November 18, 2021

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Hybrid work isn’t working

A funny thing happened on our way to the flexible, hybrid workplace paradise: everyone, it turns out, hates it. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. (Never mind that despite a pandemic, most people still don’t really know what working remotely is like.)

Remote work has tons of benefits, and so does working with people in the flesh. A hybrid workplace was supposed to allow people to take advantage of one or the other or both so they could do their work on their own terms. Basically, “Have it your way,” workplace edition.

But there are some cracks; a hot mess, you might say. This New York Times article explores how it effectively creates two unequal classes of employee:

Some companies used their tentative [return to office] dates as an unwitting excuse to avoid questions about how to balance the needs of their remote and in-person employees, according to Edward Sullivan, an executive coach.

That has resulted in a mushy middle ground: video calls where remote workers have trouble hearing, a sense that people at home are missing out on perks (teammates), while those in the office are, too (pajamas). And the stakes aren’t just who is getting talked over in meetings. It’s whether flexibility is sustainable, even with all the benefits it confers.

“We’re going to see a lot of companies get this wrong,” said Chris Herd, an entrepreneur and expert on hybrid work.

One fun example of a company getting something wrong is Zillow, which has a policy that “stipulates that if even one person is participating in a meeting virtually, everyone in the office is required to join on separate laptops,” ostensibly so their names appear next to their faces. 

At this moment, I can’t imagine a more annoying meeting than one where the person sitting on my right and the person on my left are both staring at my face on their laptops because one of our co-workers has chosen to work remotely.

Strangely, this epitomizes the American experience right now: “Either no one is on Zoom, or everyone is on Zoom. There is no middle ground.” Because, again, I think maybe people care about work too much. Does everyone really need to participate in every meeting? “Talk less, smile more,” is a perfectly reasonable approach to Zoom, in my opinion.

Plus, the uncertainty of what was going to happen made lots of people uncomfortable. Again, I think this is a feature of the American work experience, not a bug. Uncertainty in American culture comes off as weakness rather than just a state of being. So many kept looking for the end of work from home, rather than accept the uncertainty, which is what the situation probably called for:

“Back in Vietnam the prisoners of war who accepted that they had no idea when they would be saved were the ones who survived,” said Sullivan, chief executive of the coaching firm Velocity Group, reaching for a reference — what’s known as the Stockdale Paradox — far from the circumstances of the office water cooler. “The companies that accepted that this is going to be difficult and communicated that clearly to their teams, they’re going to thrive. There’s no more hoping for Christmas, hoping for Easter. Let’s just accept that this will be hard.”

Ok, maybe not the most elegant analogy, but the point is taken. With so much eagerness by some to return to the office, and so much yearning for normalcy from basically everyone, it’s no surprise that we were destined for disappointment when office life returned. Or, sorta returned. 

Tax evaders, where are they now?

As for Ty Warner, Beanie Baby founder and convicted tax evader, he’s saving Christmas!

With his Beanie Babies stuck at sea aboard a flotilla of slow boats from China, Chicago billionaire Ty Warner has taken to the skies to circumvent the ongoing shipping crisis, booking entire cargo planes to get his signature stuffed animals home for the holidays.


“The widely-reported problems with global supply chains have cast a pall over the coming Christmas. There’s too much doom-and-gloom out there,” Warner said in a news release. “I’m here to tell our customers that, despite what they might have read or heard, Christmas is not canceled.”

Any noted billionaire tax evaders will have to take note: uncancelling Christmas will be a hard redemption story to beat.

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Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.
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