Collaboration Patterns Part III: Hybrid

Following the previous parts of this series about colocated teams and remote-only companies, it’s time to get to the final and meatiest part: hybrid work. I’ve saved the best for last since I believe that hybrid is going to be the most used collaboration pattern in our industry in the years to come. Unfortunately, it’s also the most complicated one to pull off. Let’s see where it shines and how to execute it properly.

What’s Hybrid?

First things first, we need to ensure that we’re all on the same page. When I say “hybrid,” I mean every mostly colocated team or group that has at least a single member who isn’t 100% of the time in the office with the rest of the team or a mainly remote group that has at least two people who sometimes work in the same location. All it takes to go from colocated teams or remote-only is a single person to break the mold.

Yes, you might get by with your regular habits if you only have one employee that has decided to work remotely or works from home a couple of days a week. It might seem like everything is fine. However, experience shows that in most of these cases, it is either that this employee puts in a lot of effort to make this work or that they are not genuinely being treated like others.

Why Hybrid?

As I said, hybrid is the most difficult of the options we’ve got. However, it’s also the most versatile.

Accept everyone: The primary benefit of a hybrid workplace is that you can, theoretically, attract everyone, no matter how they prefer to work. That, however, is only the case when each employee can select how many times a week to work from an office, if at all. Keep in mind that this is a tangible advantage only if you are able to treat everyone equally. If remote or hybrid employees are treated as second-class citizens (more on that below), they’ll quickly spot this and leave.

Support everyone: More important than attracting talent, a hybrid company can also retain talent better. That’s because you can offer every person the right solution given their current needs. For example, if they love the socialization in the office, they can come in every day. If they have young kids and would rather mostly WFH, they can do that. And they can even go remote if they want to go for an extended vacation or need to support a family member for a while.

You don’t want a crazy office: There’s a wide phenomenon of having offices that effectively replace the employees’ homes. Fully stocked fridges, an on-premise barista, yoga classes, etc. I know that some people love these while others see them as vanity based and a waste of money. Without getting into opinions here, hybrid makes more sense when you’re not aiming to have one of these very expensive offices in a prime city-center location. That’s because doing so when the office is usually half empty is a waste and often creates an imbalance: Those employees who come to the office get many benefits others aren’t getting.

Going Hybrid Effectively

Since it’s the most complicated and the most used, I have a bunch of suggestions, big and small:

Don’t create second-class citizens: This is by far the most crucial aspect of a healthy hybrid culture, and it resonates in the other recommendations below. If hybrid or fully remote employees are less likely to be promoted, assigned to critical projects, aware of changes, etc., they are being mistreated and will likely not stay on. The problem is that this sort of discrimination is easy to fall into, even without intention. You and your leadership team have to make a conscious effort to avoid this.

Make remote conversations great for all participants: Your offices should have a lot of meetings rooms, and I mean a lot. That is so that any employee can find a small booth to collaborate one-on-one with someone not in the office. These conference rooms also have to be well-equipped. The best money you’ll invest is in solid internet connections, cameras, big screens, and mics that are easy to connect to and make it easy for everyone to participate and be heard.

Good meetings also require good etiquette. By default, all your meetings should have a video conference link so that it’s not something that one of the “poor remotees” has to ask for. Perhaps even have recordings automatically so people in other time zones can watch later. Do not allow side conversations in the conference rooms, as these leave the remote participants out of the call.

Think about your hybrid structure: When your company is big enough, hybrid can have different forms for different groups. In cases where you have several different products, you can decide that each group work in the mode that’s most appropriate to it. So one group might be entirely remote, the other wholly colocated, and you get to enjoy both models without the disadvantages of hybrid.

Create hybrid managers: Managing a hybrid team is not the same as managing a colocated team. Managers must be instructed to measure engineers’ productivity without the crutches of counting hours of butt-in-seat and similar old-world ways of management. Ensure that you’re choosing good candidates for management and senior roles, even if they are remote, and not just focusing on whoever you see most in the office.

Find patterns for high collaboration: Depending on your culture, you must ensure that you unlock the best ways to have everyone work together. For example, you can set days so each team has a few days a week to work from the office together. Others have “office hours” where everyone is expected to be available. That makes scheduling calls easier (and might also limit meetings, which is always a plus).

Also, make effective collaboration a big focus. It is time well spent. Consider having this be the theme of your intermissions/sabbaticals from time to time. Survey the team regularly to uncover areas of friction, hassle, and bureaucracy.

Most importantly: keep adapting and checking what works. Hybrid is still relatively new in its current form, and further improvements—both in tech and in processes—are happening. Don’t attempt to find the perfect solution right now. Instead, make a decision to continue iterating. Good luck.