David Heinemeier Hansson

June 8, 2023

Hybrid combines the worst of office and remote work

The honeymoon for remote work is over, and managers who never liked the concept to begin with are plotting its complete reversal, so that things may return to how they were before The Great Remote Experiment. This experiment convinced millions of employees of how much better life could be without a commute or even having to live by the office, but also left uneasy the legions of managers whose skills and mindsets were anchored in the office.

This reversal plot is know as hybrid work, and combines the worst of in-office and remote work worlds. The shrewd – but likely temporary – concession here is starting with three days in the office, two from home. By starting like this, managers who have no interest in remote work at all can claim to have "compromised", dulling the urge to revolt. Then once resistance has worn down, the last two days can be dropped, and a full-time office reality can once again reign supreme.

The hybrid arrangement kills many of the key benefits of remote work, like that all employees must again live within a commute's distance of the office. In the US, that often means either dealing with a soul-crushingly long rush-hour journey by car or a life in the center of cities that are struggling with both high rents and high dysfunction. And it means hiring is again restricted to that small circle of people within a commute's distance of the office.

It also makes the interruption factory the norm once again. While there are undoubtedly benefits to meeting in person, you needn't do so every day – or even every week or month! – to reap those benefits. And forcing everyone to do so, including those who need long stretches of uninterrupted time to unleash their creativity, will be very hard for anyone who flourished in a calm home office.

Amazingly, hybrid also kills several key benefits of in-office work. Perhaps much importantly that unless both time and days are mandated, you often end up with employees going to the office, only to realize that they'll have to do a video call anyway to collaborate with someone who isn't there today. A long commute can be crushing on the best of days, but it's twice as bad if it's in service of the same zoom fatigue you could have enjoyed from home.

But also that when work straddles the gap between asynchronous and real-time throughout the week, you can easily end up with half-assed version of both. When some of the information you need is written down and discussed online on the out-of-office days, and the rest lives only in the minds of people from oral tradition.

I say, do or do not. Hybrid is a cop-out. Commit to the office, if that's what you want. Or commit to remote, and enjoy all the benefits it brings. Don't fiddle this Machiavellian middle.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.