Hybrid model update: Did we get it right?  

Posted May 31st, 2023 by Ankit Mahadevia, in Corporate Culture, From The Trenches, New business models

By Ankit Mahadevia, CEO of Spero Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC

This time a quarter ago organizations large and small were in the thick of the “to hybrid or not to hybrid” debate. Each pole across the hybrid continuum has had staunch acolytes. The “all in person” crowd lamented the loss of effectiveness when we work remotely.  The “all remote” crowd found in person collaboration unnecessary and worried about an employee revolt if things changed.  Despite the intensity of the debate, the embrace of a hybrid approach has happened quickly; in fact, the WSJ noted that the percentage of employers requiring full time in office presence actually declined over the last quarter.

We’ve all made choices around what hybrid means for us; these choices are strategic and hard because they impact how well we can deliver on our mission.  The fun part of making hard choices is looking back and seeing what worked (and fixing what didn’t).  We outlined our choices for a new working model in a prior blog, and promised to report back on how it’s going.  Bottom line: we’ve been able to bring back some of the benefits of in-person collaboration without a major impact in performance or engagement that was a potential risk of the model.  There are of course, growing pains and lessons learned that we share below.

What we decided

Our objective was to maintain team’s ability to work flexibly while increasing the in-person collaboration necessary to solve multidimensional questions. We elected to:

  • Encourage in-person interaction at least once weekly for personnel based around Boston/Cambridge area and engage at least quarterly in person with the entire company (including employees based outside of Massachusetts)
  • Coordinate key program meetings (e.g. quarterly data reviews), company events with these pre-scheduled times to maximize group collaboration and problem solving
  • Enable team members to elect how they choose to work for the remainder of the time

What’s working

  • Better and faster collaboration across functions, limited impact within functions Admittedly, this is subjective, but more inter-functional collaboration makes intuitive sense as there just aren’t enough hours in the day for remote interactions beyond one’s core collaborators.  Somewhat surprisingly, we have not observed a major change in the depth of interaction within functions, though we could explain it since getting on the same page with one’s immediate team is usually a top priority in any working model.
  • Onboarding –  – We were fortunate to be adding new Sperobes in the first quarter of this year.  Being able to offer a hybrid model of employment both made us more competitive (even for local candidates), and it gave us access to a much larger pool of qualified candidates outside of Massachusetts.   We also on-boarded new Sperobes during weeks when much of the company was together in the office.  Qualitatively, in asking new Sperobes, the difference was in the relationships they were able to begin building outside of their core functions.  These would happen over time remotely, but happened much faster given the structure for in-person time.  Particularly for functional leaders, these cross-disciplinary relationships are key to being fully effective in the role.  This might be the largest benefit of the hybrid model thus far.
  • Consistent employee engagement –  Qualitatively, we saw employees across functions adapt to the new hybrid model. Functional groups that typically interacted with others only remotely  have been coming in regularly to collaborate live with colleagues.  Quantitatively, an employee engagement survey we undertake annually happened to take place a few months after we instituted the hybrid model. Both quantitatively and qualitatively, employees rated the model as a positive change and we saw limited difference in engagement across the years of the survey including those pre-pandemic.  This suggests to us that we’ve enhanced our team’s collaboration and effectiveness without disrupting continuity.

What needs tweaking

  • Make sure physical space can keep up with the new model – we underestimated the team’s subscription to the new model and our physical improvements didn’t keep pace.  During peak days, supply of conference rooms, parking, and in person IT support did not keep up with demand. After a period of catchup, we’re finding the right steady state to support Sperobes that come into work.
  • Robust Plan B if in-person engagement depends on a specific event: Getting the entire company together from around the country can very quickly not go to plan.   Our first in person all-company week coincided with a major snowstorm warning and ensuing school closures.   What it meant was a subset of our remote colleagues who made a large effort to be in the office, came to an emptier office than expected. This was especially weird since the aforementioned snowstorm didn’t end up happening.  We were able to adapt on the fly, but our lesson learned is to have a robust Plan B ahead of time to ensure uniformity of experience during in-person time.
  • The pandemic may be over, but COVID’s not going away – It’s worth noting that COVID hasn’t gone away despite the end of the emergency, and in-person interaction can come with the risk of exposure. We did experience a COVID exposure during one of our in-person events, and fortunately after years of practice we were able to take it in stride by following our long-standing protocols for communication and return to in-person work.

Going forward

On balance, after our trial period, we plan to keep pursuing our hybrid model as we’ve structured it. It has been able to deliver the benefits of in person interaction, preserve flexibility, and avoid the risks to the culture one worries about when changing a working model.  There are areas, particularly around infrastructure and logistics that we can do better.  Thankfully, in our opinion, hybrid work is one area where COVID drove fundamental change, but for the better.


Thanks to Jamie Brady, Tamara Joseph, and the entire Spero executive team for their contributions to defining our model and to this article

Ankit Mahadevia

Serial biotech entrepreneur and executive
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