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How to build a hybrid approach to remote work

May 4, 2021
Linzi Nield
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2020 might have popularized remote work, but it didn’t render the office obsolete. Going forward, 70% of engineers say that they want a blend of in-person and remote work. And yet, 29% of engineers want to remain remote full-time, which leaves leaders with a lot of logistics to figure out to make sure everyone gets what they need. 

Finding a balance that will make engineers happy should be priority one. With three open positions for every full stack engineer and four open positions for every backend engineer, businesses need to listen carefully to employee demands. 

In order to please the greatest number of engineers possible, leaders might need to embrace a hybrid approach that allows them to build a system that works for their company. Daniel Pupius is the Founder and CEO of Range, which is a fully remote-first company, and we sat down with him to get his tips for a hybrid approach to remote work.

The argument for a hybrid approach

Remote work has benefits beyond making your company more competitive for talent: It can also help you get the most out of your workforce. “It’s kind of nuts to think that sitting at a desk nine to five is the best way to be productive,” says Pupius. “Any creative worker knows that energy and attention fluctuates throughout the day. I often find myself unproductive in the early afternoon, so why do I have to sit at a desk in a badly ventilated office just in order to fulfill my job duties? Hybrid work gives people the opportunity to attend to their own attention needs. It frees us from the constraints of when and where we can work,” he continues.

Remote work also opens up your talent search, allowing leaders to cast a wider net when recruiting for engineers. “A hybrid approach is great for accessibility and inclusion. It allows companies to unlock talent pools in other locations. The best people for your team may not be all in the same city,” says Pupius. “If you want to have the best people on your team who believe in your product, you need to increase the diversity of your talent pool. Which, by the way, is Terminal’s mission.”

The spectrum of hybrid work

Hybrid isn’t a single solution; the term encompasses a wide range of possibilities that could potentially be right for your team. Pupius says it’s helpful to think of hybrid work as a spectrum, with the flexibility of when you’re working vs. where you’re working determining where your company fits in. Here are some of the different hybrid approaches you could take:

  • Default digital. On a default digital team, everyone acts as if the team is fully remote, even if sometimes engineers are in an office. The team relies heavily on asynchronous communication, as employees might be very nomadic and move around a lot.
  • Static hybrid. With a static hybrid model, individuals always work in the same place, even if that place isn’t headquarters. For example, some engineers might always work in San Francisco, and some might always work in Colorado, but in both cases you can be sure of core working hours for predictability.
  • Dynamic hybrid. This is an option for organizations that want to allow people to work from home certain days of the week. A critical mass of employees would live within commuting distance of headquarters, and teams would have the flexibility to choose days that work best for them.
  • Synchronized hybrid. A synchronized hybrid model is similar to a dynamic hybrid model, but it’s less flexible. The company designates which days of the week employees are expected to be in the office, and chooses days that employees are allowed to work from home. It’s close to the brick-and-mortar model of work, but gives engineers the option to occasionally skip the commute.

The move towards default digital

According to Pupius, default digital is the ideal that organizations should be striving towards, and that as companies get better at remote work, they’ll move closer to it on the spectrum.  “When you’re dialed into remote work, you don’t really care where people are on any given day because your organization knows how to collaborate and communicate effectively regardless of location,” he says.

But there are a lot of hurdles organizations will have to overcome to set themselves up for remote work success. Remote work requires intentionality, and choosing digital default will require some strategizing to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Pupius advises companies to take particular care in helping managers adapt. “Managers have the hardest jobs of all when transitioning to remote work,” he says. When employees no longer come into the office, managers will need to rethink their management style and rely on digital channels to understand their teams. 

“Someone who’s a good manager in an office might find it very hard to be a good remote manager,” says Pupius. “In an office, managers use a lot of informal communication channels. Managers can get a sense of whether someone is blocked or unhappy or stressed just by looking at them, but it’s a little harder for remote teams. At Range, we’re helping managers figure out new ways to get this information,” he says.

The importance of avoiding a class system

Regardless of where your company falls on the hybrid spectrum, Pupius cautions that maintaining a headquarters might inadvertently create a class system if companies aren’t careful. Employees who work from headquarters might be privy to more information and favorable treatment, leaving fully or partially remote workers to feel like second-class citizens.

“The biggest issue with hybrid work is you have some people in the office with visibility into what’s going on at headquarters and some without,” Pupius explains. “We default to the easiest communication routes, so if you’re not thinking about communication from a remote-first mindset, you’ll fall back on ad hoc information methods. The person who’s remote won’t have access to that information. Managers need to build up a system of rhythms to share information and take care of both in-office and remote engineers.”

The flexible approach to flexible work

No matter how you approach it, Pupius urges companies to think about what remote work models will work best for their teams. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach,” he says. “There are a variety of ways to structure flexible teams, and more are emerging with time. Evaluate the strengths and pitfalls of each to determine what will best fit your needs.”

Leaders need to plan for a flexible fluture, and they need to start their planning now. Even though there might be a lot of uncertainty about what their business will look like in the coming months, one thing is for sure: Almost no one wants to return to working in an office 100% of the time.

Want to hear more tips on building a hybrid tech team? Watch the full webinar on-demand here.

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