Why Nobody is Happy with Hybrid

June 23, 2022

As folks try to adjust to hybrid work styles with some folks in the office and others remote, our digital tools still fall short of providing bridges between the worlds. Many folks recommend against hybrid calls entirely. Yet people who enjoy the office are annoyed they are going there just to sit on Zoom. The CEO of Yelp proclaimed today that hybrid work is hell. Nobody seems to be happy with hybrid. It is the worst of both worlds.

This is not to say hybrid organizations or schedules cannot work. My employer has both a cohort of folks that work primarily in the office and workers that are distributed across the world. If folks in the office join the remote participants in Zoom from their own desk and laptop things work fine. Being in the office is still worth it for them if they get reliable Internet, a quiet ergonomic space to work, or have other fully in-person meetings to attend. It is hybrid synchronous meetings or events where things fall apart.

What breaks in a hybrid meeting? It is hard to get in-person and virtual folks to have awareness of whether in-person folks are chatting with each other. Without lots of screens or other view into the virtual space, in-person attendees cannot tell what the virtual folks are saying and doing. Shifting attention between in-person and virtual worlds for an in-person attendee often means deciding which group you will neglect. Unless they are on a microphone virtual attendees cannot listen to in-person conversations to decide if they want to join them. While everyone might be engaging at the same time, they are functionally in two different events.

For some circumstances technology and structure can create a successful hybrid meeting. At Code for Boston the Meeting Owl has been a great tool for leveling the field for in-person and virtual attendees. However, once there are more than six or so folks in-person the MeetingOwl loses its effectiveness. You can also have a structured situation where one person speaks at a time and that person is always on camera or a projector and speakers for everyone. In that situation it is less interactive but folks can be virtual or remote.

Nobody is happy with hybrid because the needs and desires of the in-person and virtual crowds are different. The compromises that one side is forced to make for a hybrid event mean that it does not fulfill some of the needs of the other side. Settling for hybrid is splitting the baby. The hybrid experiment has failed and the best thing you can do is pick in-person or virtual and stick with it.

Want to get posts like this in your email?

This work by Matt Zagaja is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.