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Hybrid? Remote? Return to office? How to decide the best working model for your start up

There are pros and cons to all ways of working – whether your company has chosen to operate fully remote, prioritising in-office time, or has a hybrid model.

Remote and hybrid options have improved work/life balance for many, cutting commutes and making flexible hours possible – no wonder EY’s 2023 employee survey found that 50% of us are only willing to go to the office once a week, and a third would prefer a fully remote job. For employers, this suggests remote and hybrid options remain vital to attract and retain top talent.

Plus, there are other business advantages for companies too, with research showing that working from home can boost productivity.

But, in-office working also has benefits, particularly in terms of teamwork and collaborative working as well as building connections and career opportunities.

Which explains why return to office mandates have become more popular in recent months, with companies like Amazon, Zoom, Tiktok, and Grindr hitting the headlines (though in some of these cases the back to office narrative may also have been a case of ‘layoffs in disguise’).

So, with there being pros and cons to all working models, how should HR and People Leaders decide on the right approach at your start up?

In this article we’ll explore this question in two ways:

  • A deep dive on the data to see how UK start ups are approaching the dilemma of hybrid vs remote vs in-office working.
  • Expert advice on the topic from Vaso Parisinou, based on her extensive experience building both in-person and remote working cultures from the ground up at Truelayer, Carwow, Deliveroo, and now as Ravio’s own Chief People Officer.

Are UK companies sticking with remote and hybrid work options in 2024?

We wanted to know how accurate those return to office headlines we’ve all been seeing are.

So, as part of Ravio's 2024 Compensation Trends report, we analysed all of our data on the European tech industry to find out whether companies are actually heading back to the office, or whether hybrid and remote working options are here to stay.

We found that there’s no indication of full-time office working becoming the default again.

There is a shift towards increasing the amount of mandatory in-office time, but it’s much less drastic than the headlines would have us believe – most companies are keeping their hybrid model but making a small amount of in-office time mandatory to foster team connections.

Let’s take a closer look.

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What working models are companies currently offering?

Ravio’s data shows that 77% of UK companies have a hybrid working model today.

For these companies with a hybrid working model, the most common split (37% of companies) is to have two mandatory in-office days per week, with employees able to work from home or in the office for the remaining three working days.

Extract from Ravio's Compensation Trends 2024 Report

And, in terms of remote working, 30% of UK companies offer remote working as an option for some or all employees.

This figure incorporates both companies where employees can work from anywhere within the company’s HQ country, and companies that also hire remote workers outside of their HQ location via an employer of record (EOR) like Deel or Remote.

There is also some variance in working models in companies across Europe.

For instance, when we dug into the trends on hybrid and remote working specifically in Germany for Persoblogger, we found that German companies are even more likely to offer hybrid and remote working option – 90% of German companies have a hybrid working model and 40% offer the option for employees to work fully remotely.

💡 Are remote workers paid differently to in-office employees?

With so many companies now having employees who work fully remotely, and with salaries differing significantly across locations, the question of whether to localise salaries for remote employees is becoming increasingly important.

When we asked HR and People Leaders about this, we found that the majority of companies (65%) do adjust pay based on location for all employees – but overall there’s quite a mix of approaches.

  • 65% of companies do localise salaries. Of these, 62% use market data to localise salaries (52% for all employees whereas 10% for only some employees) and 3% use a geographic pay differential.
  • 35% do not localise salaries. Instead, all employees are paid the same way regardless of their working location.

This reflects the reality that there’s no right or wrong here – there are advantages and disadvantages to location-based pay and what’s right for one company may not be what’s right for yours.

Download the Ravio Compensation Trends 2024 report for more insights like this

Are companies planning to move away from remote working in 2024?

The majority of the companies surveyed for Ravio’s compensation trends report do not plan to change their working model (i.e. hybrid, remote, in-office) in the next 6 months – 79% are planning to keep their current ways of working.

Extract from Ravio's Compensation Trends 2024 Report

Of the 21% of companies that are going to adjust their ways of working in 2024, the vast majority will introduce or increase the number of mandatory in-office days.

