Why Experts Think “Structured Hybrid” Is the Future of Work

Business man on his couch wearing pajamas

Getty Images

And why we may never fully return to the office.

For the past couple of years, executives have attempted to pry their employees off of their couches and corral them back into the open-plan offices they left in March 2020. Meanwhile, workers who’ve grown accustomed to a life without commuting (and the luxury of attending meetings in sweatpants), have predictably bucked against that directive — hard

For a while, it seemed like both sides were in a standoff. CEOs feared that productivity would dip if their workforce wasn’t laboring under the watchful eyes of their managers; workers argued that their newfound freedom had only made them more productive and resilient to burnout. But three years after the pandemic forced corporate America to send their employees home with a VPN, a stipend for an ergonomic chair, and a wish/prayer, the war between remote work and return-to-office may finally be drawing to a close. The solution? A model that’s somewhere in the middle, and gives each side a bit of what they want: Hybrid. Employees aren’t fully free to work beside a cat in their living rooms, and are expected to show up at their offices (with actual shoes on) a couple of days a week. 

The organizations adopting a hybrid plan are widespread; a new Scoop survey of 4,000 companies found that the share of organizations requiring employees to be on-site full time has fallen from 49 percent in the first quarter of 2023 to 42 percent in Q2. Only 7 percent of companies are fully remote, which means the majority (51 percent) have adopted a hybrid model. 

“I kind of view it as a kind of truce between employers and employees,” Rob Sadow, Scoop’s CEO and founder, told Fortune. “Most companies are expecting employees to come in two or three days a week…That’s increasingly the bargain that’s being struck.” 

Jennifer Dulski, a lecturer at Stanford’s Business School and the CEO and founder of Rising Team — which supports companies operating as remote or hybrid enterprises — says she thinks the days of the “100 percent in-office work” are long gone. 

The report also found that companies seem to be converging on a particular sweet spot: the so-called “structured hybrid” model. According to the report, 30 percent of companies are now using this framework, which Scoop defines as setting clear expectations for when or how often employees have to come into work. This comes in different forms: Most companies require workers to come in a minimum number of days per week, allowing them to choose which ones, while others demand they come in on specific days. 

Half of hybrid offices want their people working in-person three days a week, and 41 percent require two days. Tuesdays are the most common required day, while it’s only the rare (and some would say rather sadistic) company that makes their employees commute in on a Friday, according to Scoop. 

Dulski says the solution that’s worked best for her clients, which include some of the country’s largest corporations, is a not-so-structured hybrid approach — meaning giving individual teams authority to choose when they meet in-person, rather than demanding company-wide that people be present Tuesday to Thursday, for example. Workers had gotten so used to pandemic-era flexibility that a blanket mandate now feels almost draconian, she says. 

“Everyone I talked to who said their company was mandating specific days was seeing something like an internal revolt,” Dulski says. 

Plus, when a company forces their entire workforce to come in on certain days, it nullifies many of hybrid’s benefits, she says, because you’re eliminating an employee’s ability to tailor their schedule to fit their needs. But by letting teams choose, you can get the best of both worlds: ensuring that people can collaborate in-person while giving workers a high level of flexibility. 

Dulski says companies are still learning how to build the best hybrid environments, experimenting with methods that sometimes fly and sometimes flop. But “the data is suggesting that hybrid is absolutely here to stay,” she says.