Hybrid vs remote work. What is most suitable for you, or for your organisation?

21-06-2022

Working your way from meeting to meeting, sitting inside for eight hours a day and pretending to be super productive all the time… It never seemed healthy or really attractive to me.

That is why I have been working completely independent of time and place for two years now. I have been working as a freelance copywriter for the remote company CopyRobin and as a freelance video editor for the hybrid organisation Emerce. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, working remotely—as in, working hybrid and remote—has finally gone mainstream and become more popular.

After all, when the pandemic began, many of us were suddenly forced to work from home. As a consequence, we have finally started to relate differently to our work, location and colleagues. This was helped by the fact that we no longer had to go into the office to access stored documents, since most of us were already working in the cloud for years.

And yet most employers were still hesitant when we suddenly had to work from home. They had to let go of their compulsion to control, whether or not this was done with the of best intentions.

This is the breakthrough, I thought. Now we will completely switch over to remote work—or at least hybrid work!

Employees do not want to return to the office (completely)

This is the breakthrough, I thought. Now we will completely switch over to remote work—or at least hybrid work! According to some studies, employees were even more productive while working from home. White papers from consultancy organisations popped up within no time highlighting its many benefits.

Surveys, such as those by research firm Gartner (Prepare for the Future of Work, 2020), show that by 2020, as many as 50% of workers had no desire to return to the office after the pandemic.

According to a study by Nyenrode Business University, Moneypenny and the Open University, almost all (97%) remote workers want to continue to work partially from home. Of these, 88% opt for working half of their time from home and half in the office.

Some companies saw this as an opportunity and got serious about transforming their organisation, including a new management style. Eneco started a hybrid working pilot in 2021, aligning itself with the 40% (at work), 40% (at home) and 20% (your choice) model. Shortly after the start of the pandemic, Rabobank also put together a multidisciplinary team, partly to determine how work could be better organised during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

But last week, I was shocked to hear that Apple is forcing its employees to return to the office. And yesterday, I read that Tesla is giving its employees a choice: return to the office or find another job. Are we going back to what I thought would be history? Is the genie being pushed back into the bottle? Have we already forgotten that there are so many advantages to this new working arrangement, for the employer, employee and for the environment?!

Recruiter Bryan Creely discusses these issues in an interesting way: "playing poker in today's labor market" (video below):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxsY2odriMU

At the end of this article, you will find a summary of my conversation with Michal Sliwinski, the CEO and founder of Nozbe, a project management tool. Michal explains his vision for remote working. Here is a quote from this inspiring entrepreneur:

Work is not a place to go. It’s something you do.” - Michal Sliwinski, CEO and founder of Nozbe

5 types of work

In a report called “Advice on Hybrid Work” by the SER, five types of work are currently distinguished:

  • Place- and time-dependent work

This is work as we knew it before. It has fixed working hours and the company location is a fixed workplace. Only occasionally is there work at a different place or time.

  • Place-independent, time-dependent work

This is work that is performed independent of a fixed place. The employer facilitates the work processes at the company’s location, at home, or via work hubs and sub-offices. There are fixed working hours for organisational or health and safety reasons.

  • Place-dependent, time-independent work

The work is performed at the company’s location, but the employee is free to choose when and how—for example, when working on an on-call basis.

  • Partly independent of place and time (hybrid work)

In this variant, employees have the option of working a few days a week at another location. They still have certain frameworks within which they carry out their work, but these frameworks are usually broader.

  • Completely independent of place and time (remote working)

People can choose where and when they perform their work. There are already an estimated 35 million digital nomads worldwide.

During the coronavirus pandemic, new habits and facilities arose that (probably) will remain after the pandemic. Companies are increasingly moving from work type 1, the traditional in-office, fixed-location arrangement, to the other variants, mainly because employees have had a taste of remote working and are simply asking for it.

The difference between hybrid working and remote working

In addition to place and time (in)dependence, there are more differences between hybrid and remote working.

Hybrid work

An organisation that offers hybrid work:

  • has a central office (or several);
  • decides which work method best suits the execution of an assignment—in other words, which employees are allowed to work remotely and which employees have to come into the office; and
  • works partly place- and time-independent.

Remote work 

An organisation that offers remote work:

  • generally does not have a central office;
  • allows employees to work wherever they want;
  • sometimes has employees all over the world, in different time zones; and
  • works completely place- and time-independent.

Hybrid and remote working agreements

What both working methods have in common is that they require a different management style. How do you keep things together if not everyone is in the building? It is a matter of trust, responsibilities and daring to give employees freedom. The manager simply plays a facilitating role.

What are the benefits for you as an employee?

What is the best choice to make as an employee? I’ll list the pros and cons for you.

Advantages of hybrid working

  • You’ll probably feel more connected to your colleagues when you are all working from one building.
  • The office can be used as a means to properly facilitate work processes, such as brainstorming rooms or places to socialise. You have more “chance encounters” in an office—for example, at the coffee machine.
  • You may be more top of mind with executives if they also work from the office. This is handy, for example, for career building within the company.

Disadvantages of hybrid working

  • A different dynamic or dichotomy can arise between colleagues who work in the office and colleagues who work from home.
  • Even if you work from home, you can be expected to adhere strictly to office hours and be available for phone calls and online meetings.
  • You may occasionally feel a bit “outs of the loop” now that you are less aware of the latest news and gossip.

