Is Hybrid Work Really New?

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What does your return to the office look like? Odds are, the office doesn’t look and act exactly as it did before Covid. Statistically, most people will have more flexibility to work from home or other locations and will come into the office sometimes, but rarely five days a week. A lot of people call that hybrid work. But is that the right word for it?

What we had was not so much a conscious policy, as an arrangement. You had people in multiple locations, but it wasn’t a true hybrid – it was a blend. People were working from other locations, but the default was the office location and office hours. Policies and metrics were based on office locations, and everyone else reached a compromise that worked for them.

A hybrid is something truly different. Think about a mule. It’s not a horse, nor is it a donkey, although it contains traits of both. It’s a blend, but it is actually a third, separate animal. A hybrid is not just a blend of two or more factors, it’s a separate, unique unit.

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True hybrid work is not “just the same” as the pre-Covid compromise. Done properly, it is something else – an entirely new way of looking at work that leverages the best traits of both remote and co-located teams.

The traditional blended approach looks at what work gets done in which locations. Meetings, brainstorming, and social interaction takes place in the office, while quiet, analytical work is often more effective when you’re in control of your environment. What distinguishes hybrid work from the old method is the introduction of a third element: time. It’s not just what and where but when work gets done.

The traditional blended workplace is based on people being available to each other at more or less the same time. Most communication is synchronous. (That’s one reason we’re up to our necks in Teams meetings all day.) We are trying to replicate the in-office experience as much as we can.

The main attraction to hybrid work is flexibility, not just of location but of time. Even on teams where people are expected to be in the office a couple of days a week (which is synchronous work), what are the expectations of those not in the office? Does it matter if they are unavailable at 10am as long as the work gets done in a high-quality manner? Do people need to be on every meeting, or are they using specific chat rooms for ongoing discussions and capturing their best thinking before and after a meeting without the clock ticking or interfering with other work?

Hybrid work allows for people to do the right work at the right time, while accounting for work/life balance and following our body clocks. Some people do their best work at night when the kids are asleep. Some are traveling, and time zones means making that 10am Eastern time inconvenient, if not impossible.

As you contemplate your return to office, are you and your organization looking at true hybrid solutions or simply going back to the old nine-to-five (or whatever) with some people on webcam? Are you looking at critical factors such as alternatives to yet another meeting, collecting people’s best brainstorming ideas using asynchronous tools, and being intentional about optimizing time together in the office?

At its best, hybrid work is using time as an asset, not something to fight against. That will require new ways of thinking and a lot of trial and error to get right.

You’re up to the challenge.

wayne turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a writer, speaker, and co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. For 25 years, he has helped people communicate effectively to lead employees, teams, and projects. For the last 12 years, he has focused on learning the skills necessary to survive – and thrive – in the complex world of remote work. Wayne is the author of 12 books, including Meet Like You Mean It: A Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings and The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership, which he co-authored with Kevin Eikenberry. He has worked with clients and spoken at conferences around the world, and Marshall Goldsmith has called him “One of the most unique voices in leadership.” Originally from Canada, Wayne now lives and works in Las Vegas.

Connect with Wayne on LinkedIn.

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