Hybrid Persona #1: The Soloist

In a new mini-series of blogs, we take a light-hearted look at different types of employees, their personas and how the transition to hybrid might affect them, and more importantly what you can do to keep them happy.

First up, one of the key remote working employee personas: it’s the Soloist. Most famous example: Albert Einstein.

The Soloist is an independent creature, a lone worker happiest working from their garden office in sweatpants; mandatory remote working has been a paradise for them. No commute, flexibility and the freedom to pop into the kitchen every few hours to mix their sourdough starter.  They like to get their head down away from the distractions and noise of the office. They’re typically older and more established at the company – unlike their more junior colleagues, they don’t feel the need to network and nurture relationships.

Einstein, perhaps the world’s most decorated Soloist, famously wore the same outfit every day so that he didn’t waste precious brainpower on deciding what to wear. For the Soloist, dressing up for the office is an unnecessary extravagance.

Soloists are typically highly productive. They’re happiest in a hands-off culture that allows them to dictate their own working patterns. They thrive when they’re judged on the quality of their output rather than time spent at their desk. Autonomy and choice are important to them. The challenge for organizations is ensuring that the Soloist remains engaged with company culture and doesn’t become isolated. Particularly over the medium to long term, as culture evolves and employees come and go, the Soloist may find themselves losing touch with the workplace community.

Here are ten tips to help you keep your Soloists feeling happy, engaged and valued in a hybrid workplace culture.

1. Keep your lone worker connected with workplace technology

Communication and project management platforms such as Slack and Asana help keep communication lines open no matter where employees are based. Easier for quick-fire conversations than email, they’re the virtual equivalent of informal office chats. You can use them for both work and play too. Social Slack channels help recreate those watercooler moments, facilitate connection and encourage Soloists out of their home office silos. Insist that all employees use your chosen platforms even if they spend time in the office, so you don’t leave anybody out of updates and conversations.

2. Practice hybrid meeting equality

Team members who attend meetings in person will typically benefit from a richer experience, picking up on the social cues and non-verbal communication so important to human interaction.

The Soloist, staring at a laptop screen, will potentially miss out. Try to mitigate against this by making an extra effort to ensure that these lone workers feel included and valued in your meetings, whether in-person or remote. Our hybrid meetings article is full of tips, including making time for small talk at the beginning, giving everybody a chance to contribute on each point and implementing tech that creates an immersive meeting experience for remote attendees. Acknowledge screen fatigue too, and only schedule meetings when necessary.

3. Keep lone workers in the loop

The Soloist can get FOMO too. Nobody likes the feeling that they’re the last to hear big news. It’s important to make sure they’re kept in the loop of any changes at work. Make any big announcements over a virtual call so that everyone gets to hear them at the same time and through the same medium. Make sure that remote employees have the same opportunity to respond and feedback as everybody else.

4. Show them you care

If you have a Soloist in your team, there’s a risk that conversations with them become purely mechanical – project updates, task setting or performance reviews. Those serendipitous encounters in the corridor or after work drinks when you chat about personal things – holidays, your families, or the Super Bowl – don’t happen.

Be sure to make room for personal connection in your interactions with Soloists. Show an interest in their private lives. Get to know what’s going on for them. If conversations easily get bogged down in work topics, why not schedule a fortnightly check-in call with day-to-day work strictly off the agenda?

5. Celebrate their contributions

Feeling undervalued can lead to resentment. At home for most of the time, the Soloist isn’t around to get that pat on the back or appreciative nod during a meeting. Left unchecked, they can start to feel underappreciated. Celebrating contributions can be as simple as publicly saying thank you for a piece of work or achievement during a team call, or making a point of acknowledging individual contributions when sharing a project update.

6. Offer flexible working

One of the biggest benefits the Soloist enjoys is the flexibility to fit work around life. Provided they’re performing, afford them the autonomy to choose when they work and embrace asynchronous communication. We all have times of the day when we’re more productive, and it’s not always between nine and five.

