Now that a lot of the world is trying to go back to normal post-pandemic I see hybrid work being proposed as the solution and I strongly disagree that it is the future. The problem with hybrid work is one of real estate. To understand that, let’s go back in time to 2019, before we knew what a Coronavirus is.
Companies would open offices in cities like New York and London despite the fact that their real estate was among the most expensive in the world and the salaries were among the highest in the country. Why is that? Why not open an office in Alaska? Or Scotland? Well, it’s because you need to hire talented people and hiring in Alaska or Scotland is hard because you lack the density of the workforce that you can find in the likes of London and New York..
But why not open the office and have people move to those places? Well, for the workers it’s the same equation. They want the density of opportunities. They want to be able to quit the job and have another one. They want a career. That’s why the workers are willing to live in tiny dark flats in New York and London while spending half their salary on rent. They could move to Scotland and Alaska and find better and cheaper houses, but they wouldn’t have the jobs.
Those tiny dark shared flats of the Londons and New Yorks of the world are not suitable for working from home. There’s not enough space for them to have a comfortable office in them. This is not a problem for your average office worker and it’s not a problem for your average distributed/remote worker, because the latter will not live in those cities. But this is a problem with hybrid work.
The problem with hybrid work is that out of the revenue of the company you need to pay for an office in a central location, like London or New York, the salaries of high density cities, and the reals estate of a big enough flat or house in those locations for people to have space at home to work comfortable. Pretty much no company has that amount of revenue, and no company should destroy their own profits with such a decision. This is why hybrid work doesn’t work.
I think hybrid work is a reaction to the challenges and fears of running a fully distributed company. For many managers, bosses, and owners it’s been very hard. They still want to see their workers, but the workers want to stay at home. My recommendation is to learn to live without workers at the office. This doesn’t mean no face to face interaction. Instead face to face interaction should be crafted to maximise what they are good at, which is forming bonds among people and working on big ideas.
Instead of meeting every other day at the office and spending half of that day on video conferences anyway, it would be much better to meet once a quarter or every 6 months at a retreat somewhere, a hotel for a couple of days or a week of very intense work. If you want to learn from the masters of this, read The Year Without Pants. If you are wondering where the budget comes for such an extravagant expense:
- Not paying for an office.
- Lower salaries due to people not being in London or New York.
There are exceptions to this rule. There are some companies that have a fixed location, such as universities and hospitals. Those companies might want to have hybrid work to emulate and get some of the advantages of remote work. These exceptions should be rare in my opinion.
If you want to learn more about building and managing distributed teams, I am still writing my book on the subject.