Workplace Dynamic Duos

Should you pair employees up to share the same job role?

Since the pandemic, there has been a stronger-than-ever focus on work-life balance, even as workloads continue to increase. Add to that a widespread battle against loneliness, and splitting roles between two people sounds like a potentially good idea.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recently shared with CNBC that his company has experimented with hiring two people for a job role, rather than just one. “I often do pair people,” Chesky told CNBC. “Four years ago, we hired two creative directors. They worked together as a duo… It worked so well that I started thinking about this notion of duos in other areas.”

I know something about being overloaded with work and having a lonely journey getting it all done. Now that most employees are back in the office at least part-time, it makes sense to explore new ways of collaborating. Should you ever have a situation in which a solitary employee is surrounded by work groups? The solitary employee doubtless has a manager, but that manager in today’s world may be based elsewhere or may not come into the office as regularly. The employee also may have colleagues who are in the same department, but who are not necessarily collaborators in their work.

Loneliness is bad on its own, but it can be accentuated when you’re the odd person out among groups of others who are collaborating. For positions like those, would it make sense right from the get-go to hire two people for the same role, rather than one?

How Would You Budget for the Shared Role?

Most organizations would not be willing—nor could they afford—to pay two people at the same salary they would have paid for one. The position would have to be rethought, so the two people hired each would have fewer responsibilities than the one person formerly in the role, and, as a result, the individual salaries would be lower. You also must determine whether the role is still as senior a position when it’s divided between two people and when the workload is lighter.

The good part is there is no shortage of mid-level, or even entry-level, employees who are looking for new opportunities and a chance to add to their resume. Most would consider it ideal to also advance upward at the same time, but many would be happy just to add to their workplace experience.

Is It a Competition?

I’m not a competitive person, but for those who idealize competition, you could hire two people in the same role to share responsibilities and then advance the one who does the best job to a higher-level role a year or two later.

I once was told that at advertising agencies, two creative people sometimes are paired to work together. They each come up with ideas for the same ad campaign, but there can only be one winning idea. For a sensitive person like me, it would be hard to keep feelings of goodwill toward that other person!

Yet another challenge of hiring two for the same role is figuring out how to avoid turf wars. Both can’t do the exact same work, after all. A manager would have to give each employee clearcut responsibilities that are based on each person’s greatest strengths. For example, one employee in the role could be responsible for reaching out to new clients and building business relationships, while the other employee, who may be more introverted and more attuned to detail-oriented work, could do more of the backend tasks. They could be the designated person who takes care of communications with clients, and who refines the big-picture, but vague plans, their colleague hammered out.

If two people with vastly different personalities are paired, and a manager doesn’t carve out distinct responsibilities for the two, more than turf wars could occur—the two could be at each other’s throats. Completing the exact same work with a person who is nothing like you is usually frustrating.

Unnecessary Unicorns

As Chesky notes, it’s hard for “one person to be a unicorn,” having all the abilities and skill sets that are needed for a job role. If managed correctly, you can ease the burden of your organization’s workhorses, so no one must pretend to have a magical horn.

Is hiring two people for a job role formerly held by one person something you have experimented with in your organization? What does this arrangement require to be successful?