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Hybrid Work: The Best or Worst of Both Worlds?

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Image: Anna Siamashka - Alamy Stock Vector
At this point in the future-of-work debate, we've seen a lot of mud flinging between advocates of the main working styles (hybrid, in-person, and remote work). And last week, we might have witnessed one of the sharpest rebukes of hybrid work from Yelp CEO and Cofounder Jeremy Stoppelman.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Stoppelman voiced his strong dislike of hybrid work, calling it "the hell of half measures" and "the worst of both worlds," as Fortune shared in their coverage of the interview. Backing up his stance, Stoppelman suggested that his issues with hybrid work spring from several operational factors, including not having all workers in the office on the same days, being limited to geographies for recruiting, and spending money on office space.
Though Stoppelman acknowledged that Yelp workers enjoyed the flexibility of hybrid work, he sees the future of the company in fully remote, and Yelp is planning to close offices in several large cities like New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., as Fortune reported. In a separate blog post, Stoppelman shared some internal statistics on what employees thought, including: 86% of employees preferred to work remotely most or all of the time, 87% said remote working has made them more effective, and 93% of employees and managers reported that they can meet their goals while working remotely.
These statistics also seem to track nicely with fresh research coming from global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. Working with market-research firm Ipsos, McKinsey surveyed 25,000 American workers on the current level of workplace flexibility and their preferences. One key takeaway from the survey is that 87% of employees take the chance to work flexibly if given the opportunity. In terms of where people prefer to work, 58% of workers reported having the opportunity to work from home (WFH) at least one day a week (i.e., hybrid work), and 35% of surveyed employees reported that they have the option to WFH five days a week.
A New Era of Workplace Uncertainty
While WFH advocates might quickly prop the Yelp story up as an indication that hybrid work can’t or doesn’t work, I think it’s more an example of the various ways workplaces and their leadership are responding to the “facts on the ground” and listening to what their employees want. As we’ve seen throughout the first half of 2022, many workplace dynamics are still in a state of flux (a sentiment Eric Krapf shared in a recent No Jitter article), and what works for one workplace might not work for another. While Yelp’s CEO sees the future in remote, other companies have found success with hybrid work, some even before COVID-19. Also, let’s not forget the millions of frontline workers who never returned to the office because they never left it in the first place.
Advocates for the various working style (hybrid, in-person, or remote) each have their arguments on why theirs is the best, but the truth is none of these working styles in and of themselves should be viewed as a one-size-fits-all solution to workplace problems.
Instead, workplace leaders — and more importantly, executive leadership — should weigh the pros and cons of each style and how to factor those benefits and drawbacks into their workplace decision-making process. And after executive leadership decides where and with what frequency employees work, and workplace leaders in HR, IT, and facilities are left with the challenge of ensuring that employees have the best environment to do their jobs as their employers expect them to. This often requires cross-department collaboration on figuring out the right mix of technology, HR policies, and collaboration spaces (including home office) for them to work effectively.
Just as workplace leaders in HR, IT, and facilities are tackling a mountain of everyday workplace challenges to enable that frictionless employee experience, they also shouldn’t lose sight of what might be on the horizon and how that might influence the direction of the future of work. In addition to troubling economic news, many companies are responding to social or political issues – for example, upon the overturning of Roe v. Wade, some tech companies immediately came out with public statements against the Supreme Court decision, and others are revising their HR policies. In recent years, we’ve seen technology companies like Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Oracle, and others move their offices to Texas, but the increasing diversity of business and legal climates in different U.S. states might shape where people want to work and how hard companies have to work to attract and retain them.
All of these and many more factors will certainly shape the future of work, and most likely, in ways that we can’t fully forecast now. Workplace leaders might need to start preparing (mentally and physically) as best as they can for a new era of uncertainty — one that reinforces the need for workplace flexibility at every aspect of the planning process.