Why “Hybrid” Doesn’t Work And Why We’re Only Really Just Kidding Ourselves

There’s an interesting, dark side to hybrid work.

During the pandemic, businesses stayed afloat by having virtual teams. When the pandemic subsided, leaders sounded the trumpet on a return to the office and tried to reinstitute “business as usual.”

When employees, having tasted the virtues of remote work, rebelled against these Return-to-Office (RTO) mandates, management offered “hybrid” work as an easy compromise. This means that on some days, employees stayed at home, at other times, they needed to come to the office.

While on the surface this might be a good idea, upon closer look, “hybrid” arrangements put both employees and management at a serious disadvantage.

Here’s why…

#1 Increased Costs

With “hybrid” set-ups, management is essentially supporting two routes to productivity, instead of just one.

In many cases, management will already be supporting remote workers with subsidies for equipment, apps, electricity and connectivity. With hybrid, it will also have to maintain a physical space where teams can meet.

This covers rent, utilities, tech infrastructure and other incidentals.

So while hybrid is made out to be like “hitting two birds” with one stone, management is actually paying separately for those two birds. And teams would need significant productivity increases to justify and offset the additional costs.

There are plenty of not-so-hidden costs to hybrid.

Employees would also have to take a financial hit. Many expenses come with working at an office. Instead of staying at home, workers will have to commute back and forth, in their officewear, while loading up on coffee and eating out.

A study has shown that return-to-office mandates are costing employees $561 a month—or what is the equivalent of a month’s groceries for a two-person household.

What it boils down to is that not only did management make it a little more challenging for employees to do productive work, but they also have essentially reduced their purchasing power.

This does not bode well for employee morale in the long run.

#2 Increased Complexity

On the surface, it seems like hybrid is simply working at the office a few days a week. There’s no big harm in that. But in practice, hybrid work introduces unnecessary complexity on so many levels.

Management is setting guard rails on two fronts: asynchronous work and synchronous work.

A whole new set of standards and policies will need to be crafted—including coordinating balanced schedules so people can be productive both in the office and at home. It will also have to come up with penalties and perks to encourage employees to help keep up with the system.

Management needs to do a balancing act because if employees sense that some roles or positions are getting better deals or greater flexibility, it will hurt morale and work quality.

According to management professor Martine Haas, hybrid work runs into serious problems when it comes to Communication, Coordination, Connection, Creativity and Culture.

For example, hybrid can exacerbate the communication challenges in teams, introducing unnecessary ambiguity, and potentially upending the flow of feedback. So while hybrid is hyped up as a “two-fer,” it can actually be highly inefficient and disruptive to established workflows.

Hybrid blurs the line of availability.

“Should I go ahead with the report, or wait for the Monday meeting to clear the details with her?” 

“Should I wait for three days for the face-to-face meeting, or should I ask everyone to hop in on a quick call?”

(Hybrid work is tiring—involving new tasks that require cognitive resources.)

Office and remote work often are at odds. Remote work rewards the naturally independent and proactive, while office work ensures that hierarchies are observed, approvals are sought, and gatekeeping functions are alive and well.

Running both systems at the same time will add confusion to the process.

#3 Employee Challenges

Hybrid leads to lower job satisfaction.

Management sees hybrid work as a compromise. Employees see them as a loss in flexibility.

Especially for those who have made the leap to fully remote during the pandemic, being called back to the office means seeing a part of your week becoming rigid again.

They’re expected to be just as or even more productive. But this time, it comes with the added stresses and frustrations of the commute—not to mention the additional expenses.

Many workers have found that they’re more productive at home. Without the constant interruptions of a typical office environment, they can focus better and complete tasks more efficiently. Return-to-office mandates can feel like a step backward, especially if employees believe they perform better remotely.

There has been pushback on these mandates. The employees most resistant to the idea are the very ones who know they will work just as hard whether they are in the office or at home.

If a company continues with the policy, studies show that the first ones to leave are the highest performers—the most competent and independent professionals who need the least guidance and motivation.

Why We Still Do It?

“Employees are more productive in the office.”

That’s the standard defense for RTO mandates.

But if such is the case, it should be reflected in the profits made by the company. If companies are shelling out on additional expenses, then it stands to reason that there must be a good profit rationale for it.

As it turns out, that’s not the case. Research has found that RTO mandates don’t make companies more money.

Worse, they have led to declines in employee job satisfaction.

But why do businesses still insist on it?

According to Prithwiraj Choudhury, a Harvard Business School professor studying remote work, these mandates are reflections of executive desires to make things go back to “normal.” He calls them “return-to-the-past” mandates.

Lurking behind this desire to have people back at the office is a certain anxiety. And it’s summed up in the question: “Are they really working?”

Management insisting on RTOs betrays a lack of trust in their people. It’s not really because people are more productive in the office, or that face-to-face interactions are infinitely better than virtual meetings.

No matter how you dress it up, hybrid work is a way to salvage a semblance of control. In essence, hybrid is a form of micromanagement.

That’s not good news, because through research, we have long put the nails in the coffin of micromanagement. We know it doesn’t work.

If leaders have to resort to some form of micromanagement, then suffice it to say that a lot of mistakes have already been committed:

  • Wrong people have been hired for the job.
  • Employees do not know what is expected of them.
  • There is no clarity in people’s job descriptions.
  • The team is not united under a common vision.
  • Employees are not emotionally invested in the company.

These are problems that are too deep to be resolved by hybrid work.

Hybrid work, as a response, only adds confusion, complexity and costs to the mix.

We think we’re “hitting two birds with one stone,” reaching a compromise when in reality, we are needlessly increasing costs, adding complexity and making it more burdensome for employees.

For many of the businesses today, fully remote work is the only way forward. Technology has made asynchronous work and collaboration across miles and time zones possible.

To be competitive in today’s world, business leaders have to embrace remote work. They will have to learn to trust their people, or they will find themselves stuck in the highly confusing and inefficient world of hybrid work.

Kinetic Innovative Staffing knows a thing a two about remote work. We help companies transition to fully remote work and find competent remote professionals for their organisations.

With our database of over 4 million remote professionals, Kinetic can fill a broad range of remote roles from lawyers, engineers and accountants, to software designers, virtual assistants and graphic artists.

Remote workers bring down labour costs by 70%, on average—while maintaining quality and productivity.

There’s a reason why companies who went remote never looked back.

If this is an opportunity you’d like to explore for your company, do not hesitate to contact us and we’ll give you all the assistance that you need.


Kinetic Innovative Staffing has been providing hundreds of companies in the Asia Pacific, North America, the Middle East, and Europe with professionals working remotely from the Philippines since 2013. Get in touch to know more.

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