When asked why, most cited a focus on enabling relationship-building and improving collaboration amongst employees.

Extract from Ravio's Compensation Trends 2024 Report

So, overall, hybrid and remote working models are definitely here to stay in 2024 and there is no indication that full-time office working will become the expectation again.

But, there is a small shift towards increasing in-office time and decreasing work-from-home time for hybrid workers.

What does this mean?

Well, it simply seems that we’re experiencing a re-settling in terms of working models.

Covid-19 lockdowns turned the working world on its head overnight and made remote working a necessity. Now, a few years down the line, companies are balancing the pros and cons of remote and in-office working by introducing some office days once more.

💡 Building a great company culture through flexible working is key to employee retention for Tennders during their Series A raise

For the Ravio 2024 Compensation Trends report we spoke to Mor Ridner, Chief People Officer at Barcelona-based freight management start up Tennders, about her priorities going into 2024.

Tennders is currently raising a Series A fundraising round, which is proving to be a longer and more difficult process than usual in a difficult VC investment environment.

Until they raise this next round of capital, the company is unable to commit to pay raises and promotions for existing employees due to limited budgets.

But, of course, retaining great employees is still a major priority for Mor.

So, whilst getting additional budget for salary raises is currently out of her control, she's making strengthening the company culture a core focus, to ensure that the company is a great place to work.

And with flexible working proving to be one of the key reasons that team members see Tennders as an attractive employer (alongside supportive colleagues, interesting projects, and an exciting start up environment), that includes continuing to prioritise and improve opportunities for flexible and remote working – so Tennders are one of those companies that will not be introducing more in-office time for now.

"At Tennders we’ve made a conscious effort to avoid the cycles of high volume hiring followed by layoffs, which have become somewhat of a norm in different start ups. Instead, we’re aiming for slow, steady, sustainable growth. At the moment my priority is to stabilise our current team and culture, retain top performers, and set everyone up for success when the time comes for headcount growth.” – Mor Ridner, Chief People Officer at Tendders

Find the full Tendders case study on page 6 of the Ravio Compensation Trends 2024 report ➡️

What does this mean for HR teams – should you reassess your hybrid working model in 2024?

Well, as we saw at the start of this article, there are pros and cons to all working models.

That means the answer to whether you should reassess your hybrid working model in 2024 really comes down to deciding what the right working model is for your individual company – using the above data on what other companies are doing for guidance.

So what factors go into deciding whether remote, hybrid, or in-office is the right working model for your company?

We asked Vaso Parisinou to share her advice from building both in-person and remote working models as the Chief People Officer for several start ups, including Truelayer, Carwow, Deliveroo, and now Ravio.

Vaso shared four critical pieces of advice…

Learn the viewpoint of your founder(s) on working models and align the company’s culture with that

Many start ups are founder-led, and that’s certainly been true of the start ups I’ve worked with over the years. Founder-led start ups are often more than just a company. They’re a manifestation of the vision and values of the founders – and that includes the type of working culture that they view as the best way to work.

Some founders have a deep conviction about the working model they envisage for their start up, whether it’s that remote-first is best or that there should be a minimum of three days in the office each week. Others founders want to be a servant leader, and instead prioritise what their wider team wants and needs.

As a People Leader you must understand and align with this.

When you start from this point of view of the company’s founding principles, it’s much easier to have conviction in the working model that you opt for, and to ensure that when hiring new team members you seek and find people whose beliefs and preferences in terms of ways of working are aligned to the company’s.

“Founders have the privilege of creating a culture they want to work within, and it’s vital for People Leaders to understand the viewpoint of their founder(s) and align with it when bringing a working model and culture to life.”

Vaso Parisinou

Chief People Officer at Ravio

Understand your employees’ preferences too – different working environments are right for different people

Before Covid-19 there was huge resistance to working from home amongst leadership.

Then many companies had to swap to fully remote overnight with the lockdowns.

Now we’re seeing a correction, where companies are settling at two or three days in the office to get the best of both worlds – as we can see reflected in Ravio’s data in this article.

