The future of work is hybrid.
In the post-pandemic world, many companies will embrace the lessons learned from more than a year of telecommuting and not fully return to the office. Instead, Wharton management professor Martine Haas says, they will adopt a hybrid model with some combination of remote and in-person work.
“It’s going to be complicated to manage, but at the same time there are benefits that are probably pretty substantial,” she says. “Ideally, you’ll get some of the benefits of traditional co-located work, and you’ll also get some of the benefits, which we now know to be more substantial than we’d realized, of remote working.”
Haas and Mark Mortensen, an associate professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, wrote about the hybrid workplace in a recent edition of the Harvard Business Review.
The rewards of remote work are indeed substantial. Employees have reported higher job satisfaction because of the flexibility and have proven they aren’t slacking off just because they’re home. And everyone has adapted quickly to the digital tools that enable remote work.
But the hybrid workplace has risks that need to be managed carefully, Haas says. Chief among those risks is the power differential created when some employees work from home while others work in-person.
A power differential can happen simply through physical access to the workplace, Haas explains. On-site employees can take advantage of all the resources available at the office, whether those resources are things or people. And employees who are in close proximity can more easily network and collaborate. By contrast, remote workers may struggle with both personal and technical connections, making it difficult to demonstrate their competence.
“Not being present for informal interactions leaves remote workers feeling out of the loop and last to know. Being remote may also lead employees to feel more isolated and lacking the relationships and connections that provide social support,” Haas and Mortensen write in their article.