What Is hybrid work? A primer on the new way of working

Written by 
Jim Kalbach
May 24, 2023
A group of coworkers in a hybrid meeting inside a mural
What Is hybrid work? A primer on the new way of working
Written by 
Jim Kalbach
May 24, 2023

Hybrid is quickly becoming the dominant work model post-pandemic. In fact, 77% of the Fortune 100 operate on a hybrid work schedule. Within this group, 18% require three office visits per week — and this policy seems to be trending upward. 

The hybrid work model is emerging as a powerful solution to enable the future of collaboration. By understanding its definition and benefits, addressing concerns, and tailoring it to your organization's unique needs, you can build a well-performing hybrid work environment that enhances productivity, flexibility, and employee satisfaction.

What is hybrid work?

“Hybrid” describes a flexible work model in which employees are expected to be present in the office at least one day per week while being permitted to work from a remote location some of the time.

The hybrid work model blends the best of both remote work and in-person collaboration, allowing employees to work from a combination of home and office environments. It is a flexible approach that acknowledges the importance of remote work while valuing face-to-face interaction for certain tasks or situations. 

Benefits of the hybrid work model

Hybrid has become a popular model for many reasons. During the pandemic, employees got a taste of a different way of working and a different lifestyle that remote work afforded. And it worked all around. Studies show that people can be more productive when working remotely. 

Let’s explore the growing benefits of hybrid work:

More flexibility

With hybrid work models, employees have more autonomy to get work done where, when, and how they want to. Hybrid collaboration gives employees more control over where they get to work when they’re most productive, whether that’s at the office or in the comfort of their own home.

Increases productivity

Hybrid work allows employees to work in their preferred environment, leading to higher engagement, reduced distractions, and improved focus.

Cost savings

Implementing a hybrid work model can help reduce real estate needs for the office, lower overhead costs, and cut down on in-office support. For employees, hybrid working saves time and money by reducing the total amount of commuting back and forth between the home and the office each day.

Improved work-life balance

On one hand, working full-time from home can be isolating, but a completely on-site workplace can be distracting and chaotic. Hybrid provides the best of both models by balancing quiet focus time and flexible work hours with an in-office culture and opportunities for face-to-face interaction.

Concerns about hybrid

Leaders are concerned about hybrid making it harder for teams to collaborate, losing team cohesion and connection, and the extra effort required to make a hybrid model work.

For instance, Mark Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, believes that employees are more successful in general when in the office. 

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is concerned the company’s remote workforce has lost both “the art of collaboration” and “a connection to a shared mission, something bigger.” 

They believe bringing people together — at least part of the time — maintains a healthy company culture. 

Hybrid work policies seek to balance the best of both worlds. This is why we believe it will remain the dominant model of work for the foreseeable future. 

What makes a “good” hybrid workplace?

Creating intentional collaboration

In a hybrid work environment, where team members are distributed across different locations and work arrangements, intentional collaboration becomes even more critical to bridge the physical and virtual divide.

Intentional collaboration involves setting clear expectations, establishing consistent communication channels, and implementing structured collaboration processes. It means consciously choosing the right tools and technologies to support seamless information sharing, project management, and communication among team members.

Moving away from a meeting-heavy culture

Meetings are the “default” collaboration style for many organizations. According to some estimates, the average worker attends over five meetings per day, each averaging 55 minutes in length. 

Why so many meetings? Is all of that time really necessary, especially when it’s often spent with a group just watching someone else give a presentation? Where teams collaborate — together in an office or from a remote location — requires a new way, or an update to the norms and practices of team interactions. 

Giving everyone an equal voice to share ideas

By incorporating asynchronous collaboration methods alongside meetings, team members have the opportunity to express their thoughts and contribute outside the confines of real-time discussions. 

This allows individuals who may be less comfortable speaking up in meetings or have competing commitments to still participate actively. They can share their perspectives, provide input, and contribute to decision-making.

