Over the last few months, there’s been a shift in the way people talk about work. The new buzzword is “hybrid.” No doubt You’ve heard people say, “we’re coming back, but it will be a hybrid of people in the office and working flexibly.”

That sounds great, but is it really a new way of working, or were things moving in that direction even before the pandemic? Is it really any different from, “We all work based in the office, but you can work from home sometimes if you want”? If it sounds like I’m being overly picky, I’m really not. How you and your organization define hybrid work will have long-term impacts on your business and your people.

What does “hybrid” really mean?

The word “hybrid” is often misunderstood. It’s when Mandy Patinkin looks at Wallace Shawn in The Princess Bride and says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Here’s how to think about it: Taking a bunch of things and smooshing them together will create a blended solution, with a lot of the original left intact. A true hybrid takes disparate elements and creates something completely new. Now think about your “hybrid” plans. Are you blending things to come up with a solution that feels familiar, or are you really creating something new?

Is it really something new?

It’s not that there’s anything specifically wrong with a blended solution, it just might not be as radical a change as you think, and might not go far enough to really alter your DNA. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you allowing people some flexibility but insisting on occasional mandatory attendance in a single physical location? Why?
  • Are you maintaining the same (or at least similar) office space and functionality going forward?
  • Is the plan to let people work however they want, but they have to maintain accessibility around a single time zone (usually wherever the home office is)?
  • Will you be in different locations, but on more than two internal meetings a day?

Odds are, if you’ve answered yes to these questions, you’re probably looking more at a blended solution than a true hybrid.

Finding new ways to meet challenges

Companies that are truly hybrid are finding ways to work that overcome not just physical location, but time. Companies like Bluescape, Doist, and Paylocity are working in true hybrid fashion. Some of the things they are doing include:

  • Allowing people to work anywhere they wish, but offering the option of “third places” workspaces, (shared workspaces, hourly office rentals) and it’s not just a choice between home and the office.
  • They leverage asynchronous solutions such as discussion board, Q and A, video email, and collaborative tools to stimulate collaboration in new ways, rather than trying to replicate a traditional office environment across cyberspace.
  • They recruit people who are proven independent workers and are comfortable with written communication
  • It’s not just where they work, but when. This covers the obvious consideration such as time zones, but also when people are at their best, physically and mentally
  • The focus is squarely on the quality of the outcome, not the level or type of activity
  • Decision making will be decentralized and empowered at lower levels than ever before

If this sounds vague and non-prescriptive it’s because it is. The smaller and younger the organization (in terms of how long the company has been around, not necessarily the age of the workers) the easier it will be to create something wholly new.

Most of us will be going back to some variation of the old office, but that doesn’t mean we can’t plan for a really novel, flexible way of working. We just need to be clear that the words we use mean what we think they do.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammateoffers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.

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