Hybrid vs remote: which working model is the right choice?

Written by 
David Young
 and 
  —  
August 16, 2023
A man using a computer and drinking coffee in a home office.

Building a productive, healthy workplace used to be so straightforward. You’d stock the office, make sure there were enough meeting rooms, maybe include some comfortable furniture and a fridge full of snacks. While you might occasionally have some remote workers, they weren’t anything you had to plan around.

How times have changed. Remote work became the new normal after the pandemic. And despite more recent pushes to attract employees back into the office, most companies must now choose between either remote or hybrid workplaces. So with fully in-office off the table, which option is right for you?

The right answer is whatever gives your workers the ideal mix of flexibility and structure to enable them to get the job done. But let’s break these two work models down so you can figure this out for yourself.

Hybrid and remote work: what are they?

These two terms are certainly spoken about often enough to feel familiar, but what do they really mean for how you work?

Hybrid work

Hybrid work is when you have employees who can either come into the office for in-person work or work remotely from wherever they want. In both cases, they’ll be interacting with a mix of remote and in-person employees.

A hybrid model can either be rigid, in which you specify either the number of days or the specific dates each employee can work remotely, or it can be more flexible and allow the employees to choose for themselves. Alternatively, it may require some workers to be in the office due to their roles (for example, anyone who does physical work), while others can work remotely.

Remote work

Remote work is when employees don’t come into an office and instead work from their own setups, whether that’s their home office, a local cafe, or anywhere else. 

While remote work can coexist with in-person work (see hybrid work above), a fully remote work model does away with the office entirely. Instead, remote workers use a variety of different communication and collaboration tools to get their work done. Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are ubiquitous, as are chat tools like Slack. And don’t forget about digital whiteboards for team collaboration.

Remote work can take place anywhere, doesn’t require an office, and is facilitated by technology, while hybrid work does include an office and in-person workers, but accommodates remote employees as well.

Hybrid vs Remote: A look at the pros and cons

Neither the remote nor the hybrid work model can be said to be better than the other. Instead, they each come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Understanding them is key to choosing the best work model for you.

Remote work pros and cons

While remote work is definitely the most flexible option, this can come at a cost. Here are the pros and cons of the remote work model you should know about.

Remote work pros:

  • Flexibility: Without an office to come into, employees can work wherever they feel most comfortable. This can make it much easier for them to start earlier or stay later if they want.
  • More focus: The ability to work from the comforts of home or a favorite cafe means no noisy coworkers stopping by for a quick chat. This can make it much easier to dive deep into work.
  • No required office space: Renting out or purchasing office space, as well as maintaining it, can be a major expense for many companies. Remote work eliminates this altogether.
  • No commute: Getting to work, which includes dressing for the day and packing a lunch, as well as the actual commute, can be one of the most time-consuming parts of the day. Remote work gets rid of this as well.
  • Larger talent pool: When your employees can work from anywhere, you can hire from anywhere too. You’re no longer limited to the talent pool in your particular city or even state. Instead, you’re free to hire the best for the job, wherever they may be.

Remote work cons:

  • Fewer face-to-face interactions: Without any coworkers around, some employees may find remote work to be isolating or even alienating (although this will be less of a problem for the more introverted).
  • Less cross-functional visibility: Being in an office and working in the same physical space can make it easy to see what other teams are working on and learn from them. Remote work can take away from this unless you’re very intentional about cross-functional collaboration.
  • Collaboration takes more effort: While in-person collaboration can be as easy as walking up to someone’s desk, doing this remotely may mean sending out an email, requesting time on a calendar, and setting up a video chat. These extra efforts may make employees less willing to work together.

Hybrid work pros and cons

Hybrid work tries to capture the best of both remote and in-person work, although this can also come with its own challenges. Here are the pros and cons of the hybrid work model.

Pros:

  • Strikes a good balance: Neither full in-person nor full remote, hybrid can be the perfect mix for people who are looking for remote’s flexibility but still want to socialize and interact with their coworkers.
  • Clear boundaries: Working remotely full-time can make your house feel like an extension of the office, particularly when employees end up working at odd hours. By giving them the option to come into the actual office, hybrid helps eliminate this problem.
  • More face-to-face interaction: Hybrid work arrangements give employees more chances to actually meet people in person. This can help reduce the social isolation that can come from fully remote work.

