Remote First Vs. Hybrid Mode: Pros & Cons To Consider When Deciding Which To Choose

Remote First vs HybridShopify, Coinbase, Twitter, and now even Amazon are among many of the companies that have switched to a remote work environment since last year. During the “work from home” arrangements during Covid many companies learned how it was not only feasible, but also attractive for their team members and company to work remotely.

On one hand, teams didn’t need to spend hours each day in a stressful and expensive commute, they had the flexibility to live wherever they wanted, they could spend more time with their family. On the other, companies now could save thousands from renting expensive offices, could also hire from a much wider pool of experienced professionals from all over the world,  along with a longer list of remote work benefits.

However, although some companies are embracing remote work fully, by completely switching their work mode to be remote first (such as Coinbase, allowing employees to work remotely from anywhere and always, if they want), others have established a hybrid approach (such as Google, allowing employees to work from home a few days per week). But, what’s the best? Let’s go through the different modes of work remotely and their pro’s and con’s.

What Is Remote First?

Remote-first makes working remotely the default mode of work in an organization, in which it’s a key part of the culture, and everybody is expected to be able to communicate, coordinate, achieve goals and thrive in a remote working environment. For this, remote first companies will establish protocols, provide guidelines and the necessary tools for their team members to thrive while working remotely.

Since people are not required to come into an office, there’s no need of one, as team members will be able to perform their work anywhere they want: from their homes, coworking spaces, cafés, etc.

However, when becoming remote first, some organizations might decide to establish certain office spaces (in some cases, shared) around the world to allow team members to work from there, whenever they want, such as Coinbase announce they will. This is not a requirement though, and some of the remote startups that used to also have offices, eventually closed them, as they embraced remote work further and nobody used them, which happened to Automattic, the company behind WordPress.

To compensate the lack of “face to face” at an ongoing basis, remote-first organizations organize meetups or retreats from time to time for team building (once or twice per year, as buffer does with company retreats), as well as virtual team building activities, that don’t require team members to be in a physical space together to connect.

The key is to build a remote-first culture, providing the needed guidance, support and resources to the team to effectively execute their work, leveraging async communication while making the most out of the “location independence” benefits: not having to commute, having the ability to live anywhere in the world, lesser interruptions for enhanced productivity, greater talent pool and team diversity for companies, among many others.

What’s The Hybrid Working Mode?

The hybrid working mode is a mid-ground between the “office based” and the remote work one, with different levels of flexibility and organization, companies will whether have:

  • A time-split remote and in-office mode: Allowing employees to work during a certain share of their time from anywhere, but they will still ask team members to go to the office. For example, these companies will allow people to work from anywhere they want (usually their homes) 3 days per week, and require them to go to the office the rest.
  • A team-split remote and in-office based: Allowing certain types of employees, depending on their roles and functions to work remotely while others still being required to go to the office to work.

In general, the main characteristic of the hybrid working mode is the higher flexibility around working remotely in certain cases, but still relying on the office for many of the activities of team members, their communication and coordination. Some bigger companies that start to work remotely prefer to start doing it so with an hybrid approach while they shift, as this is a new working mode for them and is hard to provide a specific working mode that will work for all of their employees.

For example, Amazon recently announced how despite first saying that they would require employees to be 3 days in the office, after many questions about how this was going to be enforced, they have decided to give more flexibility, experiment, learn and adjust:

“We expect that there will be teams that continue working mostly remotely, others that will work some combination of remotely and in the office, and still others that will decide customers are best served having the team work mostly in the office. We’re intentionally not prescribing how many days or which days—this is for Directors to determine with their senior leaders and teams.”

It’s also important to note how even if offices are still needed with an hybrid working mode, this arrangement has allowed many organizations to downgrade and start working in smaller office spaces or even coworking ones. Because of this, coordination will be also sometimes needed, and several hybrid companies ask their employees to place in a request before coming into the office to make sure that there’s an available space for them.

Preferences, Advantages and Disadvantages

Remote First vs Hybrid Poll Asking over twitter about what people preferred, about the remote first vs. hybrid preference, 61.6% of the 513 votes selected “remote first” as their preferred working mode, while 34.9% of those who voted selected the “hybrid mode” as their favorite one. Only 3.5% of votes chose to “go always to office”.

It’s not a surprise that most preferred a “remote first” mode, since as it will be seen next, is the arrangement that will offer the maximum flexibility to take advantage of “location independence” benefits, to both team members and companies.

Daria Samokishian, Global PR & Communications at Ahrefs says:

“Remote provides too many perks to go for hybrid. I can work from any country and any place I can get my laptop to. Ahrefs gathers the annual ski vacation in Alps to meet the mates. If you missed an office – you can get yourself a spot in co-working :)”

However, it’s also understandable that in certain circumstances it can represent a more extreme change for biggest companies (and teams) that had historically relied on in-person/in-office for all of their activities, with well established protocols and even roles revolving around it, that are harder to shift to become remote first with limited time.

Let’s go through the advantages and disadvantages, and the reasons people gave to prefer them.

