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Between remote-for-life advocates and organizations insisting on an office return, hybrid companies live in a gray area. These businesses may have leases they can’t break or teams who want access to workspaces (but not obligations to be there). Separated from fully remote and fully co-located companies, the businesses hiring in hybrid spaces face several unanswered questions.
Some companies, like Remote, will never have offices. But the exclusively remote model is a rarity for now. Among companies allowing employees to work remotely, like PwC, it’s far more common to allow employees the option to work remotely without abandoning the office altogether.
Hybrid work does not solve the challenges of either extreme. Instead, these workplaces must navigate all the challenges of office work and remote work at once.
In this article, we’ll cover the specifics of what constitutes a hybrid workplace; which model is better for companies and employees; and how to develop a hiring policy for companies in the middle.
What is a hybrid workplace?
A hybrid workplace is a company that allows employees to work from the office, remotely, or a mix of the two. The hybrid model is appealing because it allows companies to offer flexibility for employees to choose — but don’t be fooled. Offering twice the options means twice the opportunities for something to go wrong.
There are a few different types of hybrid workplaces:
Hybrid by employee
In some cases, employees choose whether to work remotely or from the office. Employees might make a rare swap (for example, an office worker might work remotely while on a trip, or a remote worker may come in for an important meeting). These cases are the exception, though. In a hybrid model by employee, workers primarily stick to one or the other.
Operating this way creates two distinct workforces within the company: the remote team and the office team. Companies must be careful not to favor one group over the other. In many cases, companies unintentionally treat the office as the default, making remote workers feel unappreciated and unwelcome. When hiring for a hybrid workplace, employers need to make it clear, by policy and by practice, that employees on both sides are treated equally.
Hybrid by time
A few companies allow employees to work remotely, but not every day of the week. For example, a company may allow employees to work from home on Fridays. Amazon announced a policy like this. Some companies have adopted a “core hours” model, in which employees must be present at the office for certain hours on certain days but are otherwise free to choose when to come and go.
This model can make sense for companies where all employees share similar time zones. However, companies should think critically about why they want employees in the office. Following a hybrid model by time may make sense for engineering, architecture, and other hands-on disciplines. If employees can do their jobs fully remotely, however, it’s usually better to allow them the freedom to do so.
Hybrid by location
Hybrid by location is a dangerous option for a few reasons. In this hybrid model, all employees near company offices are required to come to work, while those beyond a certain distance are allowed to work remotely. This model can easily lead to scattered remote workers feeling like second-class citizens, especially if the company does not have a head of remote to advocate for their experiences.
When following a hybrid model based on worker location, leaders should again think critically about why they require certain workers to come to the office. If two people do the same job, why should one come to the office and another work remotely, just because they live in two different places?
These three types of hybrid workplaces cover most situations, but with newfound flexibility, companies continue to come up with new options. In all cases, businesses should prioritize the employee experience and seek to treat all employees equally, no matter how they work.
Which is better: remote, hybrid, or office?
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. At Remote, we’re a bit biased and believe that any company that can work fully remotely should do so, if possible. However, we recognize that a fully remote team does not make sense in every situation.
Here are a few pros and cons to working remotely, in an office, or in a hybrid environment:
Fully remote workplaces
Fully remote teams enjoy the greatest individual freedom. With a fully remote team, a company can easily hire from any country in the world. These teams tend to work asynchronously, which means people are mostly free to set their own schedules. Fully remote teams prioritize the measurement of results over hours and understand that everyone works a little differently.
That’s not to say remote work is right for everyone. Building culture in a remote organization is possible, but doing so requires commitment and cooperation within the leadership team. In addition, some employees may not have dedicated spaces at home in which to work, which can create issues. Some organizations, especially those in manufacturing and other hands-on industries, cannot transition to a fully remote model because of the type of work they perform.
All things considered, fully remote teams enjoy far more advantages than drawbacks. Companies must be deliberate in how they operate, but remote companies are not harder to run than office-based ones. They simply force leaders to think about factors they may have taken for granted in the past.
As outlined in an earlier section, hybrid workplaces can take many forms. These companies have the advantage of being able to appeal to all types of employees: those who want offices, those who want to work remotely, and those who want a mix of the two.
