Article: Careers & Leadership: Hybrid Work's Uneven Playing Field

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Hybrid Playing Field

Illustration: James Steinberg

Uneven odds: Working from home these many months has come with a lot of ups and downs. But for many remote professionals, one thing held constant: Nearly all of their colleagues were also remote, and few had a choice. If you're someone who thrives under remote conditions, you didn't have to make excuses for it.

Now that playing field is getting shaken up all over again. Some colleagues are returning to the office five days a week. Others are testing a hybrid schedule, or opting not to go back at all.

If you’re the one leaning into flexibility, how do you make sure you’re not unintentionally leaning out of your career? And what happens if certain subsets of the workforce, like mothers, are less likely to return to the office?

Some employers say they are watching closely as to whether hybrid work creates two classes of employees—those who are there for lots of office facetime with bosses and others plugging away, often unnoticed, at home. Surveys show many bosses assume off-site employees are doing less.

Some working parents of both genders say they're aware of the career risks of staying remote. “I know the remote part isn’t going to help me, but I’m willing to sacrifice it right now,” says Jessamyn Edwards, a product designer who moved from the Bay Area to a house in rural Spring Grove, Va., and is still breastfeeding her youngest daughter.

Employers, too, face risks with how they approach remote work. JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks have taken a hard-line approach with office-reopenings, beefing up in-person staff five days a week in New York even though it might mean losing talent. Rivals including Citigroup see an opening,  betting a more flexible approach will help them recruit top traders and deal makers.

As one remote-work consultant advising the banks says: “The great experiment starts…when some go back to the office full time and some don’t.”

— Vanessa Fuhrmans, deputy careers bureau chief, WSJ

Reach me at or on Twitter @vjfuhrmans.

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