Updated: Jun 7
Many employers are considering implementing a hybrid work environment once the pandemic is over. This means employees can go into the office on some days, and work from home the rest. This understandably seems like a great halfway point, especially when 8 out of 10 Americans say they enjoy working from home. Employees can have the flexibility that working from home offers, while also enjoying the common social aspects that come with working in an office environment. However, there are several risks associated with a hybrid form of telecommuting that many companies who are considering making this change should consider.
1: Remote Discrimination
One of the reasons why productivity increased during the pandemic is because remote workers were all on equal footing. We had to make this work together. We all were at home, dealing with the same issues – and the same blessings – at the same time. And there was no remote discrimination against the one person who might have been dialed in while the rest of us were enjoying the popcorn snacks at the office over a conference table because there was no conference table and there was no popcorn.
Equal footing makes remote work more effective. In a hybrid environment, the remote worker might be out of sight, out of mind. Therefore, that worker might not be as productive as we are all being today.
Studies show that remote workers are seen as less committed, have weaker performance reviews, and don't advance as often as their in-office colleagues. During the pandemic, when all employees had to be remote, managers treated remote workers in the same way and used the same evaluation criteria, as they once treated individuals in the office.
In a remote environment, it is easy for management and the leadership to favor those that are physically going into the office. This puts the remote telecommuters at a disadvantage when it comes to their career paths, forcing them to make decisions to be in the office more, and foregoing the benefits of remote work.
The solution is not for us to go back to our old ways, but rather to forge ahead in continuing to make remote-work work for all of us. The pandemic was a compressed period that allowed us to test and prove that it does work.
2: Limited Talent Pool and Attrition
One of the risks of hybrid telecommuting is the inability to recruit from a talent pool around the country, or even around the world.
As I consult with companies, one of the challenges I often hear about is finding the right individual for the job. Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has opened our eyes to the fact that recruiting can be achieved with a much wider net, and that employees don’t necessarily need to be living in the same city – or even the same country – as the office to get the job done. In a hybrid telecommuting environment, employees must be near the office for them to attend the expected days in person.
That means that offices are still bound to recruit from their local areas, which is vastly limiting their potential expansion. Imagine the potential of hiring the best talent in the entire world. Now, limit your company to just the best talent in a 50-mile radius from the office. The opportunity cost that companies who are hybrid-telecommuting are giving up is all the talent outside of their geographic region.
Companies like Facebook (Meta), Salesforce, Twitter, and Microsoft have already enacted full-time telecommuting, work-from-anywhere policies. The individuals that work for these companies have also made reasoned decisions to move out of the cities where the companies are headquartered. This is changing the landscape of America. If you are expected to go into the office, even one day out of the week, then working from that condo in Miami is not an option. Real estate in suburban areas is on the rise and big cities are shrinking as a result of families and workers moving into their preferred areas, instead of the places they are forced to live because of their jobs. A hybrid expectation will limit the employees’ ability to do this.
4: Giving up too early
Remote work now is not exactly as we experienced it during the pandemic. We were and are still dealing with the stress associated with a world lockdown. The social and physical implications that it has on us have yet to be quantified and qualified in their totality. It is easy to associate the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic with the challenges of working from home. Yes, they are connected, but not all the psychological impact lies on remote work.
Organizations tend to take the form exhibited by their leaders. In a recent interview, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, said that remote work does not work for young people or for those who want to hustle. He added that he has a distaste for doing so himself and that he was done with it. On the other hand, Facebook is betting the company on remote connectivity. Zuckerberg announced it’s changing its name to “Meta” as it works toward enabling a connected metaverse where we can all work and play remotely. “We’ve learned over the past year that good work can get done anywhere, and I’m even more optimistic that remote work at scale is possible, particularly as remote video presence and virtual reality continue to improve,” Zuckerberg wrote.
The feelings of belonging are hopefully increasing, now that we can finally go to a gym, have a cup of coffee at Starbucks with neighbors and friends, and even attend local entertainment events. These things make telecommuting that much more worth it because we can apply and benefit from the flexibility that telecommuting brings.
So, for those companies who are spending valuable energy and resources trying to decide whether to go fully remote, or stay fully in the office, or develop some sort of hybrid, in-between program, these are just a few of the risks of the hybrid team composition. That is not to say that you can’t make it work. It simply has additional considerations.