Sorry: there is no such thing as hybrid work.

It is the big star of the post-Covid business: hybrid work is a major concern for businesses, which see it as a way to reconcile the demand for remote working from employees with their own desire to maintain a minimum of social connection or control. But like many good ideas implemented for the wrong reasons, this is likely to result in something very disappointing.

Hybrid work: a trade-off that’s nothing new

What is hybrid work? To use the approach of most businesses, it is a trade-off between 100% remote working and 100% on-site working. It also includes a variable on the place of work: between working at home and at the office, there is also working in third places closer to the employee’s home: without being at the office, the employee is in a place of work “controlled” by the business.

A brilliant concept supposed to reconcile the demand of employees for remote working and the desire of businesses not to lose the physical link with their employees, it is not particularly new.

With very few exceptions, in the businesses that implemented it in an organized way before the pandemic (and for some of them since the mid-2000s or even before), remote working was never 100% teleworking. So it was a hybrid from the start.

As for the third place, it’s a subject I’ve been hearing about for the last ten years or so and which, once again, is nothing new for the most mature businesses on the subject.

But it doesn’t matter if the reflection on hybrid work is an opportunity to make something new out of something old, if it is going to result in a device that works, that’s a great thing. The real problem is the reasons why.

Businesses want to ease up on remote working…but not too much

Even if forced remote working has been experienced very unevenly by employees, there will be a before and after COVID. And in a context that will be more or less normal again, the question will no longer be whether remote working is possible, but how much.

A movement that businesses don’t want to go against, but without going too far. Why not? Because whatever we say, their culture is not yet ready for it, remote working practices are not or not very well established (office practices have been transposed to remote working, with some tinkering but without adopting practices specific to remote working) and most managers are uncomfortable with employees who are not working under their eyes, especially as they do not know how to express their leadership in such a context (if they have a shred of leadership, which is another subject). Added to this is the belief that corporate culture only exists and spreads when people are together, which is a subject we’ll talk about at length another time.

In short, hybrid work is a way for the business to give employees what they want while reducing the impact on the organization.

But the problem is that when it comes to remote working and hybrid working, employees and businesses seem to agree on the principle but do not want to change things for the same reasons. And when you want to do the same thing for different purposes it often happens that in the end one or both parties do not get the expected result.

When one person is remote, everyone is remote

So I was saying that for the business, the idea was often to change without changing too much. If employees are just a little bit remote, not necessarily at home but in a “validated” workplace, the impact on the organization and its culture would be less and the effort to adapt or even transform moderate. They are likely to be disappointed.

Based on the principle that remote working is not only a question of location but also, and above all, a new operating model (in remote working what counts is not so much the remote as the work), experience shows that it is not the number of remote workers that counts but the fact that at least one person is remote.

In other words, if in a team of 10 people, 9 are in the office and 1 is at a distance, it is the 9 who will have to adapt their work practices to the one who is not physically with them. And let’s not forget that for this person it is 90% of the team that is at a distance because we are always used to putting ourselves in the place of the one who is in the office to decide what is a normal situation, but for the one who is not there, normality is the distance.

But “moderate” remote working can have even greater negative effects than widespread remote working. When the health crisis forced teleworking on everyone, everyone was careful because everyone was remote. If you find yourself in a situation where only 10-20% of a team are remote, the risk of the 80% acting as if the others did not exist is anything but negligible.

In short, as soon as one person is remote, everyone is remote and must adopt remote work practices, even between people located in the same place.

In hybrid work at some point people are not 30% at home and 70% in the office. They are 100% in one or the other. To think otherwise is to say that if the average height of the French is 1m75, we will dress everyone with clothes made for people of 1m75, whereas if we proceed in this way, we will dress 10% of the population at most and the others will go to work in the simplest clothes. It’s a bit like unemployment: when there is 10% unemployment it doesn’t mean that everyone is 90% employed: for those who are unemployed the unemployment rate is 100%.

Conclusion: there is no such thing as hybrid work

In the end, hybrid work as an organizational model with a share of remote work and a share of office work does exist, but it is nothing new.

On the other hand, hybrid work as an approach that would allow the business to have little or no need to adapt does not exist. Either everyone is in the office or the organization and the work must be rethought according to those who are remote, no matter how many there are.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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