The media has declared that the future of work is hybrid.
(Just so we’re all on the same page, this is how I’d define hybrid work: The company plans to have employees working from home part of the time and in an office part of the time. That’s from our remote work dictionary).
This argument for hybrid work comes off as lazy.
The basic premise seems to be that we all have these offices from 2019 and we all worked from home in 2020, so let’s just combine the two and call it the future of work. Put another way, we all have office leases to fill but everyone wants to work from home.
There are three reasons hybrid work has no future
Incentive structures run the world. As Charlie Munger, billionaire investor and right-hand man to Warren Buffett, said, “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome.”
The incentives force hybrid companies to choose fully remote or fully in-person operating systems over time. Here’s why and how all these companies will switch to remote-first within a few years.
1. The hybrid work model is the hardest on internal communication, forcing the company toward fully remote or fully in-person.
When all of your people work from home, communication channels are digital. You have no choice. It’s easy to decide where conversations happen.
When all of your people work in an office together, all meetings happen in person. Side chats can take place at desks. It’s easy to decide where conversations happen.
When some people are at home and some are in the office, it’s harder to pick the right communication channels to fit everyone’s needs.
- Where do meetings take place, in person or on Zoom?
- Where are quick, impromptu decisions made, in the hallway or on Slack?
- If everyone is in the office for a big meeting except one person, should we set up a Zoom call just for that person or not invite them at all?
As a result of this confusion, companies will define either a remote-first communication model or office-first communication model.
If they choose to be a remote-first company, they need the office less and less and it therefore becomes a liability rather than an asset. Each new hire, more likely than not, would be remote pushing the team toward fully remote over time. Then, the office goes away. There is no hybrid left.
If they choose to be an office-first company, they’d encourage more visits to the office from remote employees. Each new job posting would be for an in-person position replacing one remote position with an in-person one step-by-step. The leadership team would build into their culture the importance of in-person collaboration. There is no hybrid left.
The incentive to pick clear communication channels will force the company away from hybrid. Points two and three below show why they’ll choose remote first.
2. The talent pool is greatly reduced by a physical location, forcing many more fully remote new hires.
Let’s assume a company announces a new hybrid remote work policy because it anticipates 50% of its people will be in the office at any given time.
How will things progress from there?
For example, let’s say the sales team needs to hire five new people. They post the jobs as hybrid positions–in the office a few days a week and at home a few. But, that requires the person to live locally, within a 50-mile radius. They get a just a handful of applicants because the talent pool is limited geographically.
They decide to change the job posting to remote or hybrid, the candidate can choose. The company figures it already supports this sort of structure for remote work, why not expand it a bit?
With that posting, they receive tons of applicants and make four of the five hires as fully remote because the talent pool was the whole country (or world).
The company is now more remote than hybrid.
Each new job posting after that will have the remote option in order attract better talent.
The incentive to hire around the country or world will overtake the desire to run a hybrid model. The company will become “remote-first” within a few years.
3. The company will pay for an office it doesn’t need, pushing the balance toward fully remote work.
Now, the company has the majority of it’s people operating in fully-remote positions. The people left using the office are the minority.
Every meeting will have more remote people than office people, forcing the meetings to be held online. In-office employees are essentially working remotely from within the office.
Ultimately, the leadership team holds a meeting (on Zoom, all from their living rooms) to answer the question, “Do we really need this office?”
- Most of our team is remote because that’s how we could find talent
- We’re about to make this big decision over Zoom, maybe in-person collaboration is overrated
- Oh by the way, the office is our second biggest expense…
The incentive to cut the cost of office space will overtake what’s left of the idea of hybrid work. The company will become “remote-first” forever.
You won’t hear much about hybrid work in five years
Let’s go back to the beginning. What I think is really happening here is that we’re transitioning from primarily in-office work to primarily remote work. But, companies still have long leases on their office spaces. Some people are excited to get back to the office, even if they are in the minority. And since most people are based near the office, let’s just say we’re now hybrid.
The problem is that hybrid does not last as a long-term, viable option.
First, the communication channels turn remote.
Then, the workforce turns remote.
Finally, the office space goes away.
And all of the companies that announced hybrid models in 2020-2021 will announce remote-first models by 2025.
What do the Buildremote experts have to say?
The article above takes you through my personal opinion on hybrid work and the future. But there are many informed and different views on the topic. I shared this article with my list of expert contributors to hear some of those other opinions. Here are some of the useful responses I received.
Hybrid work is here to staySince most of our employees are now vaccinated, we’ve been doing our research on whether or not to stay remote, have a hybrid situation, or have our employees come back onsite. We surveyed our workers, and over 65% say they need flexible remote work options, but over 55% are wanting more in-person time with their teams. For us, that = a hybrid solution.We’re considering redesigning our office space to accommodate for a hybrid style of working. We’d reduce the size of the office and personnel can come in one week, and work from home the next.I believe the scenarios you brought up will work themselves out. For example, if everyone is in the office for a big meeting except one person, setting up a Zoom chat is a perfect solution. I think we’ll all adjust ourselves mentally and look at it from the 100% inclusive standpoint.
Jagoda Wieczorek, Head Of HR at ResumeLab
The office will never go awayEven though there are many benefits to remote work, and many companies seem to be shifting in that direction, there will always be a place for the office. One reason for this is people simply aren’t as motivated to get up in the morning and work from their own home in their pajamas. Companies hire managers for a reason, so they can motivate and make sure employees are working, because many employees are unable to direct their work on their own. When companies allow an office for in-person work, it helps the people who need the extra motivation and social push to get their work done each day. For that reason, I never see offices fully going away.
Stacy Caprio, Founder of Her.CEO
Required office attendance leads to turnoverRequiring staff to attend an office will also lead to turnover. As your employees live their lives, some will move to other cities, states and countries — maybe because they met a partner, want to be closer to family, or just always want to try something new. Some employees that are tied to an office will leave your organization to pursue these other priorities. Remote employees have the flexibility to make these changes while staying with you, and as long as they have a quiet space and stable internet connection in the new location then work productivity should be stable.The move doesn’t even have to be far. I’ve had friends that moved within a city and changed jobs because they didn’t want a 30 minute commute. One of the most commonly cited benefits of working from home is the lack of commute, and how you can just get up and start working. If you force hybrid on your workforce, you diminish that benefit.
Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding
On-demand office space is the future
Ownership is a dying concept, at least in the physical sense. Thanks to Uber and Lyft, there’s no need to own a car. Thanks to Spotify, there’s no need to own a record collection. And thanks to the growth of remote work, there’s no need to own an office. But people still enjoy driving their own car, people still enjoy playing a vinyl record, and some businesses will still insist on maintaining an office presence.
This isn’t incompatible with running a largely remote business. In fact, it points to a future in which agility and adaptability are prized business attributes. Businesses will maintain some kind of shared space, albeit on a flexible lease model. I see the future as businesses renting space in a shared office on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis according to need.
Fraser Wilson, Global Head of Marketing at AnswerConnect
A company divide is likely to form with hybrid work
People are social creatures, and naturally will tend to form communities. This is great if your entire company exists as a tight-knit community. When a community split happens, however, problems arise. People start subconsciously playing favorites. Politics surface more quickly. People feel mistreated. It’s possible to keep the community as one, but it’s much harder than if you are all remote.
Sam Claassen of Building Remotely