Hybrid companies face some steep challenges for this advantage. For starters, hybrid companies must be careful to ensure all employees feel equally supported. Hosting meetings with remote workers as a Zoom-camera-in-the-corner afterthought is one example of how not to do hybrid work. The same concept extends to time zones: workers outside the time zones of the company’s offices may feel more like contractors than full employees.
Overall, hybrid workplaces are harder to get right than fully remote or fully co-located ones. Businesses can make it work, but to do so, they must continually evaluate the experience of both types of employees and find new and innovative ways to foster connections.
Employees who have the ability to work remotely will likely want the option to do so, at least sometimes. Of course, that’s not always possible. Many types of workers physically cannot work remotely, like chefs, construction workers, certain engineers, etc. Even among workers who can work remotely, though, offices have their advantages. Company culture is easy to foster when employees physically sit next to one another all day.
Offices do have a tendency to make leaders overlook certain problems. For example, just because culture happens organically does not mean the culture is good. In addition, it’s easier for managers to hide behind micromanagement as a leadership style within an office.
For people who work on computers, office work is now a choice rather than the default. Companies must consider that many top prospects and candidates for open roles may not even consider office-only jobs, especially those that require them to relocate. For companies to stay competitive in attracting and retaining the best talent, insisting upon office work is a luxury very few employers can afford.
This analysis covers most of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of workplaces. Individual employees and prospects will always have their own preferences, and different industries will set their own norms. As the world becomes more comfortable with remote work, though, fewer and fewer companies will be able to get away with office-only policies.
Developing an effective hybrid hiring policy
For organizations with hybrid workplaces — likely the majority of companies for the next decade, at least — hiring poses a host of new challenges.
How do hybrid companies post jobs? Where can employees work? How do companies stay compliant with different laws as employees work from different places?
Don’t worry, though. As confusing as establishing an effective hybrid hiring policy may be, the practice is easier than the theory once you get things in motion. Here are a few tips to design a hybrid hiring policy that will keep great candidates in your pipeline for years to come:
1. Think of the company as remote-first.
Even if you only have a few employees working remotely, the whole company must think of the remote experience to keep remote employees engaged. Show potential employees that no matter where they choose to work, the company will treat them with respect. Host all interviews the same way, such as by video call, to avoid introducing unconscious bias into the hiring process.
2. Make your documentation public.
Show employees what working at your company will be like by making your documentation public. Remote, for example, makes its entire company handbook publicly available. Anyone can see things like the company’s values, processes, benefits, and interview expectations (for both candidates and interviewers!). Making documentation public not only sets expectations but also allows candidates who read the material to stand out with their knowledge of the business.
3. Clarify locations in job postings.
Many companies offer “remote” jobs that are only remote in a weak sense. These jobs are usually limited to one country, sometimes even one city. Before posting a job as remote, think about whether the company is really open to hiring candidates from anywhere. If not, put that location in the job description instead.
4. Double-check your compliance.
Can your company hire employees in other countries? That answer depends on whether you own an entity in the country and what type of worker you want to hire. You can pay contractors anywhere, but to hire an employee, you either need to own a local legal entity or work with an employer of record (EOR) to handle the compliance details.
5. Consider global benefits and compensation.
If you hire workers from all over, don’t limit your benefits to certain areas. Offering benefits to some employees but not others based on location is a great way to make people feel alienated. Finding equitable benefits for all can be difficult, but do the legwork to ensure everyone on the team feels valued. Remember to make your benefits packages compliant with the local laws where your employees work, especially regarding paid time off.
6. Classify your employees correctly.
Are your hiring employees or contractors? Answering incorrectly can lead to major fines and penalties. Give contractors the freedom and space they need to run independently. If you have questions, consult your employer of record or legal resources in the country where your workers operate.
Done right, your hybrid workplace hiring policy should place diversity and inclusivity at the top of your list of priorities. Offering flexibility and choice allows you to hire employees from a wide variety of locations and backgrounds. Use this advantage to expand your hiring horizons, clarify your policies, and build an organization that welcomes everyone.