Making Hard Choices About Hybrid Work

Wharton professor and author Peter Cappelli explains the balance required to succeed with a hybrid work structure. 

By Peter Cappelli October 14, 2021
Making Hard Choices About Hybrid Work

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School and director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources. He is the author of The Future of the Office: Work from Home, Remote Work, and the Hard Choices We All Face. Here we explore the hybrid work model and how to balance leadership and employee needs.

1. Why are workers and leaders not on the same page in terms of returning to the office?

Reports in the media state that employees want to continue remote working but company leadership wants to see everyone back in the office.

One complication is that not all employees want to work from home, about one-third seem to want to go back to the office. That's a problem for employers because there is no simple policy that will make everyone happy.

Part of the issue is communication. Employees who were working from home saw things go ok with their work. For at least many employers, the performance concerns are about the organization per se and how it comes together.

So their expectations are quite different.

2. How can executives weigh the pros and cons of remote work going forward?

It may be easier to find talent but it might also take a toll on your company culture.

The "pros" should include how this might help you. Permanent remote workers, for example, means you can eliminate offices, and that is a big savings. Will it also allow you to hire or retain better if you have these policies? It might.

The "cons" are trickier. Things went well during the pandemic for lots of reasons that won't exist after. We won't feel the need to pull together and make things work, for example. We won't feel that we are all in this together if some of us are home and some are in the office.
The cons also vary a lot based on what kind of work-from-home policy you have. If some people are permanently remote, they are effectively lost to much of the organization—out of sight, out of mind.

If it's occasional, working out all the details—who gets to do it, how often, which days—are quite tricky and can lead to lots of equity issues.

3. Offering a hybrid solution seems to be a quick answer. What are some success stories about companies adapting to a hybrid work structure?

The problem is that there are an infinite variety of "hybrid" approaches. Everything other than "back to the office" or "everyone home" is some kind of hybrid. Saying you are going hybrid doesn't mean much.

4. How should companies transition from remote work back to being in the office?

That is a very important issue. We need to think about reengaging employees. We need to think about onboarding those that were hired after offices closed. We also want to think about using this opportunity to change things about our organization and culture while we are bringing people back.

5. How does remote work or a hybrid model affect traditional HR processes like performance review or onboarding?

Everything has to change. How do we manage performance, e.g., when each supervisor has some subordinates in the office and some at home? How do we onboard people into an office when lots of people aren't there? Should we worry about fit if we are hiring someone who works remotely?

6. What do you see as the future of work 5 to 10 years down the road?

No idea. I couldn't have imagined this!