7. Be clear on in-person meeting cadence

If you require staff to come into the office for face-to-face meetings, be clear on what you expect. Short-notice requests to come in might be a problem for Soloists, so communicate dates and times clearly and in good time – finding a routine with a regular cadence will work best.

8. Bring the office to them

Companies such as Fujitsu are setting up hub and spoke models, with a slimmed down HQ and satellite offices in urban areas or close to train stations. These satellites give workers an easy option when they need or want to meet in-person. They break down one of the barriers Soloists may have to coming in – difficulty getting to the office.

9. Seamless in-office experience

Creating a great in-office experience will make your Soloists’ trips into the office as pain-free as possible. One of the biggest sources of anxiety for remote workers coming into the office is hot desk anxiety. You can eliminate this by enabling your employees to book a desk in advance, either as a one-off or on a regular cadence.

They’ll get peace of mind that there’s a clean desk waiting for them in a location they know they can work in. Desk scheduling software systems such as Kadence also give organizations a wealth of usage data, so you can design workplaces using data-driven usage insights.

10. Ensure equipment parity

From a lumbar support chair to an ergonomic keyboard, providing Soloists with a good level of equipment for their home office will help them feel valued, and support their wellbeing. In a remote-first culture, many companies will be moving to a desk hoteling system and repurposing office space for collaboration and meeting space. If you’re in that boat, why not offer surplus desk equipment to home workers so they can upgrade their spare room or garden shed for work?

The Soloist employee persona – made for the remote-first hybrid workplace

After decades of a one-size-fits-all approach, the workplace as we know it is in flux. There’s no doubt those who prefer lone working are well suited to this hybrid workplace revolution. If they’ve struggled with coming into the office on a fixed routine in the past, the sudden new-found freedom will have been a breath of fresh air.

So don’t try to force your Soloists back to the office unnecessarily. Instead, embrace their independence and put in place a hybrid working model and remote working tools and strategies to keep them connected and engaged from afar.

Which companies are going hybrid?

Remote-only, hybrid working model, or all staff back in the office? As vaccinations roll out and economies tentatively open up, organizations are working out what their new normal will look like. For some, the pandemic accelerated a transition to flexible working that had been brewing for some time. Others are keen to get back to a traditional office setup – as far as possible.

But going hybrid is more than just functional – the when and the what. It’s about company culture. How much freedom employees are afforded, how prescriptive the leadership style is, and how prized innovation is will all influence where a company falls on the hybrid spectrum.

How 10 companies are approaching hybrid working – or not!

From Netflix to Google, let’s take a look at how different companies are approaching going hybrid. Some have focused on teamwork and collaboration, others on flexibility or wellbeing. And for the traditionalists, it’s all about getting back to the office and seeing their coworkers again.

Showing a spectrum of how different companies will work after the pandemic, from Netflix in the office to GitHub 100% remote

Source: CoScreen

Remote-first approach

For many businesses, the pandemic highlighted how effective a remote-first setup can be. Fully remote companies are now eschewing the traditional office setup to give employees the flexibility and freedom to work from home, while remote-first companies let them choose where they work. This means employees aren’t expected to work for the company office.

1. Coinbase ‘No-office Headquarters’

Crypto currency exchange Coinbase has closed its main office headquarters for good and will encourage employees to work remotely or at smaller, local offices. Company founder and former Airbnb engineer Brian Armstrong sees it as a democratizing move that ensures equal career opportunities for all employees, no matter where they are based.

An official statement said: “Closing our SF office is an important step in ensuring no office becomes an unofficial HQ and will mean career outcomes are based on capability and output rather than location. Instead, we will offer a network of smaller offices for our employees to work from if they choose to.

2. InVision: International Reach And Employee Happiness

Did you know that InVision has a director of Employee Happiness? Making their employees happy is an important objective for InVision. To that effect, the company has a house swaps channel that keeps employees aligned and connected.

