What are the two big differences between ‘hybrid’ and ‘remote’ working?

Much of the narrative around digital working seems to have taken a shift away from ‘Remote’ towards the term ‘Hybrid’.  Many clients we are speaking with are expecting, even planning, to continue their post covid experiment by having some kind of mixed working arrangement in the future.  The buzz has definitely shifted from talking about remote to the idea of Hybrid working.  Lots of people are using this language, but there is often a good bit of confusion about the practical operational and management differences.  

So here are the two big differences between fully remote working and a mixed hybrid arrangement.  

  1. Ensuring parity of communication

Hybrid working is more akin to remote working BC (before covid).  Think back; it used to be the case that many remote workers were part of teams that also had a workplace presence.  In essence this was a hybrid model.  There might be more subtle differences depending on the new model that is being adopted, but the lessons of BC remote working still apply.  Namely, that it is very easy to create a two tiered communication experience where those in the workplace get a different quality of connection to the manager (and org) compared to the dispersed team members.  A practical example of this would be ‘a meeting called in the office involving a number of the located team, plus a series of online team members connecting via the tool of choice’.  The reality is that these two interfaces are considerably different, and the mix of face to face plus online doesn’t work nearly as well as when compared to everyone at their own laptops online.

Managers and teams need to work out these operational differences and decide how they are going to compensate for them.  

2.  Ensuring parity of experience

The second big difference has more to do with managing the inherent culture of a team.  When we co locate we are much more readily able to define our culture.  That’s because culture arises from a number of elements brought about by working in a specific environment together.  Johnson and Scholes cultural web tool suggest that culture is the accumulation of; team folklore or stories, power structures, symbols, organisational structures, control systems, alongside the daily routines and rituals.  

Many of these elements are much more difficult to develop when the team members are in a constant state of changing interconnections and geographic location.  Managers and teams will need to work much harder at facilitating their culture and in particular creating a consistent cultural experience across the whole population.  

In my opinion the move to hybrid working is one of the great plus sides of the pandemic era.  It will take a while for everyone to get used to it and factor in the necessary changes of approach needed.  However there is no reason not to believe that coupled with new future technical innovation, having a mixed spread of office and field working will become the happy norm. 

Bob Bannister

Ships Captain