Think Hybrid: Why Fully Remote Work Is Not Sustainable

Kathryn HaydonBusiness, Grow Your Creativity

Think Hybrid: Why Fully Remote Work Is Not Sustainable

By Kathryn P. Haydon

Business, Grow Your Creativity

Fully remote work was possible in our world’s recent short-term emergency, but is it sustainable forever? 

A recent survey reported in Inc.,  “Survey: Nearly Half of Business Owners Say Remote Work is Hurting Productivity.” can help us to arrive at the answer.

According to the survey of over 1,000 business owners, the following percentages of respondents cited several disadvantages their teams have experienced from remote work:

  • 45% – decrease in employee productivity 
  • 37% – decrease in leader productivity
  • 35% – decrease in morale 
  • 30% – increase in miscommunications
  • 30% – decrease in collaboration

Some leaders, however, pointed to increased productivity (34%) and fewer disputes (30%) among employees. 

Whether you and your team thrive working from home depends on a unique set of circumstances. It is a function of inherent factors such as industry, individual strengths, home life, and team dynamics. 

Because so many businesses have figured out how to work remotely and many employees have become comfortable without commutes, employers will be under continued pressure to make remote work options available or face retention and hiring difficulties. 

Yet, I don’t believe that a fully remote model of work is healthy in the longterm. There are major elements missing from virtual work that inhibit businesses from developing thriving, kinetic, innovative cultures. 

The Hybrid Model

Fully remote work is defined as a scenario in which you never see team members or clients in person. But I do have almost a decade of experience that proves out the effectiveness of a well-designed hybrid model. This is the way the Sparkitivity team and thought partners have been working since at least 2013.

Let me say first that there are many different ways to approach a hybrid work model. Many organizations will work every week in a common physical office, from one day up to four. The model I’m about to share demonstrates that it is possible to have a team spread around the country or the world as long as deliberate, well-designed in-person meetings are planned with regularity. It also underscores the need for meaningful in-person meetings and experiences for teams that are regularly together in the office. 

Sparkitivity’s hybrid work model stands on the foundation of an incredibly effective hybrid masters program in Creativity and Change Leadership at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. 

This two-year graduate program started with the entire cohort together on campus in Buffalo, New York for two full weeks of meaningful learning and problem-solving. We got to know each other on a deep level, made multi-dimensional connections, and achieved a unity of purpose by working through learning experiences together and creating shared memories. We also learned problem-solving processes which we could implement in person or online to work through future bumps in the road. 

After the two weeks in person, we entered a year of fully remote online course work. The work we did in class had to be applied in our real, offline lives and this brought our experience full circle. 

The following summer, our cohort spent another two weeks together. Then another full year of remote work.

The pattern looks roughly like this:

  • In-Person: Two weeks of well-designed in-person strategic learning and problem solving
  • Online: One full year of virtual course work
  • In-Person: Two weeks of well-designed in-person strategic learning and problem solving
  • Online: One full year of virtual course work
  • Individual meetings: Many of us formed lasting partnerships and met in person for specific projects throughout this two-year period and ongoing; these interwoven in-person meetings refresh our personal connections, trust, and deepen our innovation potential. 

Sparkitivity’s most trusted and effective partners are colleagues who I met and worked with in this hybrid masters program. With a combination of remote and in-person collaboration, Jane Harvey and I wrote Creativity for Everybody and have collaborated on many corporate and education projects together. Same with other colleagues like David Eyman and Marta Villanueva. 

Our repeated in-person work together has given us a clear sense of each others strengths and weaknesses in settings designed to establish long-lasting, multi-dimensional bonds. 

Key Components of Effective Hybrid Work

There are several key components to a sustainable and healthy hybrid work model that results in truly innovate and valuable work: 

  1. Periodic and well-designed in-person experiences that combine real work and the opportunity to make spontaneous connections.

    Author David Burkus recently analyzed a set of research that concluded that team-building “activities” for the sake of team-building do not work. They are too shallow and don’t relate to real work. For example, the temporary togetherness you experience at a ropes course doesn’t have a direct application to day-to-day office work. Burkus’s conclusion from the data is that “what matters is how similar to real world work the activity is.”

    This is exactly why my hybrid graduate program was a success. Our in-person courses and group projects charted directly to the creative problem solving process that we used and developed in our ongoing collaboration and careers. As a result of this process, we developed an individual and shared purpose. We more deeply understood our teammates’ ways of working.

    Your team needs to have a process, and I highly recommend this one. Yes, we can teach it to you! 

  2. Flexibility for team members to schedule their own in-person project meetings when needed.

    In-person work on important projects is essential if you want to go beyond typical solutions and hit upon novel and valuable innovation. Online, we are never fully present. I believe this is because when we are working online we do not share with the other person the same environment; we each are subject to varied distractions on our side of the screen. The most effective problem-solving requires structured process and unremitting focus. In person, this is fun, invigorating, and delivers results. 

For the last two decades, I have studied the science of learning design and team problem-solving process. I have helped companies and schools design directly applicable curricula and experiences to draw out highest-level learning and productivity, with a team-strengthening side effect. 

Please reach out to us if you’d like support designing your organization’s hybrid work model, including the meaningful, applicable in-person experiences that are key to healthy and sustainable high-growth teams and organizations.


Kathryn Haydon helps you maximize your creative strengths so you can do your best work. Through keynotes, workshops, and consulting, she trains individuals, leaders, and teams to find the unique spark that leads to deep engagement and productivity.

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