As far as fully remote companies go, InVision has mastered the art of providing a company culture that hires a top talent team of hard-working and humble individuals. This is in addition to excellent company values and an amazing product that customers love because it is aligned to their needs.

More than that, InVision is globally distributed with an international reach. As one of the company’s benefits, employees can swap locations to work and travel to new places across the globe. This comes with excellent medical insurance, a free gym membership package, and options packages that imbue the feeling of company ownership.

3. Equinix: Drop-in workspaces

Multi-national Equinix has a remote-first model centred on flexibility. There’s no location requirement for staff, though drop-in co-working spaces are available in certain locations. A long-term IT strategy based on flexible digital infrastructure meant that the company already had in place the technology to enable remote working when the pandemic hit. They’re also looking at enhancing their in-office experience, including hybrid meetings where your Zoom call launches automatically as you walk into your pre-booked meeting room.

4. Buffer: Solves Remote Loneliness

In 2020, Buffer discovered that twenty percent of remote workers struggle with loneliness. Therefore, the company put measures to help their fully remote employees work through unplugging and loneliness feelings. This was achieved by offering a monthly stipend to every remote employee for coffee shops. When employees work in a coffee shop, the different energy and setting mitigate loneliness.


5. Go Daddy: Empower Employees Outside Work

Imagine working for an organization that lets you take a part-time job outside your office hours. More than that, the company helps you pursue the side hustle. This is what Go Daddy does. The company has a culture of empowering its remote workers beyond their responsibilities at work.

This means that any employee with a hobby they would love to monetize will get help from Go Daddy. In addition, the company offers opportunities for workers to enhance their careers through education.

Go Daddy has a flexible work schedule to ensure workers are not overwhelmed, meaning you can schedule your working hours around taking care of pets and children. Go Daddy expresses the advantages of working for fully remote companies that value their employees.

6. Airbnb: Let employees take charge

Employees are in charge, not companies”, says Airbnb CEO and Co-Founder Brian Cesky.

With an agile and decentralized business model, Airbnb has fully embraced flexible working, allowing employees to work from wherever they choose. Their logic? Employees want it, so Airbnb needs to accommodate it to attract the best people, as Cesky says: “The employees and the talent market is going to drive working flexibility, not the companies. Because if a company says these are our rules, they’re not going to have the talent.

7. Doist: Asynchronous Working Hours

Doist has worked hard to fully accommodate its employees and provide an entirely flexible experience. The company is one of the global, remote-first, and fully remote companies that care significantly about employees. For example, new parents can bring their baby and partner to the company retreat. You also choose your coworking office based on your preference, and the working hours at Doist are entirely flexible as long as you clock 40 hours at the end of each week. Doist primarily works as a remote-first company.


8. Close: Focus On Deliverables

This fully remote company helps businesses convert traffic into revenue into leads. Close doesn’t focus much on working hours. Instead, the company looks at the deliverables of each remote employee every week. Close offers its employees realistic projects, deliverables, and deadlines and empowers them to work on the deliverables individually. In addition to this flexibility, Close offers a monthly $200 coworking stipend and two annual team retreats.


Going hybrid with a focus on teamwork

Companies like Google, Facebook and Fujitsu have put in place infrastructure that helps bring their respective teams together to reignite collaboration and connection.

9. Google Campfires

Google has long been a workplace innovator. The Googleplex’s open plan offices with bright and bold common spaces and free food and transport seemed like a window into the future when it launched back in 2003.

In 2018 Google commissioned a team of space architects, engineers, builders and tech specialists to redesign the workplace environment around three principles: work can happen anywhere, workplaces are more than desks and meeting rooms, and employees’ needs are changing constantly.

Its post-pandemic innovations focus on facilitating hybrid working, and include flexible team pods that can be reconfigured quickly to meet different needs, and “campfires” that cater for hybrid meetings. A campfire features a seating circle interspersed with vertical digital displays that show remote attendees dialing in, to try to establish an equal footing for all participants.

