] to the needs of a market or industry. Hybrid workplaces are, by far, the most flexible approach.”
—Joe Coletta, founder and CEO, 180 Engineering
“Employers are finding themselves in need of less office space as the number of people in the office decreases. Not only can a hybrid model save you money on rent, but it can also save you money on office supplies. Refilling the water dispenser, for example, is no longer a ‘typical’ need. Also, employees spend less time and money commuting thanks to the hybrid model, which is wonderful news for people who can’t find inexpensive housing near the office. But the relationship and camaraderie formed at the office may be damaged if employees spend long periods of time apart focusing on their respective jobs. It is even more difficult for marginalized groups in the workplace, such as women and people of color, to have their voices heard. This may result in poor decision-making and the need to alter work methods.”
—Tanner Arnold, president and CEO, Revelation Machinery
“Post-pandemic, hybrid work will be the predominant workplace model. Because there isn’t a standard operating method for businesses to follow, trial and error are unavoidable. Companies will need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of hybrid work arrangements to achieve a successful back-to-work transition. Some of the pros of hybrid working include no commute, fewer distractions, flexibility in terms of when and where you work, better work/life balance, reduced employee apprehension about returning to a public setting, and a fairer workplace for employees who care for family members or individuals with immune weaknesses. However, because they are concerned that their colleagues would see them as deficient since they’re not visible, employees who work from home put in longer hours. This resulted in increased production, but an overburdened culture may pervade the hybrid workplace paradigm if left unchecked.”
—Marques Thomas, owner, QuerySprout.com
“Eliminate the idea that successful enterprises require a brick-and-mortar storefront. Many modern-day companies thrive by working with a mix of hybrid and in-office employees. Several factors contribute to a successful hybrid team, but from what I’ve seen, your team’s purpose has to align with your business goals. Do not strive for survival. Instead, train your hybrid workers to help you reach new heights.”
—Nick Drewe, founder and CEO, Wethrift
“It makes a world of difference to work in an environment where everyone is comfortable enough to achieve optimum productivity. Our culture banks on this. We understood that some of us are comfortable in the discipline and culture of an office environment and others aren’t; thus, we decided to make work simpler by going for the split.”
—Kathy Bennett, CEO and founder, Bennett Packaging
“There are more pros than cons. We have noticed an increase in productivity because flexible workers can use their time better. They can choose to avoid commuting during busy times or focus entirely on tasks without the noise and interruptions of the traditional office environment. Best of all, they can choose to work during the time when they feel most productive, whether it’s in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. When employees are happier, better rested and less stressed, they work better.”
—Tomek Mlodzki, CEO and co-founder, PhotoAiD
“A hybrid work environment lowers your overall business costs, puts emphasis on autonomy and overall well-being, and fosters collaboration. On the negative side, it is much more difficult to foster strong workplace culture, because there is inherently going to be a divide between in-person workers and remote workers. There is also the greater possibility of cyberattacks or data breaches. Insecure Wi-Fi networks can put your employees at risk of all kinds of cybercrimes, and it’s much harder to regulate cybersecurity practices with remote work.”
—Kristen Bolig, founder, SecurityNerd
“A hybrid workplace allows employees to have more flexibility. It allows people to stay home if they feel sick without stopping their work—or their team. It also allows for in-person meetings or projects, helping workers feel less isolated than when fully remote.”
—Kyle MacDonald, VP of marketing and business development, Force by Mojio
“Hybrid allows workers to plan their schedule around what works best for them and generally leads to more satisfied employees. They don’t feel that they’re being micromanaged, and it automatically instills a sense of trust. On the other hand, there are elements of community and collaboration that will always work best in person. Developing a hybrid working model requires creative solutions and an understanding that no situation is perfect.”
—Sara Bandurian, operations coordinator, Online Optimism
Should you let some job roles work remotely and not others?
“All roles should have the option to work remotely for at least a portion of the job. There are some days where deep work needs to be done . . . in a quiet space like your home, where interruptions are less likely.”
