Finding a hybrid work culture for your startup can be challenging. (BCV)

Determining Your Startup’s Hybrid Work Structure

One size does not fit all, but it’s best for early-stage teams to get meaningful amounts of face-to-face time on a regular basis.

5 min read October 24, 2023
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The return to the office is slowly but surely underway, as the rates of office occupancy trickle up (slowly, in many cases) in major tech hubs like San Francisco and New York City. This has led to some controversy in the tech sector, as companies try to reconcile the perks of a flexible, remote workforce with all the benefits of having their teams physically co-located.

This all presents a particularly challenging conundrum for the founders of early-stage companies. 

On the one hand, many employees value the flexibility of only coming in a few times a week. On the other, a startup – especially one that has yet to achieve product-market fit – benefits from having the team together in the same place at the same time. It’s not impossible to rally a team around a common vision and culture remotely, but it is much harder. 

Founders and executives have found that there’s no single, simple solution to this dilemma. Instead, founders need to be intentional with their hybrid work strategies: Navigating the situation requires some sober reflection on what’s best for the business, whether that results in more days in the office or fewer.

For some companies, those reflections may well result in the decision to go all-remote. Walking that path does offer some benefits, including access to otherwise-untapped pools of talent. But founders really see what their teams are made of when they’re in person at least part of the time. Onboarding is easier, brainstorming is more natural, rapid iteration is better and you can see firsthand how somebody responds to a moment of crisis when you’re closer together.

For all of those reasons, I believe a well-conceived, thoughtful hybrid strategy is the best choice in most situations. Here are some of the things I would recommend an early-stage founder consider in forming a hybrid work strategy.

One size doesn’t fit all

Certain job functions are simply accelerated by having the team physically together.

For example, inside sales teams benefit greatly from the camaraderie and learnings of being in the office three, four or even five days a week. They can celebrate wins, commiserate over losses and strategize collectively. Those bonds of teamwork are the foundation of a strong company culture – and hard to cultivate over the likes of Zoom or Slack.

Conversely, there are roles in divisions like engineering, human resources,or accounting where the work is highly compartmentalized. In those situations, it might make more sense to have them only come in a few times a week. That might also present an opportunity to hire remotely, provided that they don’t necessarily need to work closely with a team to accomplish their goals.

Make going into the office worth it

Along those same lines, it’s vitally important that if an employee is being asked to spend any time in the office, they feel like they’re getting something from the experience.

The worst-case scenario is when someone comes into the office just to spend their entire day on video calls. If you decide that a team or organization does need to come in, make sure they’ll get plenty of face time with their peers and colleagues. 

That might also include culture-building events like team outings, lunches, happy hours or anything else that helps the team mesh and mingle. The goal is to make employees feel like going to the office is a value-add rather than a chore.

Practice what you preach

No matter what you decide, make sure that you and the rest of your leadership team lead by example. If the model is for most employees to be in the office three days a week, it’s of the utmost importance that you’re seen to be there too.

By extension, that means that any founder who moved away to work remotely during the height of the pandemic should consider moving closer to wherever the rest of the team will be co-locating. You should be willing to do whatever you’re asking the rest of the team to do, even if you find it personally inconvenient.

Too much communication is not enough

Something we learned during the pandemic was that remote work is only enabled by overcommunication. 

Docker, one of our portfolio companies, has found that when its team is distributed, maintaining a coherent mission and culture is only be possible if you repeat your internal messaging over and over again.

That lesson is just as important in a hybrid scenario, if not moreso. When some of the team is in the office on one day, and the rest is in the office on another day, you run the risk of fragmenting the culture. If any proportion of your workforce is going to work remotely for any amount of time, it becomes more important than ever to make sure as much communication is written down as possible. Beyond just knowledge transfer, you’ll want to make sure that your mission and values are codified in communications that go out to everybody.

Just like with anything else in startup life, it’s important to continue to iterate and improve on your hybrid work strategy by constantly evaluating what’s working and what’s not. But if a company can get this right early on in its existence, it can carry them through the later stages of the startup journey – and, potentially, beyond.

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