Choosing the right working style for the situation

Organizations that are adept at hybrid become proficient at selecting the most suitable working styles for different tasks or situations. The flexibility of hybrid work allows them to leverage a range of working styles to optimize productivity and collaboration. Here are the various working styles to master:

In-person & synchronous

Most common for office-first work models and involves employees working together in the same location, this style is best for:

  • Building rapport and getting to know colleagues with in-person interactions
  • Solving complex creative problem with no clear beginning or end
  • Manipulating physical objects as a team (e.g., lab work)
  • Interacting face-to-face with customers or patrons (e.g., retail, customer service)

In-person & asynchronous

An underutilized style characterized by employees working in the same location but collaborating together on their own time. This style is best-suited for:

  • Providing visibility for shared information
  • Solving simple problems together openly 
  • Reflecting on shared challenges
  • Collecting anonymous feedback for transparency

Remote synchronous

Remote synchronous involves remote teams working together in in real-time from different locations and is recommended for:

  • Building personal connections over time
  • Including a broad group with diverse perspectives
  • Holding general discussions and problem-focused working sessions
  • Unblocking team members
  • Quickly clarifying ambiguous situations

Remote asynchronous

Characterized by remote employees working separately on their own schedules, this method is best for the following uses:

  • Deep work and solving tough challenges individually
  • Sharing information that doesn’t require discussion
  • Working across timezones

Mixed synchronous

Mixed-location synchronous collaborations are not new at all. Characterized by a mix of remote employees and workers in the office, this is the most familiar style of hybrid right now. This style is best-suited for:

  • Building strong team relationships between in-office and remote teams
  • Conducting real-time collaboration and project coordination among many team members
  • Decision-making and alignment sessions demanding real-time discussions and input from multiple stakeholders

In fact, our investigations have shown that most teams work in a mixed situation most of the time, about 60 percent on average, according to our yearly surveys. However, in the past, folks have been pretty poor at making mixed meetings work.

It’s imperative to design equity into mixed-collaboration settings. The challenge during hybrid meetings is that in-person groups tend to assume dominant roles in collaboration. They are “here.” The remote team members are “there.” This often leads to unequal participation. 

How to make hybrid work in your organization

It makes sense that leaders would be hesitant about implementing hybrid work given the complexity behind making it work well. 

But you know what? The perks of flexibility, freedom, better productivity, and improved teamwork make it absolutely worth it. Going hybrid can give everyone a better work-life balance, make employees happier, and bring overall success to the organization.

When bringing hybrid to your workplace, these steps will help lay a strong foundation rooted in equity, thoughtful collaboration, and connection.

1. Uplevel your collaboration skills

The hybrid work-style isn’t a burden, it’s an opportunity to improve teamwork across the board. This begins, we believe, by focusing on collaboration as a skill that can be taught and learned by everyone in an organization.

First, we need to reimagine the norms and conduct of teams — their operating model, so to speak. Each mode of interaction comes with its own set of practices and etiquette. Making this explicit in the form of a team agreement, for instance, prevents misunderstandings and helps the team stay on track without debating the rules of engagement. 

Get started with the team charter and the team agreements templates from Mural to establish new team norms and values. 

Second, teamwork benefits from having a common set of collaboration methods. For instance, the LUMA system of human-centered design methods can be used to solve just about any problem imaginable. Once everyone on the team knows them, efficiency, participation, and team ‘sense-making’ increase dramatically. Why reinvent the wheel for each meeting?

Other examples include agile rituals and ceremonies, which guide and direct teamwork in a consistent and repeatable manner as well. Or liberating structures offer concrete ways for teams to interact. Either way, getting your team on the page is a whole lot easier if you’re all reading from the same playbook. 

2. Leverage visual problem-solving

The human brain processes visual information differently from text. We’re able to see patterns and relationships to solve problems better. We can offload memory to a visual canvas, increasing  our available brain power to think creatively and analytically. Multiplied across a team, visual thinking represents a superpower hidden inside all of us, making teamwork more efficient.

