Why Should a Hybrid Employee Come to the Office?

Hybrid employees don’t hate the office - they hate commuting to it, surveys show, since for

many commuting takes over an hour per day and costs many thousands of dollars per year.

And peer-reviewed studies find clear associations between longer commuting times and worse

job satisfaction, increased stress, and poorer mental health.

Given that data, when I consult for organizations on determining hybrid work arrangements for

their employees, a primary consideration involves minimizing staff commuting time. That means

using data-driven methods to determine what endeavors offer the best return-on-investment for

in-office work to make them worth the commute. Then, we develop a communication strategy to

convey the value of these face-to-face tasks to hybrid employees, so as to get their buy-in on

coming to the office for such high-impact work pursuits. In turn, we convey a commitment to

minimizing their time spent in traffic by bunching as many activities requiring face-to-face

presence together as possible. Doing so helps improve hybrid employee retention, engagement,

and morale while reducing burnout.

What Kind of Work Should Hybrid Employees Do at the Office?

The large majority of hybrid employee time is spent on individual tasks, such as focused work,

asynchronous communication and collaboration, and videoconference meetings, which are

most productively done at home. There’s absolutely no need for employees to come to the

office for such activities. Still, the office remains a key driver of value for high-impact, lower-

duration activities that benefit from face-to-face interactions.

Intense Collaboration

Intense collaboration involves teams coming together in person to solve problems, make

decisions, align on strategy, develop plans, and build consensus around implementing ideas

they brainstormed remotely and asynchronously. Face-to-face interactions allow team members

to observe each other’s body language, picking up on subtle cues like facial expressions,

gestures, and posture that they may miss when communicating remotely. These nuances carry

much more weight during intense collaborations.

Challenging Conversations

Any conversation that bears the potential for emotionality or conflict is best handled in the office.

It’s much easier to read and address other people’s emotions and manage any conflicts face-to-

face, rather than by videoconference. That means any conversations that have performance

evaluation overtones should rightly occur in the office. The content might range from weekly 1-

on-1 conversations between team members and team leads that assesses how the former

performed for the last week and what they will do next week, to a quarterly or annual

performance review. Similarly, it’s best to handle in-person any human resource concerns.

Cultivating Team Belonging and Organizational Culture

Our brains are not wired to connect and build relationships with people located in small squares

on a videoconference call, they’re wired to be tribal and connect with our fellow tribe members

in face-to-face settings. In-person presence thus offers an opportunity to build a sense of mutual

trust and group belonging that’s much deeper than videoconference calls. As a result - whether

at the level of small teams, mid-size business units, or the organization as a whole - in-person

activities offer the opportunity to create a sense of group cohesion and belonging.

In-Depth Training

A survey by The Conference Board reveals the key role of professional development for

employee retention. While online asynchronous or synchronous education may suffice for most

content, face-to-face interactions are best for in-depth training, by allowing trainees to engage

with the trainer and their peers more effectively. Physically present trainers can “read the room,”

noticing and adjusting to body language and emotions expressed by trainees. In turn, peer-to-

peer learning helps create a learning community that builds trust and facilitates mutual

understanding and retention of information by adult learners.

Mentoring, Leadership Development, and On-the-Job Training

Whether integrating junior staff and providing them with on-the-job training, mentoring and

coaching current staff, or developing new leaders, the office provides a valuable venue for such

informal professional development. If team members are in the office, mentors and supervisors

can observe the performance of their mentees and supervisees, and provide immediate

feedback and guidance. Doing so is much harder in remote settings and can result in biases.

Similarly, mentees and supervisees can ask questions and get answers in real time, which is at

the heart of on-the-job training. It’s certainly possible to do so remotely, but it takes more

organization and effort. Mentoring and leadership development often takes subtlety and nuance,

navigating emotions and egos. Such navigation is much easier in person than remotely.

Moreover, mentees need to develop a sense of real trust in the mentor to be vulnerable and

reveal weakness. Being in person is best for cultivating such trust.


The best practice for hybrid work involves helping employees reduce commuting by asking them

to come in only for high-value face-to-face activities. These tasks include intense collaboration,

challenging conversations, cultivating belonging, professional development, mentoring, and

building weak connections.

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