What Does It Take to Master the Hybrid Workplace?

Solutions to help avoid the awkwardness and inefficiency that can arise from having some employees at home and others in the office, particularly when it comes to meetings and training.

The so-called “hybrid” workplace, in which employees have the choice of working remotely or in the office, is appealing, but not always easy to implement. An article by Emma Goldberg in The New York Times notes the awkwardness and inefficiency that can arise from having some employees at home and others in the office.

Goldberg shares a story from Brett Hautop, head of workplace at LinkedIn, of a meeting with an outside vendor in which half of his team was in-person with the vendor, while the other half participated remotely. “The firm wanted to sell its services to LinkedIn to help facilitate effective hybrid work. But the people making that pitch had turned their back to the video camera, so the LinkedIn employees joining by videoconference couldn’t see them,” Goldberg writes. “‘As they’re talking about how hard it is for people who are remote to keep up with conversations, they’re covering the camera,’” Hautop told Goldberg, adding, “People on my team were pinging me saying, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing this.’ And I was apologizing, saying, ‘Hey, guys, I’m sorry this is happening, they’re apparently not aware.’”

I have had difficulty during the pandemic coordinating meetings, with confusion arising about who will be remote and who will be in-person, and whether, with half the people remote, it would make more sense to have everyone participate remotely. In one case, a company wanting to meet at a conference suggested a meeting time. I assumed that since the request for the meeting would take place during the conference, it would be an entirely in-person meeting. Instead, I was informed that the people organizing the meeting would be logging in from remote locations while my team and I were together in-person. With so many people requesting in-person meetings at the conference, and our time limited, I decided to postpone the meeting. A remote meeting can happen anytime, so rushing to have the meeting during the conference didn’t made sense to me.

One way to get around the difficulty of coordinating meetings—or trainings—with part of a work team remote and part in-person, is to make a condition of the hybrid workplace that meetings with outside business contacts be either entirely in-person or entirely remote.

Another rule that can simplify hybrid workplaces is to define what “hybrid” means to your workplace. Does it mean each employee gets to decide whether they are in-office or remote, or is it up to each work group? One way to do it is to define hybrid as meaning each work group gets to decide whether it will work remotely or in-person, and if partially in-person, when, as a group, everyone will be expected to be in-person at the office.

Yet another approach is to allow individuals the freedom to decide how often, if at all, they want to be in-person, but to designate a certain number of days per month that each employee must reserve for a possible in-person appearance at the office. That way, those organizing meetings know in advance the days each month when the whole team will be available for in-person meetings.

There are two motivations for remote work. One is to keep safe from COVID-19 and the other is the convenience and flexibility of not having to come into the office. The first motivation, safety, can be addressed by requiring all employees to be fully vaccinated by a set date. When all (or at least most) employees are vaccinated, the chances of an in-office outbreak are low. The second motivation, based on having a desirable lifestyle, is harder to address. It’s true that requiring employees to come to the office anytime they would rather work from home will be considered a hardship by some. However, that perceived hardship can be lessened—and even eliminated altogether—by the kind of experience the employee has when in-person at your office.

With employers grappling with the “Great Resignation,” now is the perfect time to evaluate the employee experience when in your physical office. What could you do to make it an experience they would look forward to rather than dread? It could be adding more comfortable and private workstations or having all work groups in-person in the office eligible for an employer-sponsored lunch or after-work gathering. A lunch or after-hours social gathering with colleagues may be something to want to get off the couch—and out of the driveway—for.

Does your company offer a hybrid workplace? If so, how are you coordinating in-person and remote employees so work and meetings flow smoothly and efficiently? If you do not yet offer a hybrid workplace, why not? What would it take for you to create a successful hybrid workplace?