—Zachary O’Dell, founder and CEO, Cooldown
“It’s important to offer all employees the same options regarding remote work. However, the realities of business mean that some roles might require special equipment that can’t be taken home (e.g., manufacturing devices and machinery). Discounting these special circumstances, businesses would be wise to adopt a blanket policy regarding remote working, one that provides each employee with a choice based on personal preference. In the instances where remote working isn’t feasible, offering sweeteners such as flexible working hours and in-office perks can mitigate any bad feelings.”
“Outright banning remote work for some roles could feel punitive. If you’re offering remote work opportunities to some, it makes sense to allow a degree of flexibility for all. Our hybrid work model outlines a schedule that is specific to the work we do.”
“The pandemic respects no one. Thus, everyone suffers from the consequences of the health crisis in a way or another. It is only just that you allow employees in any role to work in a remote setup.”
“On-site work is only required for roles that require physical presence, such as operating machines or moving items. All other professions can work remotely. Since the most significant obstacle—team communication—can be solved by web tools such as Slack and Zoom, nothing is impossible.”
—Rafal Mlodzki, CEO and co-founder, Passport-Photo Online
What skills do you need to manage a hybrid team?
“The ability to adapt quickly. When dealing with the needs of remote and in-person employees, you need to navigate a world of different and often unpredictable circumstances that can quickly derail even the best strategies. To succeed, you need to be able to pivot your strategy quickly in response to feedback, changes in circumstance, and signs that things simply aren’t working.”
“Effective hybrid managers must possess the ability to trust and develop people, both virtually and in person. While it may be difficult, at least initially, to adopt a hands-off approach to managing remote employees, it’s important to not fall into the trap of micromanaging once systems have been put in place. Instead, make time for one-on-ones to answer questions or to address concerns regarding productivity. Making employees feel seen, valued and heard is particularly important. The best hybrid managers do a great job of outlining the importance of all employees, regardless of whether they’re remote or in-office. Hybrid managers should also strive to be great identifiers of burnout or stress. If an employee’s productivity drops significantly with little explanation, it’s worth checking in with them. Hybrid managers should account for these struggles and offer relevant support, whether additional days off or counseling services.”
“The most important thing is the priority and its deadline, otherwise your folks will get lost in tasks that are unimportant. And if you have someone who is consistently unable to deliver tasks on time, you have enough hard information to counsel or eliminate them if necessary. And you will know who can and can’t handle working remotely quickly.”
—Nancy Jo Seaton, president, Seaton Food Consultants
“Managing a hybrid team requires organization, communication and understanding. You don’t need to know exactly where every employee is every second of the day, but you need to have an idea so you can coordinate meetings and events. A quick daily check-in or even a weekly meeting helps you stay on top of things without micromanaging. It’s also important to understand that no one works perfectly wherever they are. Knowing that your employees are working hard and doing their best, even at home, is key to managing a hybrid team.”
“While some may believe that emotion has no place in the workplace and that logic should rule, the finest leaders pay attention to how their employees are feeling and engage with them on an emotional level. It’s easy to overlook your team members’ emotions in the hybrid work paradigm, with associates out of the office for up to half the week. Remind your associates that you care about their feelings in one-on-one meetings and at team meetings, and invite them to share their thoughts as a group or privately with you. Emotional intelligence can be difficult to develop because it isn’t a hard talent like generating an Excel spreadsheet, but if you can cultivate your emotional IQ, you’ll be far better prepared to help your team navigate the speed bumps on the hybrid road ahead.”
—Lee Grant, CEO, Wrangu
“There is an element of creativity that needs to be present in all hybrid work managers. This is unprecedented territory, so managers need to be able to come up with new, exciting ways to keep their workforce engaged and on task. It is also critical that you provide comprehensive cybersecurity training for all members of staff, especially for those who are working remotely. The digital threat landscape from cybercrimes and cyberattacks has become much larger over the past couple years, due in huge part to the amount of remote work that’s happening. Managers need to start by understanding the threat, and then investing the time to train staff on how to spot vulnerabilities and suspicious behavior.”