10. Fujitsu Creative Hubs

Pre-pandemic, the Fujitsu culture prized long hours in the office and face-to-face work. But fast forward 18 months, and 85% of employees favor either a remote or hybrid workplace model. To support the transition, the company has committed to creating an ecosystem of workspaces designed to cater for different needs. The setup is made up of hubs, satellites, and shared offices.

Hubs will facilitate creativity, co-creation and serendipitous encounters between colleagues. Satellites will enable teams to coordinate shared projects using video conferencing and face-to-face meetings, and shared offices provide easily accessible spaces in urban centres for employees who want to use an office for independent work, online meetings or virtual training.

11. Facebook: A place for culture building

In another vote for a hybrid, remote-first model, Facebook plans for many of its employees to work off-site most of the time – but come into the office for culture building, training, key meetings and events.

The social media giant is actively hiring remotely too, particularly for senior level staff who don’t need as much in-person training or career development support. CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees it as a boon for diversity, as he can recruit outside of traditional tech communities such as Silicon Valley and San Francisco: “Enabling remote work is going to be very positive on that front toward creating more broad-based economic prosperity.

A focus on employee wellbeing

From recognizing meeting fatigue to a clearly-communicated phased return, Microsoft, Coda and Intel have prioritized employee wellbeing.

7. Intel: Meeting-free Fridays

Intel is embracing hybrid working, and is making cultural changes to help ease the burden on remote workers. To combat meeting fatigue – something most of us will be familiar with – they’re instigating meeting-free Fridays. They’ve also set meeting start-times at ten past the hour to make them shorter, and are encouraging days off to disconnect.

8. Microsoft: Phased return to the Office

Microsoft has in place a phased return to the office that includes different stages, ranging from remote-only to fully open campuses. Even with fully open campuses, hybrid work and flexibility will be the order of the day. Microsoft describes their research-driven approach to designing agile workspaces that encourage collaboration and meet the diverse needs of its teams.

9. Coda Inclusive Meetings

Online collaboration firm Coda has embraced the refreshed company culture forced upon them by mandatory remote work. They’ve made their meeting cadence lighter and more inclusive to cater for employees spread across different locations. Meetings are now all held at 1 pm and recurring meetings are banned on Wednesdays to allow time for focused work or for employees to change work locations and balance other life commitments. They’ve also introduced a company-wide social hour to help with isolation, including quizzes, cocktail-making and online games.

Office-first model

To keep the balance, here’s one example of a business that’s bucking the flexibility trend and keen to get back to how things were.

10. Traditionalist Netflix

Netflix is going against the grain and has come out as staunchly office-first. The world’s largest subscription streaming service expects employees back in the office this fall. However, CEO Reed Hastings does acknowledge the hybrid workplace is here to stay, accepting that most companies will end up seeing employees work “four days in the office while one day is virtual from home.

A final thought on how organizations are adapting to the new era of work

Organizations are working out where they sit on the workplace spectrum, from 100% remote to a traditional office. The in-between – a hybrid model – is favored by the majority. Hybrid ranges from office-first (remote is available but in-office work is preferred) to default digital (no location requirement but co-working spaces are available in certain locations).

Offices are changing to accommodate hybrid working models, reflecting the need to support collaboration, facilitate serendipitous encounters and provide quiet workspace for employees who need or prefer to work from an office. Company culture is in transition too. Remote workers are at risk of becoming isolated, burnt out or feeling left out. Care needs to be taken to mitigate against these challenges to ensure a happy and productive workforce.

Any hybrid working model will require innovative digital infrastructure to support it too. Desk scheduling software, such as Kadence, is one such tool. It allows employees to reserve office space when they need it, making their in-office experience as seamless as possible, and gives organizations data on how space is used so they can optimize their workplace based on historic and forecast usage.