Hybrid work

I’m in a job that can broadly be described as “hybrid”. The mandate from HR is that we are are “expected to be in office three days a week, and live in the same city as the office”. Nobody really checks how often people go in to office, though I do end up going three times a week on average.

Of late, some tech “gurus” have taken on dunking on hybrid work. DHH of 37signals / Basecamp (I quite like his blog, in general) wrote that “hybrid combines the worst of in-person and remote“. Then, Paul Graham wrote some tweets on remote work. I quite like this one:

Back to hybrid work – I’m in a hybrid role now, where I go into office about three days a week on average, and stay home the other two days (in general, because Monday is crowded with long online meetings, and another day to do some “thinking work”). Different people in my company have different such strategies, and all come into office on their own schedules.

This is not the first time I’m doing “hybrid”. During my rather long independent consulting career, I largely worked from home but travelled to clients’ offices ever so often (once a week if in Bangalore; one week a month if not; on average). It was about getting the best combination of focussed work and collaboration. It worked then, and it works now.

In fact, as far back as 2007 I was in a hybrid office. I was in what is now called a “global capability centre”, and interacting with headquarters in Texas meant being available for calls later in the evening. Consequently, we could work from home a few days a week as long as we were available for these calls.

Coming as it did at the beginning of my career, it was a disaster. I slacked like nobody’s business. Less time spent in office meant less time understanding parts of the business not directly concerned with what I was working on. Most of my development in that period happened due to my independent reading and writing, rather than due to my work.

Now, once again, I’m in a company with “multiple headquarters”. This means that irrespective of where you are, you end up spending a considerable amount of time on video calls with people in other locations. According to DHH, video calls when you are in office is a waste of office time. I agree with him there. The way I manage is through my schedule.

Of course, it helps that I have a reputation in office that I don’t like to do unnecessary meetings – and all matters need to be resolved to the extent possible in text messages or email. This means I spend less time on video calls than many of my colleagues, and when I find a lot of them appearing on a day, i spend that day at home.

Also, I have an unspoken agreement with my (rather small) team on days of the week when we’ll meet in office, and so the technical discussions I find so difficult to have online can be had in person.

Hybrid primarily works because of optionality (a rather underappreciated concept). In my line of business, things can get so technical that there is a limit on the complexity of discussions that can be had online. Similarly, things can get so technical that we need undisturbed alone time to think through some of the solutions.

Hybrid works because it allows for both – it allows you to have your me time for your deep thinking, and the optionality of summoning a teammate to office “tomorrow” for some deep collaboration. The former is unavailable in an all-in office; the latter is not possible if you’re fully remote (I’ve experienced this during the pandemic years).

Yes, hybrid means you need to live within commuting distance of office (sometimes during interviews, I see candidates furiously googling for “richmond circle” or “residency road” when I tell them our office is there. It’s a strong signal that they’re not going to join 😛 ). However, that you only need to commute twice a week (rather than 5 times a week) means you can choose to live a little bit farther.

Yes, it does make hiring harder (compared to all-remote), but once hired, people can be far more productive in a hybrid model. With the option of doing deep work without the danger / fear of someone poking you (this literally happened to me yesterday) when you’re in the middle of deep work!

So yes, put me down as someone who likes the hybrid model of work.

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