Why Hybrid Work Doesn’t Work
On paper, hybrid work seems like the best of both worlds: the flexibility to work remotely a few days a week without the commute or strict hours and the ease of in-person collaboration and culture-building the rest of the week.
The pandemic proved that most people can work remotely. And 91% of people who work remotely want to keep doing so at least some of the time.
So why are so many companies and employees struggling with hybrid work?
You have to have the right mindset and pieces in place to maximize the power of hybrid work.
Here’s when hybrid work doesn’t work:
You don’t know what hybrid work means
How can you make something work if you don’t know what it means? The whole point of hybrid work is flexibility and giving employees freedom and choices in where and how they work. But too often, companies and leaders think hybrid work means a strict policy of something like three days in the office and two days at home. The rigid schedule removes the autonomy from people, which is the purpose of hybrid work.
Hybrid work won’t work if employees feel pushed into a specific schedule that doesn’t meet their needs. To succeed, leaders need to embrace the flexibility of hybrid schedules and work with their employees to create a plan that works for them instead of just following a blanket rule.
This new world of remote and hybrid work requires autonomy and trust. Leaders can no longer pop into their employees’ offices to see what they’re working on or be directly involved with every step of a project. When leaders try to micromanage hybrid workers, it can end up distracting them from their work and significantly decrease productivity.
If companies and leaders want to offer hybrid schedules to give employees freedom, they truly have to give them freedom, not the illusion of freedom hidden behind micromanagement.
Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, says a hybrid schedule goes against the top-down control model companies have followed for decades. “It doesn’t mean not holding workers accountable with goals. But rather giving them space and trust to get the job done. You can have a yearly meeting or a quarterly get-together, but asking them to spend one or two hours in a car or subway commuting just to have them in the office a certain number of days a week, just doesn’t make sense anymore.”
You don’t have the right tools
A hybrid work schedule without reliable connectivity and the right tech tools is like trying to run a marathon in clown shoes — it might seem doable at first but ends up making you slow and frustrated.
Hybrid work only works if employees have the necessary tools to get their jobs done anywhere. Even if they have a great setup in the office, they also need a reliable setup at home to connect and collaborate with colleagues. Work shouldn’t slow down because some people are working from home that day, so dependable technology is crucial.
To be effective, technology needs to follow the ACE framework I created:
A: Available to everyone. Every employee has access to the right technology.
C: Consumer-grade technology. Instead of using bulky systems, companies use intuitive consumer-grade software and devices that employees already use in their lives outside work.
E: Employee needs versus business needs. Ask employees what they need to do their jobs well instead of just giving them what the business thinks they need.
You don’t know how to set boundaries
One of the major benefits of hybrid work is that it gives employees the freedom to take breaks at home, go for a walk, and not have to commute and sit in an office. But those benefits are negated when leaders and companies don’t set boundaries. 80% of HR leaders say hybrid work is exhausting for employees, largely because of the need to always be online and available.
Hybrid work doesn’t work when employees don’t have boundaries. Companies wouldn’t expect an employee to be at their desk in the office at all hours or the day and night, yet they expect that from hybrid workers. We have incredible connection tools that make remote possible. But connectivity doesn’t imply availability. Just because someone is connected doesn’t mean they always have to be working. To maximize the benefits of hybrid work, companies must lean into the freedom and allow employees flexibility to live their lives while fulfilling their responsibilities.
Hybrid work is undoubtedly the future of work. But it doesn’t work without effort and the right tools.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking and working with some of the world’s top leaders. Here are 15 of the best leadership lessons that I learned from the CEOs of organizations like Netflix, Honeywell, Volvo, Best Buy, The Home Depot, and others. I hope they inspire you and give you things you can try in your work and life. Get the PDF here.