Advantages of remote working

  • If everyone within the organisation works remotely, the chance of a divide between employees is lower and you are more equal.
  • You have the freedom to organise your own agenda completely, whether you are a night owl or an early riser. As long as you meet your deadlines. You can therefore create for the perfect flow to be optimally productive.
  • You are not expected to respond to every email or Slack message immediately. You reply to messages at a time of your choosing.

Disadvantages of remote working

  • Because your colleagues work from other time zones, meetings can also take place outside of your 9-5. You are more flexible, but more flexibility is also required of you, even if others are already enjoying their Friday afternoon drinks.
  • You need to be more aware and more detailed when briefing your colleagues so they can continue their work even if they cannot reach you for a while.

You may not have a preference for hybrid or remote working at all, but it is good to be aware of the differences.

And what are the benefits for you as an employer?

Whether you opt for a hybrid form of work or want to offer remote work depends on your business. But the following applies to both forms of work:

  • The productivity of your employees increases as soon as you give them more autonomy.
  • More autonomy generates more happiness at work among employees. This makes you, as an organisation, more attractive to work for. In short, you gain a serious competitive advantage!
  • As an employer, you can choose from a much larger pool of potential employees who no longer have to live within a certain radius of your business location.
  • Less travel means less CO2 emissions. In this way, you, as an organisation, contribute to a better climate.
  • You can save a lot! Just think of office space, leasing cars, energy and travel costs.

Eric van Hall, founder and CEO of CopyRobin, a company that matches clients who are looking for texts with professional copywriters, had this to say about remote working:

“One of my goals when I came up with CopyRobin was that I wanted to be able to run the business from anywhere. 100% remote is therefore in our DNA! Without that choice, our top editors, Suzanne and Lizzy, would never have worked for CopyRobin.”

100% remote is in our DNA! - Eric van Hall founder CopyRobin

“The editors work time-dependently (so that we are easily accessible for our customers), but they are location-independent. We hadn’t been in the office often, but the COVID-19 crisis gave us that last push to cancel the office permanently. This works great and saves a lot of money. Our freelance writers work completely independent of time and place. We understand that it is not realistic for every organisation, but at CopyRobin, we strongly believe in remote working!”

How can I help?

For this article, I also spoke with Michal Sliwinski, CEO and founder of Nozbe, a digital project management tool that is ideal for hybrid or remote working organisations. His 2003 thesis “Creating Virtual Companies” inspired him to create such a tool. Four years later, he started Nozbe, his own Polish remote company. The first programmer he wanted to hire lived 185 miles away.

nozbe-remote-working(1).png

“He was simply the best. I want to hire people based on their knowledge and skills, not based on location,” says Michal, “We now have 20 employees. Our chief of customer support is located in Germany, and two others from the same department live in Taiwan and Spain.”

“My Polish marketing assistant, Magda, was used to a regular office job. It didn’t seem like anything to her at first, that remote working; yet she came aboard. A few years later, she realised her big dream: living in France for a few years with her family without having to quit her job.”

“I want to hire people based on their knowledge and skills, not based on location.” - Michal Sliwinski, CEO and founder of Nozbe

“People can live where they want, with the lifestyle of their choice. If you normally live in a village far away, you may not qualify for a high-profile job. With remote working, this is not an issue. You no longer have to adapt to your job; your job adapts to you.”

“I wanted to bring an engineer to Nozbe who worked at Samsung. Everyone wanted him, but they made the condition that he move closer to the city. I doubled his salary and I didn’t want him to move, so he chose Nozbe.”

Michal is aware of the fact that remote working also has pitfalls. “It is sometimes more difficult to maintain cohesion. That is why it is essential that you keep everyone in line when it comes to the mission of the organisation and maintaining the bigger picture. We frequently organise basic meetings that are mandatory for everyone to attend, and I regularly send my employees a vlog with updates.”

Loneliness does not have to be an issue when one of your people has a problem. “I call everyone personally on a regular basis. Just to see how things are going. As a leader, you have to serve your employees, not the other way around. The question that best reflects that is ‘How can I help?’”

“It would be nice if adults treated other adults as adults, too.” - Michal Sliwinski, CEO and founder of Nozbe

Team meetings at Nozbe are short and informal. Socialising is important. Michal also forces himself to be completely transparent within Nozbe. “That sometimes feels uncomfortable, but in the end, it creates ownership among people. Within the Nozbe tool, you now have standard access to all projects as an employee. Some of those, you have nothing to do with, but it’s good that you can access the information.”

Michal is currently writing a book called No Office. He finds it disappointing that the organisation he admires, Apple, wants to have its employees return to the office. “It sounds like treating school kids! It would be nice if adults treated other adults as adults, too.”

He also has inspiring examples. “Automattic Inc.—the parent organisation of WordPress, among others—is a fantastic example. CEO Matt Mullenweg is known for working from his RV. It is now a successful remote company with more than 1000 employees. And before the term “hybrid work” was invented, MySQL (of the database) already worked that way successfully. Beautiful examples!”

Conclusion

Hybrid or remote working is a personal choice. However, having this choice is becoming more common, especially within organisations that have to deal with the tight labour market. Hopefully, this article has clarified the differences, advantages and disadvantages for you so you can make the right choice as an employee or employer.

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