As a leader, hybrid and remote work are likely top of mind. But when leaders talk about hybrid and remote work, they often mince terms. There are many hybrid and remote work models--it's important to get clear on what you're actually talking about.
Here are five of the most common hybrid and remote work models that leaders are contemplating right now.
1. Office-centric hybrid
Office-centric hybrid companies require their employees to come into the office most of the time, but they build in one or two days each week when employees are allowed to work from another location. Companies typically select office-centric hybrid models because they believe that when employees are co-located, they are able to more effectively develop connections and coordinate with their team members, and feel a stronger sense of belonging.
It's important to remember that the office-centric hybrid model doesn't need to infringe on employee flexibility. For example, Asana, where I work, is adopting an office-centric hybrid approach in which employees will be co-located in an office most of the time but are able to work from home on Wednesdays and also have a lot of flexibility in terms of setting their own hours.
2. Fully flexible hybrid
A fully flexible hybrid model enables employees to choose when they'd like to work from an office and when they'd like to work from another location. After flirting with the idea of an office-centric hybrid, Ford recently decided to give salaried office employees maximum flexibility by adopting this fully flexible model.
The fully flexible approach is the one that concerns me--and many executives who have done their homework--most because it can have such devastating impacts. It can quickly create status tiers of employees and significant inequities that favor those who are office-bound more often. As well, there are real coordination challenges as it's often difficult to predict who will be in the office.
This model isn't impossible to execute effectively. But without significant intentional organizational design, it can fail quickly and miserably.
3. Remote-ish (or remote-friendly) hybrid
In contrast to fully flexible hybrid work, remote-ish hybrid work involves placing guardrails on which employees can work remotely. It may involve allowing employees to schedule work-from-home days, but not on specific days like Mondays and Fridays. It may also involve allowing a sizable percentage (typically 10 to 25 percent) of your employees to work remotely full time, while the majority of employees are required to come into the office most days.
The remote-ish approach can be lucrative from a hiring perspective--especially in enabling top nonlocal talent to work remotely. But it suffers from flaws similar to the fully flexible model's, with significant potential inequities as in-office workers frequently have more access to information, executive face time, perks, and promotion opportunities.
4. Hybrid remote-office
Some companies--like HubSpot, which is transitioning from a remote-ish model--have decided to adopt a hybrid remote-office model. This model involves giving employees a "menu" of options to choose from, which typically includes a remote option, a flexible work option (employees work from an office two to three days per week), and an in-office option.
This "choose-your-own-adventure" model is attractive in that it allows for more predictability than the fully flexible model. It's also often attractive from a recruiting standpoint. Yet equity issues can quickly emerge--especially if managers and executives overwhelmingly select in-office options.
5. Remote (or virtual)-first
A remote-first model usually involves most employees working remotely by default--either from their homes or from anywhere. As a leader, it's important to realize that there's a big philosophical difference between being remote-first and being remote-friendly. It's the difference between empowering employees to work remotely and merely allowing them to work remotely. There's also a big operational difference as remote-first companies build their processes, systems, and culture around remote workers (rather than in-office workers) first.
While this model offers a major advantage of minimizing inequities, it can be very challenging to build a strong sense of belonging.
What about distributed work?
Distributed work and remote work are often (incorrectly) used interchangeably. Whereas remote work describes a work arrangement at the employee level, distributed work is fundamentally a team and company-level construct.
Distributed work involves coordinating work across different locations. Each of the models described here can encompass distributed work. Yet distributed work doesn't necessarily involve remote work. For example, co-located teams who work together from two or more offices across the globe are distributed but not remote.
More than anything, distributed work foregrounds how work happens, not where it happens. As a leader, it involves asking: How can my teams coordinate their work most effectively?--often across time zones.
What's in a term?
The five models outlined here can be easily confused. But each one has vastly different implications. Remember, these models are not mutually exclusive--you may want to embrace a combination of two or more of them. Regardless of your approach, getting clear on terminology is the first step to setting your employees up for success.