“In a hybrid team, a manager should set productivity goals—feature X must be completed by the end of the month—and trust their team to accomplish them. Don’t worry about the hours or constantly having employees available for set hours. Harness the flexibility of remote work to allow employees to work the hours that suit them to increase productivity.”
—Scott Hirsch, CTO and Co-founder of TalentMarketplace
“Strong in-person communication skills and organization are must-haves for hybrid teams. You need the ability to effectively communicate with your in-person teams and relay that information to your remote workforce without losing any of the information along the way.”
“Managing a hybrid team requires good communication and delegation skills. There is a fine line between under-communicating and micromanaging, and managers need to find that balance. They also need to be able to delegate tasks and projects to people while not favoring/giving opportunities to certain workers over others.”
How do you keep culture and collaboration strong when you’re in a hybrid environment?
“We put extra effort into building solid relationships. Our favorite tool is Donut, the app that matches people randomly for off-topic chats. I believe it fulfills our fundamental desire as human beings to meet and socialize.”
“The best ways to keep culture and collaboration strong in a hybrid environment are to promote team building through virtual events, to be consistent when it comes to the communication channels, to continue promoting the company’s values and mission statement, and to make sure remote workers are not treated with any kind of negative bias that could lead to resentment.”
“As leaders, we must be more inspiring and less hierarchical. Companies thrive and grow through a sense of belonging and shared purpose that can fade when employees don’t feel treated equally. For them, it is important that every member feel represented. One of the research studies we conducted showed that 80 percent of millennials and centennials feel less connected to their peers and leaders since working from home, which means remote teams could struggle to connect and engage in the same way as face-to-face teams. To avoid this, leaders must turn to more inspirational forms of leadership that compensate for the lack of social encounters and face-to-face interactions.”
“Have a weekly knowledge-sharing discussion. I have seen wonderful results from creating a set weekly time when my team and employees from other departments are encouraged to come together in a physical or virtual space to discuss challenges/wins that occurred during the week. It’s a popcorn-style informal chat, but it leads to great results including sharing of techniques, lifted spirits and strengthening of interdepartmental relationships.”
—Jessica Zhao, chief marketing director, Spacewhite
“Implement a tool such as Cooldown to recreate those informal conversations that provide such great value no matter where you are. These programs make colleagues feel connected, help them find new ideas and help them solve roadblocks in creative ways.”
“One of our key goals when switching to a hybrid working model was to ensure that remote employees never felt isolated and disconnected from the company. In addition to meetings, we hold frequent virtual activities such as online painting classes, movie watch-alongs, murder mystery nights and training sessions. These activities help to maintain a sense of collaboration by providing an informal setting for our employees to work together in a fun and stress-free way. I believe that these activities, coupled with our daily meetings and frequent interactions over chat, have immensely helped with this goal.”
“It’s not impossible if you get creative. Virtual happy hours are a simple way to have people gather. Dividing employees into cross-departmental groups of five to seven people to gather and chat and play virtual games boosts morale and provides an opportunity to de-stress at the end of the week.”
“Communication is key to a positive culture. Letting your workers know you can’t do it without them is critical. Whether you tell them a client was pleased with their work or that they solved a problem—whatever it is, make sure they understand that the work they perform is critical to the business.”
—Nancy Jo Seaton
“Fostering a good work/life balance for hybrid and remote employees across time zones comes down to managers and each team member being mindful of their designated hours. As projects require a significant amount of interaction, workers must be conscientious of when and how they contact their teammates to avoid a constant sense of urgency. Being considerate of time zones will help keep stress levels low and reduce the chances of human error. For this reason, outlining project tasks with realistic timelines from the outset is essential to a healthy work/life balance in remote work. Setting a clear direction and an even-keeled communication process will help keep your remote workers rowing in the same direction, increase their productivity and give them time to enjoy their personal lives, too.”