The option of remote working has undoubtedly been a positive, bringing new flexibility into working life and opening companies to new talent outside of their HQ location.

“I love that I don’t have to feel anxious or guilty about asking my manager if I can work from home one day to get my boiler sorted anymore. If I’ve slept badly one night and need an extra hour of sleep, I can choose to skip the commute that day, no questions asked. The flexibility that hybrid and remote working options have brought is what I personally value in my working life.”

Vaso Parisinou

Chief People Officer at Ravio

At the same time, remote working is also a privilege. Not everyone has a lovely, calm office space to use at home and the ability to accept increased home energy bills. At its worst, home working was even found to lead to an increase in domestic abuse during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Plus, time working together in the office as a team has huge positives in terms of community building and collaborative working.

“I do feel we miss out on an important life experience through 100% remote work. Working together as a team, in-person, brings with it a sense of community and belonging. Plus, there are those all important conversations and connections across functions and seniority levels that com organically when working in close proximity and are super important for our careers – sitting next to people, having tea breaks with them, and so on.”

Vaso Parisinou

Chief People Officer at Ravio

As HR and People Leaders we have to be hyper aware of both sides of the coin – different things suit different employees.

That means asking and listening to the needs and wants of employees alongside those of the founders. And it means avoiding making any drastic changes to an established working model, that could lead to great team members deciding to move on.

For instance, at Ravio we’ve seen those community-building and collaboration benefits from in-office working, and I heard from several team members that they were keen to have more time together in the office.

But, at the same time, we know that some team members see our flexibility on remote working as a major benefit – so we didn’t want to go too far on in-office time.

As a result, last year we increased from one mandatory in-office day per week to two for our hybrid employees (we have some fully remote employees working outside of our HQ location of London too). Nothing drastic enough to rock the boat, but enough to make sure we adjust our approach towards what’s working best for us as a company and a team.

Be prepared to put in the work to make your chosen working model work

Making mandatory in-office days successful requires work and central organisation.

From documenting (and enforcing!) policies on which days of the week are office days to ensuring enough desks and meeting spaces to accommodate everyone and much more.

The same is true of remote-first workplaces too – things like implementing internal comms systems and processes, and planning global onsites to ensure remote workers get time together too are really important to make a remote culture work.

As a company you need to be intentional about putting things like this in place to make sure your chosen working model actually works for your team.

And since most start ups won’t have a dedicated office manager early on, much of this work will fall to the HR and People team!

“No one wants to head into the office for a working day, only to find they’re the only one there. Equally, if 50 people are in the office and everyone’s sat with headphones on in virtual meetings, that’s a nightmare too!”

Vaso Parisinou

Chief People Officer at Ravio

If you’re building a remote culture, I’d recommend reading the article ‘Quick and Dirty Remote 101’ by Jessica Zwaan for some stellar advice on making remote, cross-border working work.

Accept that you may need to flex towards remote working to close new hires

As we saw at the start of this article, job candidates are still making flexible work and remote options a priority (remember those findings of the EY 2023 employee survey that 50% of employees are only willing to go to the office once a week, and a third would prefer a fully remote job).

With remote jobs so popular, even if you have a preference for a company culture where employees work in the office at least some of the time, you may well need to compromise on that when competing for talent.

In tech, for instance, the talent market for software engineering roles is renowned for being hyper-competitive, and it’s very common for software engineers to only consider fully remote jobs today.

If you have a job position which needs to be filled, and mandatory office working days are the one thing holding you back, you’re going to need to be ok with compromising on that as a tactical hiring decision to attract talent – and you need to be sure that your founder(s) and leadership team understand and are ok with that too.

“Say you have a critical Site Reliability Engineer role you’ve been trying to fill for a while. You’ve interviewed 500 people and finally have a great candidate that wants the job. But, they’re asking for the role to be fully remote instead of two mandatory office days. Are you really going to say no and interview another 500 candidates for the role? Of course not! That would be a ridiculous hiring funnel, we’d simply have to give them the flexibility.”

Vaso Parisinou

Chief People Officer at Ravio

Get more insights on HR and People priorities for 2024 in our Compensation Trends report