3 Persistent Myths About Hybrid Work
If you learn a hobby on your own, you risk developing bad habits or poor techniques that will come back to haunt you later. However, an experienced instructor can guide you to improve your performance in a healthy, sustainable way.
Expert guidance also makes a difference for organizations adopting the hybrid work model. Without it, employers tend to make decisions based on common assumptions and myths, which can create unhealthy, unsustainable working conditions. In this post, we dispel three perpetual myths so you won’t make the mistake of falling for them.
#1: Hybrid work will improve our culture—OR—Hybrid work will destroy our culture.
The truth is, neither is true. If your culture is strong, hybrid won’t break it. Conversely, hybrid won’t fix a weak culture.
However, culture has a major impact on the success of the hybrid work model. For example, if leaders and managers don’t trust employees, where they work is unimportant. This lack of trust will inevitably damage the organization’s culture—and remote work could exacerbate the problem.
You may have heard Elon Musk’s mandate to his employees: “Remote work is no longer acceptable” Musk said staff should stop “phoning it in.” Yes, he really said that. Contrast Musk’s stance with Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s remarks: “For me, it’s simple: I trust you, and flexibility only works when you trust the people on your team.”
Leaders and managers, like Musk, tend to use hybrid as an excuse for cultural weaknesses or strengths. But the work model—remote, hybrid, or office—doesn’t dictate the type of culture; people and their decisions either improve or destroy culture.
Take advantage of your transition to the hybrid work model to improve your organization’s culture.
- How can you build more flexibility in when, where, and how people work?
- How can you ensure managers and staff respect work/life boundaries?
- How can you promote belonging and inclusion among employees who work remotely?
- How can you foster and demonstrate your trust in employees?
Like so many aspects of workplace culture and practices, hybrid success depends on intentionality. If you are intentional and transparent about the reasons behind your decisions and practices, you can improve culture.
#2: We must establish set days for each team to come into the office.
We see this practice all the time. A manager declares, “Our team will come into the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.” On the surface this seems like the best of both worlds, but without intentionality it can become, as Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman calls it, “the hell of half measures.”
This decision assumes the office is the best place for each team member to work every Tuesday and Wednesday, but does it serve that purpose for the individual, team, manager, and organization?
If a team wants to meet in person on a Tuesday to hash out strategy and future plans, that’s fine. But what if an employee has research, writing, or other deep work requiring focus to do on Wednesday? Do you think they can concentrate best at the office or at home? What if the best day for an employee to attend a project kick-off meeting is Thursday? Can they come into the office that day instead?
Just because you set a schedule, don’t assume it’s optimal for everyone. Different tasks require different degrees of focus and collaboration. Top-down schedules set by leadership or decided at the department or manager level can lack intentionality, especially if it results from arbitrarily dividing up staff among the days of the week just to become “hybrid.”
Prudential’s CEO, Charles Lowrey, has the right idea. He said, “[Employees] do need to come into the office for innovation, for learning, and for culture… Bring people back with purpose. Otherwise, there’s work that they probably can do more efficiently at home.”
Identify the individual, departmental, and organizational purposes served when employees gather, and the purposes served when they have the flexibility to work at home. Leave scheduling up to each team but provide guidelines for team-led decision-making. For example, advise them to schedule time together for in-person social bonding, which can help teams cohere, collaborate, and succeed. Make sure collaborative work occurs when teams come to the office and they’re not just answering emails or taking calls from their cubicle.
Hybrid can give you the best of both worlds but only if you take an intentional, not arbitrary, approach.
#3: We’ve done in-person and we’ve done remote, so hybrid should be easy.
When your organization first adopted the hybrid work model, you tried to make the best of it. You figured things out as you went along, but you mostly focused on getting your work done, not researching the best hybrid work and management practices—that’s our job!
Hybrid work introduces many new management challenges:
- Creating an equitable workplace for both remote and office-based employees
- Keeping communication flowing between both groups
- Recognizing and rewarding staff appropriately
These challenges require a different management approach and a new set of management skills. Because this is unfamiliar territory for most people, don’t assume your managers know what’s best to say and do. Managers are culture carriers. If they don’t have the knowledge and skills to manage hybrid teams, your organization’s performance and culture will suffer. Make sure they get the support and training they need.
In the absence of experience and information it can be easy to default to myths and assumptions about hybrid. However, building trust within organizations, incorporating intentionality and transparency, and preparing ourselves to meet new management challenges are the realities of hybrid.
Returning to the office or transitioning to a new workforce model has many moving parts. Let us know if you’d like to discuss your plan and the purpose for your decisions.