In our work with hundreds of teams around the world, we’ve found that visual collaboration supports teamwork in a number of ways:

  • Teams get aligned quicker: A shared understanding of the topic at head increases when thoughts are visualized, moving from “listen to what I’m saying” to “see what I mean” in an instant. 
  • Parallel processing: Visual collaboration saves time by allowing teams to work in parallel. No longer do you have to cycle through a group one by one — instead, everyone can contribute at the same time, reducing hours to just minutes. One team we spoke with at a large educational publisher was able to cut meeting time by more than 50%. Rather than going through each participant one by one, they all contributed to a canvas simultaneously.  
  • Switch contexts rapidly: It turns out that the human visual system is the most developed of our senses. We can find patterns and make sense of visual information very quickly. This also means we can re-find our place faster after being distracted when working visually.
  • Create a single source of truth: A “dashboard” generally refers to a single place to get an overview of information, often real time data or status updates. The key is having a range of information visible and in sight at once. 
  • Connect and have fun together: When you’re a part of a team, you feel it. That sense of camaraderie, mutual trust and accountability, and the strength of being a part of something greater — that’s connection. Working visually draws people together with a playful, fun style of interaction that removes fear and builds trust at the same time.

3. Increase asynchronous teamwork 

The key to unlocking the potential of hybrid work-styles, we believe, is greatly increasing your team’s asynchronous collaboration. Increasing the amount of async collaboration doesn’t mean eliminating synchronous teamwork — rather, it means shifting much of it to async workstyles. 

You’ll maximize the times when you are together, but also help individuals work, with more focus and less multitasking, at their own pace. The future of work is multimodal, and async collaboration is the key to making it work. You’ll win back time for you and your teams.

4. Adopt a digital-first approach to collaboration

The quality of your decisions depends on the people involved, and if your remote teammates aren't included, you're missing out on valuable input. That's why it's crucial to have a digital-first mindset. 

This means your team should always start collaborating in digital spaces. It's best to have information, ideas, and decisions in a digital format right from the beginning. 

When someone in a physical office writes something on a whiteboard, those who aren't there can't access that information. This isn't just about technology; it's also about changing behavior and habits. Incorporating asynchronous communication into your team's workflow takes time. Some people prefer real-time meetings and schedule a lot of them. To work well with such individuals, you need to make a conscious effort to establish routines that accommodate their collaboration style.

For instance, teams all around SAP have been changing the way they work in this way, step by step. Julie Bartholic, VP of Product Innovation Design for SuccessFactors, has found that the combination of a shared workspace and mindful collaboration practices help them make decisions twice as fast while reducing turnaround time for deliverables. 

“I use Mural for literally everything,” says Bartholic.

Distributed teams at SAP were able to work better across time zones and increase asynchronous collaboration with a common space made for it. A senior vice president at SAP told us: “The power of an asynchronous working model [with Mural] ... is underestimated.” 

As a result, the business benefited from an improved efficiency across the board — from sales to product design. And the overall employee experience was better, as well, including new employee onboarding and increased talent retention.

Is hybrid the new way of working?

To be clear, hybrid work is not new. Although formal policies around hybrid work may be newly minted, our research has shown it was a dominant mode of teamwork even prior to the pandemic. 

The problem was that we just didn’t do it well. 

In particular, remote teammates were often treated like second-class citizens, unable to contribute to the conversation or decision-making process. This is the challenge of hybrid work: participation inequity. It turns out that a lot of our olds ways of working just don’t cut it. Now is the time to reimagine how work gets done, from the ground up.

Do your teams have what it takes to make hybrid work? Download our guide to get techniques to navigate the “here vs. there” dilemma, think through the 5Ps for making hybrid work, and solve for collaboration, clarity, and employee engagement.

Get the guide to making hybrid work


1. https://buildremote.co/companies/return-to-office/


3. https://fortune.com/2023/01/12/starbucks-office-mandate-ceo-howard-schultz-three-days-a-week/

4. See e.g., Reclaim AI, “Productivity Trends Report: One-on-One Meeting Statistics” (Nov 2021)

About the authors

About the authors

Jim Kalbach

Jim Kalbach

Chief Evangelist
Jim is a noted author, speaker, and instructor in innovation, design, and the future of work. He is currently Chief Evangelist at Mural, the leading visual work platform.