Entrepreneurs

Why Hybrid Work Environments Are Failing Enterprises

By Andy Tryba, co-founder and CEO of Ionic Partners, as well as the CEO of Gigster and Sparkrock.

Many leaders today believe that hybrid work environments are the future. They are wrong.

Before we get into why I think this, let’s first define the different work models. A fully remote workplace means that all employees work from home or other remote locations. An all-in-person workplace means that all employees work from a central office location. A hybrid workplace, on the other hand, combines both remote and in-person work. Some employees work from home and others work in the office.

At first glance, the hybrid model seems like a good idea: Give the employees choice and flexibility while leveraging your fancy office space. So what’s wrong with hybrid? Turns out, it’s the worst of both worlds.

Using a circuit as a metaphor, we can think of employees in both fully remote and all-in-person environments as equal “nodes.” Through necessity and opportunity, each employee forms “high-bandwidth connections” between the nodes, allowing for quick communication and collaboration.

In an in-person environment, people physically interact with each other in meeting spaces, conference rooms, hallways, etc. Tons of connections and collaborations occur. In a fully remote world, each node is forced to connect through remote collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Confluence, etc., but each node is still equal. The CEO doesn’t get an extra “knock knock” on your Slack notification. Everyone has to spawn connections to understand what’s going on, get help, make decisions and operate. These remote connections are harder to build but eventually, tons of connections and collaborations also occur (arguably more than in physical offices).

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However, in a hybrid work model, a split emerges. The in-person nodes create high-bandwidth connections with each other but rarely pull in the remote nodes. They don’t mean harm, but it’s extra effort to ping Bob on Teams and pull him into the hallway chat. So it just doesn’t happen. As a result, the in-person teams operate at a much faster rate. And the connections out to remote employees become super low-bandwidth—like dial-up speed. Remote employees are no longer privy to impromptu discussions and quick changes of information that happen in the office.

In my experience, hybrid work models fail companies in three ways:

1. Remote employees quickly become irrelevant.

As the in-office employees collaborate and socialize without the remote employees, the remote employees become less connected to the pulse of the organization. Even worse, when decisions are made in impromptu hallway meetings, the remote employee’s thoughts are not included. Oftentimes, they are not even told about the decisions. Remote employees become secondary, despite their position or tenure.

2. Remote employees lose information and power.

When these in-person discussions occur (which is all the time, every day), they are rarely documented. And if they are it’s highly unusual to also include the train of thought, debate or alternatives considered. This leads to a significant lack of information for remote employees and handicaps them. Then, it leads to decreased productivity and a feeling of being out of the loop. Over time, remote employees will lose power within the company due to their lack of information and connections to decision-making.

3. The company no longer focuses on remote culture.

In a hybrid work model, the old-school office culture takes over. Everyone knows and is comfortable with random coffee chats, happy hours, birthday cakes and other “normal” social activities. Human beings are social, and there’s no problem with that. The issue is that it’s harder, if not impossible, for remote employees to be part of these activities, leading to a feeling of isolation and disconnection from the company culture.

To do hybrid work effectively, companies must be “remote first” and not just “pandemic remote.” Upgrade your equipment and platforms. Offices, by definition, are not remote-first, and that’s why you see lackluster video conference room setups like a camera shooting down the length of the table. Companies should also commit to taking advantage of higher-caliber global talent, asynchronous decision-making and work occurring while others sleep.

If companies can’t commit to this, they should go all-in on in-person or fully remote work. Either step into the future or step back to what you know. But ditch the hybrid.

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