—Shaunak Amin, co-founder and CEO, SnackMagic
“One of the best ways to make sure that collaboration continues to be prioritized in a hybrid workplace is to introduce a buddy system. This helps ensure a solid social connection. For a hybrid workplace, a buddy system between a remote and in-office employee would be especially beneficial to help bridge the gap between these two working modes. Make sure also to prioritize one-on-one mentorship between department managers and their direct employees and create a virtual learning community—Slack is a great option—for employees to connect, collaborate and share ideas.”
“To maintain a happy, productive team, leaders should do the following: Listen like they never have before, and hear not only the words their employees are saying, but also their tone of voice, their energy and what they’re not saying. Show up with empathy: The world is changing at a fast pace, and each person is going through different events. So having personalized communication is important as well. Offer psychological safety—Google’s research on the highest-performing teams showed that when teams have psychological safety and when people feel like they can show up as their true selves and say what they’re really thinking, the team is able to pivot, innovate and grow in today’s dynamic environment. Be optimistic. Leaders need to bring that energy because energy and emotions are contagious. It’s not about negating or ignoring what is happening, but about telling the teams and employees the positive things that are occurring in the company, in the world, in the community.”
—Tia Graham, chief happiness officer and founder, Arrive at Happy
Should you adjust pay for remote workers?
“No. It’s important to maintain parity between in-office and remote workers. Any form of preferential treatment given to in-office employees has the potential to cause major cultural divides within a team, resulting in increased turnover and limited collaboration. Instead, clearly outline to employees that pay will remain linked to productivity and results.”
“Some people may see remote work as a perk, but salary should be standard across roles. The only exception would be if the person was fully remote and living in an area with a radically different cost of living. Mark Zuckerberg used this method when allowing people to remain fully remote. He did so by adjust their salary if their cost of living was lower compared to a competitive city like San Francisco.”
“Most workers have made the same salary over the past year while working remotely. Changing that now will cause major problems. Remote workers may feel like they are being discriminated against.”
“Adjusting the salary can be cost-effective and sensible, but it can also make employers look selfish, unfair and prejudiced. As a result, employers may experience poor staff morale, poor performance and poor honesty.”
—Katherine Brown, founder and marketing director, Spyic
“No. Remote work only implies a change of the place of work, and not a difference in the scope of the employee’s duties, for the performance of which the employee is entitled to remuneration resulting from the content of the employment contract. Reducing the wages of employees could have a demotivating effect, and dissatisfied employees may start looking for a new job.”
“Paying employees less for working from home is a punishment. If you trust your employees to work from home in the first place, you should trust that they are performing their job to the same standards of someone working in the office.”
“Continue to pay remote workers the same salary you would pay them if they lived in the city where you are hiring. Companies are saving costs with real estate and can pass those savings on to employees.”
—Graham Ralston, operations, Spot
Notes from a health advisor and employee-manager liaison
I was hired during the pandemic as a holistic alternative to an organizational psychologist. Given that Covid was a particularly stressful time for our staffers, I “saw” (Zoomed with) many of them multiple times over this past year. In so doing, I’ve come to understand staff struggles regarding transitioning to remote work, work/life balance, pandemic fears, and intra-office stressors. I feel fortunate to have had that experience, as it’s helping me to retransition them back into the office or into hybrid work. There has been quite a bit of fallout over this—between both staff and management.
The major concerns I’m hearing are that some enjoyed the flexibility of working from home and are worried about the office being a super-spreader environment should there be another pandemic flare-up. We also have some vocal staffers who feel we should have mandated vaccines. Managers seem to lean toward wanting most if not all employees back in the office for at least half the week. In general, most staffers prefer to stay at home and don’t really see the reasoning in returning to work.
I’ve been the buffer between management and staff in terms of easing these concerns, making sure they are heard and then compromising between parties. We’ve decided to go with a hybrid work structure and have not mandated vaccinations. However, we have asked everyone to file whether they have been vaccinated, when, and with which vaccine (in case there is a variant flare-up). As you can probably read between the lines, Covid is the backdrop for “flexibility” rhetoric. Staff want agility regardless of the pandemic. Management is continuing to struggle to push the envelope of their understanding of a flex schedule.
—Nadia Charif, Coffeeble