Remote vs. hybrid: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Feb 15, 2024 | Insights

In the pre-pandemic years, employees would occasionally take their laptops home to get some after-hours work done. Many businesses had no laptops at all and had to scramble to move employees from desktop computers so that they could work from home during the lockdowns. The idea of a remote workforce was almost unthinkable. Oh how times have changed.

Today, knowledge employees expect to be able to work from home for at least some of the week, and in a move to reduce overhead costs, some businesses are even considering remote working as the new normal.

So, with two models available to organisations—hybrid and remote—lets take a look at the pros and cons of each. 

Fully remote workforces

There are many pros to a remote workforce, beginning with the fact that remote work offers unparalleled flexibility. Employees can create their own schedules, work from locations of their choice, and often report a better work-life balance. For businesses, geographical constraints are no longer limiting and they can source talent globally, finding the best fit irrespective of location. Operating costs are also significantly decreased as businesses save on real estate, utilities, and other overheads associated with physical office spaces.

However, as many remote workforces are fast discovering, there are challenges inherent in this model as well. For example, while digital tools facilitate communication, nothing truly replicates the ease of face-to-face interactions. Collaboration can sometimes feel disjointed or delayed and is not possible without extremely well-defined and strong processes that everyone understands and follows. It’s important for businesses operating remotely to have a tried and tested operating model in place as well, such as the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) or Scaling Up to ensure full transparency across the business.

Another challenge is culture. Building and maintaining a cohesive company culture becomes is difficult when team members rarely, if ever, meet in person. We’ve already seen how people are enjoying going back to the office. This is entirely missing in a remote business. 

Finally, remote work environments can expose companies to increased cybersecurity risks, particularly if employees use unsecured networks or personal devices, which means there needs to be close monitoring of ‘home office’ set ups. 

Each of these cons can be addressed, but what about the more negative aspects of remote working like isolation and blurred boundaries? Extended periods of remote work can lead to feelings of loneliness or detachment among employees. This can have detrimental effects on mental well-being and overall productivity. Without a distinct separation between ‘work’ and ‘home, employees can find it challenging to switch off, leading to potential burnout. These are all crucial aspects to address. 

Hybrid working in a productive new world

While some businesses are successfully transitioning to fully remote work, it’s becoming increasingly clear that hybrid work offers a middle ground. Employees can benefit from the flexibility of remote work and the camaraderie of in-office interactions.

Many workforces have discovered how different tasks require different environments. Creative brainstorming might flourish in office spaces, while focused tasks might benefit from the solitude of home. This is why many employees and their employers value the balance that hybrid models offer. Businesses can attract and retain talent more effectively by offering hybrid solutions, and the movement between home and ‘traditional’ offices tends to boost creativity and productivity. 

However, that does not mean there are no drawbacks to hybrid work. Coordinating who should be in the office on which days can become an administrative challenge, requiring robust management tools. If not managed correctly, there could be perceptions that those who spend more time in the office receive more attention or opportunities than their remote counterparts.

The need to invest in both a physical office space and robust remote-working technology can also add costs, at least initially, potentially straining resources.

Are there any real cons to remote working, however? We’ve seen a few issues creep up. For one, there’s always a risk that two distinct ‘cultures’ might emerge: one for in-office employees and another for the primarily remote ones. This can lead to misunderstandings or even conflicts. With employees toggling between environments, maintaining consistency in terms of communication, project management, and performance evaluation can be also be challenging. The good news is that these issues can be addressed. The key is to rework business models and processes for a hybrid environment. 

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