Advantages of all Remote Work (both hybrid and remote first)
  • Lower cost of operations due to smaller or no offices
  • Business continuity despite a pandemic
  • Lower or No office commuting stress and costs
  • Greater productivity thanks to lack of disruptions
  • More flexibility to spend with family / personal matters
Remote First Specific Advantages
  • Access to a global pool of employees providing higher diversity
  • Giving employees the ability to live /work from anywhere in the world based on preferences
  • Indirect economical benefits to smaller towns or in-development countries
  • No risks of teams discrimination based on working mode, as all team members are remote based
Remote First Specific Disadvantages
  • More drastic change towards an async based leadership, management and coordination when shifting from an in-office work mode
  • Easier disconnect and isolation of team members, without often in-person interaction
  • Easier to suffer technological caused work disruptions, as it relies on team members distributed technical capacity
  • More difficult to legally hire international based employees
Hybrid-mode Specific Advantages
  • Less disconnect and isolation challenges between team members thanks to frequent in-person interaction*
  • Less drastic and easier shift from an in-office based management, coordination and communication
  • Less reliance on a distributed team members technical capacity
  • Easier to legally hire locally based employees

It’s important to note though, that the frequent in-person interaction of the hybrid mode, might be beneficial to avoid disconnect and minimize isolation for people working from home when there’s a positive work environment, however, in toxic or challenging ones, it might be something negative.

Orit Mutznik, Director of SEO at Datacamp, says:

“Hybrid cause I go to the office once a week to get some effective facetime with ppl & enjoy hanging out with work friends, but this is only cause it’s a new job I like it, no one is forcing me to come, I choose to. In the job I hated I was praying to remain remote forever.”

Hybrid-mode Specific Disadvantages
  • Team members discriminations/frictions due to the in-office vs remote based split
  • For companies, still limited pool of potential employees to those who live at a commutable distance from the office
  • For employees, not having the choice to live anywhere they want and having to do so at a commutable distance from the office
  • Economical benefits stay in larger city hubs

Despite the benefits of the hybrid mode, for those who have experienced a fully remote work mode, the hybrid disadvantages are too limiting, especially when other companies from the same sector have shown that is possible to go fully remote. Nick Wilsdon, Founder & CEO of Torque Partnership, says:

“Definitely wouldn’t want hybrid now. Those office trips are fun but significantly less unproductive with the 4-5hr commute plus lunch break. I think many digital companies are going to opt for remote first now.”

What To Consider When Choosing To Switch To A Remote-First Or Hybrid Working Mode

A few key questions to ask when deciding to switch whether to a remote first or hybrid environment are:

What remote related benefits and goals do you want to achieve as a company?

We went through the main advantages and disadvantages of remote first and hybrid, so is important for you to assess which of those are actually important for you, what do they represent for your company future and success, which of them are less critical than others, and how do they align to your culture and vision of what you have vs. what you want.

In some cases you’ll recognize that based on your company values and vision for success, having the capacity to hire a diverse, global remote based workforce is fundamental, and even if it might be challenging at the start, that’s the ultimate goal and you’ll be ok even if you need to go through some struggles aligning your current company practices to become remote first.

What’s the preference of your team members?

Ask your current team members what they do enjoy the most! Remember that you want your current employees to be as comfortable as possible and have their support when making the change, so whether they mostly prefer remote first, hybrid or there’s a split between the two, it’s critical that you show that you take their preferences into consideration when making the switch to one or the other, and provide mechanisms to the rest of the teams to keep engaged and feel as comfortable as possible with the decision.

For example, even if you might decide to start working remote first, and hire remotely from now on, independently to the location, if some few employees have said that they prefer to work in an hybrid mode, you can enable some flexible shared office space for them to go from time to time.

How easy will be to switch to an async first communication and coordination?

For remote companies to thrive, they should run in an async mode. So, depending how async friendly your current communication, coordination and management protocols are, as well as existing company culture, switching to a remote first environment might become very challenging or not, and then you might decide to make the shift to become hybrid first, to set the base of remote work, and start testing/iterating to assess the best remote work mode for your company, whether remote first, hybrid or even a personalized blend.

How reliant are you on “physical” access to an office space for day to day business operations?

When you work in-office, even as an hybrid company, you might still rely on “physical” access for day to day operations like receiving and storing certain type of documentation, to develop certain type of meetings with clients or even, for interviewing, hiring and onboarding new employees. But, in a remote-first environment there won’t be any office, and therefore, you need to prepare to operate without one.

It’s critical to then make a list of all of those “day to day” operational activities for which your company still relies on a “physical” office connected location, to later establish how to switch it to become remote friendly.

Thankfully, there are services and tools that can help you move your company operations to become remote first, without having to rely on an office at all. For example, mailboxes services that can facilitate you to continue receiving and safely storing important documents, what’s important is that you audit what you have, and establish a plan to receive it in the future, making it available to the relevant team members, while following certain security protocols.

How Will You shift your company salaries and benefits and culture to become remote first or hybrid friendly?

When you have the ability to hire from anywhere in the world, a huge pool of potential candidates opens for you, but also the complexity of finding a fair approach to pay a globally distributed workforce, selecting between a universal, cost-of living or headquarters salary approach, is not trivial due to the implications this might have not only in your company finances but also, your employees level of happiness and engagement with the company.

Something similar happens with the benefits you provide, as “free drinks at the office” won’t be an incentive anymore: What will you provide as benefits so a remote first or hybrid team can find attractive? Professional mental health support, online coaching programs, childcare stipend, home office stipend, annual meetups and gatherings, among others, can become great “remote friendly” perks.

Also, if you won’t rely on in-person interaction to create a bond and connect with other team members, it’s fundamental to also establish ways to organize remote team building activities, from online based group ones to in-person meetups you can organize once or twice per year.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, there isn’t a single way to become remote friendly, you can decide to whether move to a fully remote first approach, or have a blend of the former way of “in-office” work if the complete switch is too challenging at the start. Since the shift requires you to align your company goals, culture, capacity as well as team members preferences and well being into consideration, it’s fundamental to assess, and find the best fit for you, leveraging the existing tools to make it happen, while thriving.

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