Editor’s note: Former employment attorney and author Jathan Janove writes on how to inject greater humanity into HR compliance. Jathan welcomes your questions and suggestions for future columns. Contact him at the email address at the end of this column.
The arguments for and against hybrid work arrangements have been fast and furious. The people who support a combination of onsite and remote work defend it passionately; while some support hybrid work arrangements with caveats. Others make clear their preference for completely in-person work.
From hybrid supporters: If anything positive came from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the hybrid work schedule. From hybrid detractors: Now that the pandemic seems to be more or less behind us, let’s return to the prior normal.
In this column, I’ll review the arguments and solicit workplace leaders’ views about how hybrid schedules are—or are not—working for them.
Hybrid Is Happily Here to Stay
- Assists recruitment.
- Promotes retention.
- Optimizes work/life balance.
- Reduces carbon footprint.
- Creates time-management efficiencies to boost employee productivity.
- Saves on real estate costs.
It’s Time to Retire Hybrid
- Reduces sense of shared mission, purpose and goals.
- Reduces productivity due to home distractions.
- Less accountability.
- Reduces opportunity for teamwork, group synergy and innovation.
- Wastes physical space.
- Office emptiness is demoralizing for those who do come to work.
[SHRM resource hub page: Return to Office]
Leaders Weigh In
Jessica DeGroot, Founder & President, ThirdPath Institute
Philadelphia-based ThirdPath Institute is a nonprofit helping organizations and individuals meet work/life opportunities and challenges. DeGroot’s board includes leaders representing a variety of organizations of different sizes and in different industries. What they have in common is a full embrace of hybrid work.
DeGroot passionately supports the hybrid trend. “For several decades, we’ve muddled through half measures that promised work/life balance but often led to burnout. The pandemic bulldozed a big opening for high-performing hybrid workplaces.”
Hybrid opponents often overlook the benefits that can be realized in business profits and personal satisfaction, she said. Instead, “the nay-sayers look for excuses to return to what’s old and familiar. They lack a basic understanding of work redesign and believe that most employees should leave their life responsibilities outside the office door Monday through Friday.”
DeGroot states that to build a high-performing hybrid workplace, leaders must invest in new systems in five key areas:
- Onboarding and mentoring. Thoughtfully planned hybrid onboarding and training should be inclusive of people in different geographic areas as well as workers participating in person.
- A culture of connection. Establish routine in-person connection, whether annually, quarterly or more often.
- Collaboration and idea generation. Employees can hone their skills in participating in both in-person and remote versions of brainstorming meetings and informal “water-cooler” talk.
- Work distribution and measurement. Remote processes should be designed so that work is fairly distributed across the workforce and all employees are held accountable for productivity.
- Managers’ skills. Offer training and peer-to-peer support to managers working with hybrid teams.
With this investment, DeGroot asserts that organizations “will reap abundant rewards including improved wellness as well as … a thriving and inclusive organization.” Conversely, “leaders who are requiring employees to return to the office are turning their backs on an unprecedented opportunity for innovation. They will be left behind by employees who are looking for something different and by the leaders who have embraced this opportunity, including every new start-up in 2024 and beyond.”
Paul A. Jones, Chief People Officer, USANA Health Sciences Inc.
USANA is a publicly traded company with 1,850 employees worldwide in 24 markets. Its home office is in Utah. U.S. employees, except for senior leaders, can work hybrid schedules.
Jones cautions against supporting hybrid work either 100 percent or not at all. “I really appreciate and agree with DeGroot’s five key areas that must be in place for hybrid work to function, and the absence of any one of them will create problems,” he said.
“Not all people have the demeanor and personality type to be successful in a remote-work situation. This needs to be recognized and addressed prior to simply allowing everyone to work remotely. Some will flourish, and others will be set up to fail.”
Louonna Kachur, Global Human Resources Director, EnerSys
Kachur is the Global Human Resources Director for EnerSys, an energy storage company with over 11,000 employees, operating worldwide for customers in over 100 countries.
She considers hybrid arrangements to be a good compromise between working in the office 9-to-5 and completely remote work—where employee engagement may lag. “Employees need to embrace and be open to the benefits of both (not just pay it lip service) to really get the benefits of both,” Kachur said.
“Planning your in-person and at-home activities leads to the most successful outcome and mix. Having your meetings be face-to-face and your downtime be remote is a good rule of thumb. Going to the office and being on the phone or behind a closed door all day isn’t a good idea, just like being at home in a virtual meeting while everyone else is in person is equally bad.
“If you are looking for additional responsibility or a promotion, nothing beats being in person and building the relationships to help get you noticed and mentored into a new role. Promotions don’t come from doing the same work [you’ve always done]; you have to demonstrate you can take on more and work effectively with others. Those opportunities don’t happen in your kitchen (or living room, etc.). That requires exposure to how work gets done and the relationships to get you to the next level. In times of growth and challenge, it is really important to be where those decisions are made, and generally that is at the office.
“I think you have to tell employees the benefits of being in the office and make it attractive to drive them there—[offer] food, activities, free parking as part of the culture.”
Greg A. Beecher, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, Director of Talent Development, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is a research and higher education institution in Blacksburg, Va. Beecher’s team is responsible for Virginia Tech’s 10,000 employees’ talent, organization and leadership development. He has worked in HR for almost 20 years and has 30 years of higher education experience.
Prior to the pandemic, Beecher’s team worked only in the office. As a result of the various pivots that had to be made, his team is now on hybrid status, where Beecher intends it stay. This means working two to three days in the office and the other days remote. However, Beecher notes that there are other teams that are fully onsite, typically due to the function of their role; e.g., dining services and maintenance.
Beecher has learned that with thoughtful pre-planning, preparation and adjustment, his team can be every bit if not more effective in a hybrid environment. “The collaboration our team experiences through remote work practices has empowered us to use our tools for greater productivity in our meetings,” he said. “As the manager, I see it carry over into the ongoing discussions; sharing resources; and engagement in the chats, emails and even periodic in-office meetings.
“Leaders who have experienced the benefits of remote work personally are the true champions of workplace transformation. The pandemic taught me how our team could use both onsite work and remote work to improve how they approach their work. It’s actually brought our team closer together. Not only has this benefited them, it’s benefited my family life, and Virginia Tech’s ability to attract and retain top talent.”
Although I set up this column as a debate and reached out to many different sources, the reader can see that the responses are rather one-sided: either enthusiastic support for hybrid work, or support with caveats. This may reflect reality, or perhaps some leaders who support full in-person work are reluctant to be quoted. One senior executive did tell me he couldn’t be quoted on anything that might be deemed “controversial.”
Nevertheless, if there are strong advocates for return to the pre-pandemic in-office model, I’d like to hear from them. I’m happy to do a follow-up column where the “other side” speaks.
Jathan Janove is a SHRM columnist; author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins 2017); Master Coach and “Ask the Coach” columnist for Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®; and author of the upcoming book, Culture and Human Capital Strategy First; Compliance Third: Radically Rethinking HR.