Cons:

  • Participation inequality: When in-person workers are present, remote employees can often feel like they have a harder time participating and contributing to the conversation. In turn, this may put undue pressure on them to come into the office, even when they’d prefer to work remotely.
  • Less flexible: If your hybrid model requires workers to come into the office one or more times a week, it won’t be able to compete with remote work’s flexibility. In fact, some employees may find the mix of coming in and staying home even more disorienting.

How to choose the right model for your teams

Weighing the pros and cons of these two work models is a start, but to really choose whether remote or hybrid is the best work arrangement for your team, you need to be considering the full context of how your team works. To do this, here are some important questions you should be asking yourself.

1. What needs to get done?

The kind of work your employees are doing should be your first consideration. After all, the point of working is to accomplish something together. By focusing on what needs to get done, you’re centering your practice on business goals, rather than geography. 

Getting down to logistics, more than likely you’ll have a mix of employee roles and responsibilities. Try to divide those who have to come in full-time (such as anyone who works with physical objects) from those who can afford to be more flexible. Once you’ve done this, take a closer look at the remaining employees. Does the kind of work they do involve a lot of spontaneous collaboration? Or is it more important that they focus independently on their own projects?

Understanding not only what needs to get one, but also how it can best get done, is essential for deciding the best work model for your employees.

2. Where are employees located?

Arbitrary as it may be, the location of your team members naturally plays a role in which model you choose. If there is an advantage to be gained from regularly bringing everyone into an office, and a number of your employees live within a short distance of one another, then you should take pains to facilitate in-person collaboration. 

But that’s not the only way to frame the idea of geography: There's also the question of where you’d like to draw your talent from. 

For example: If your company is located in a large metropolitan area, like New York or San Francisco, then you may have no trouble finding qualified employees and requiring them to come into the office at least part-time. However, if you are located in a smaller region, or work within a specialized industry, then you may want to access the larger talent pool a remote workplace can give you instead.

3. How can you support remote employees?

What kinds of tools and technologies do you have in place (or are willing to put in place) to support either a fully remote or hybrid work model? Your answer may help clarify the model that'll work best.

For example, when it comes to remote teams, you may want to consider offering a stipend so that each employee can set up their home office. Whether this means they can purchase a better camera, a comfortable desk chair, or even a new computer, it'll help make sure every team member has an equitable work situation.

However, ensuring the same level of support and equity can be a little trickier in the case of hybrid teams. That’s because, when there are in-person employees all meeting and working together in the same room, it can often be more difficult for remote workers to fully participate. 

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make the hybrid model work, but it'll require you to use tools and put processes in place that make sure remote workers aren't excluded from the conversation.

Related: How to effectively manage distributed teams

4. What do your teams want?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to consider the preferences of the people on your teams. More than likely, they’ll have some opinions about the way they’d prefer to work. Listening to them will help ensure that your transition to a remote or hybrid model goes smoothly.

There are several ways you can go about collecting their input. If you think everyone is well-versed in the pros and cons of each working model, you could simply take a vote. But if you believe your employees may benefit from a more nuanced discussion of what’s best for both them and the company, then you may want to more clearly lay out how each work arrangement would affect them. Discuss their benefits and disadvantages, but also make sure to put both hybrid and remote work models in the context of your organization’s day-to-day needs.

After discussing the needs of your team members, as well as of the company, you can all hopefully agree on the model that fits everyone best. 

Hybrid and remote work doesn't have to be difficult

The promise of fully remote and hybrid work options is greater productivity, more flexibility, and a better work-life balance. But poorly managing the transition to these new work arrangements, or just not knowing what each one takes to succeed, can cause more stress at your organization — and even lead to burnout.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Whether you’re interested in embracing a fully remote option or want a hybrid model that maximizes flexibility, you can ease the transition by developing a fuller understanding of what each one brings, then asking the right questions to see how each will fit within your specific teams.

There’s no reason you have to do this on your own, though. If you want to learn more about how you can set up your teams to do their best work — whether that’s from the office, the home, or both — Mural is here to help.

Check out our hybrid work guide to get your team and organization ready.

About the authors

About the authors

David Young

David Young

Contributing Writer
David is a contributing writer at Mural, focused on covering collaboration, meetings, and teamwork. He's been working in the hybrid tech space for over 10 years and has been writing about it nearly as long. When he's not doing that, he's probably cooking up a meal.

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