There’s no denying the many hybrid working challenges that currently exist for workers today.
Yes, the majority of workers are asking for some sort of hybrid work schedule. And there are certainly many benefits of working remotely!
At the same time, hybrid work is new for most organizations. Like anything new, it will take time to figure out how best to optimize workflows and employee well-being.
Any company that wants to weather the Great Resignation while also creating a productive and engaging work environment will therefore need to ensure they’re aware of—and working to overcome—-a variety of new issues.
In this article, we explore the biggest hybrid working challenges for workers. We also review what leadership can do to help create a much better hybrid experience for everyone.
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A hybrid working approach is a flexible work arrangement in which employees work both in-office and remotely. Some employees may be fully remote, others may be fully in-office, or everyone might toggle between the two. Whatever the case, work no longer takes place in one, central location. And employees can no longer expect to be in the same space any more.
Two years into the pandemic, a large percentage of employers are now using a variety of hybrid arrangements to help keep their employees safe, productive, and happy.
Everyone is talking about hybrid work, but nobody knows what to do about it.Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Forbes
Everyone is talking about hybrid work, but nobody knows what to do about it.
Thanks to its ubiquity, its many benefits, and its growing popularity among workers (70% of whom are enjoying their new-found flexibility, according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index), hybrid work is now rightly dubbed ‘the future of work’.
But while the perks of working in a hybrid workplace are many and varied, there are also challenges to hybrid work.
It’s only when workplace leaders intentionally work to overcome these challenges and create a positive workplace experience that hybrid workers will be able to thrive.
A productive, well-optimized hybrid workplace experience is never a given. Our ‘new normal’ is one that requires a lot more deliberation and careful planning than office spaces typically required in the past.
As such, both employers and employees are still figuring things out. We can expect a great deal of experimentation as we all try to get things right.
“The thoughts you have today on how the workplace will best benefit the employees and the business may not actually be where you end up,” says OfficeSpace Software CEO David Cocchiara in a recent webinar, ‘Foundations of successful hybrid workplace’.
Of course, the buck stops at the top. Fostering a good employee experience has always been one of the most important considerations for leadership teams.
Now, with this new rise in hybrid and remote work, workplace leaders will have to take extra steps to help their employees overcome the following six hybrid working challenges.
The first hybrid working challenge for employees often stems from a bigger issue at the leadership level.
Namely, ‘hybrid’ can mean different things to different people—even to different people in the same department. So companies that want their employees to make the most of hybrid working first need to figure out what that actually means.
Namely, while it’s best to stay nimble and ready to change as necessary, companies ultimately do need to figure out an overarching hybrid work model that will work for their team.
Are they being driven primarily by the desire to reduce the size of their real estate portfolio? Or is giving their employees increased flexibility more important?
Or, like most companies, are they trying to find a balance between these two deciding factors—corporate real estate and flexible working—that is right for their short- and long-term goals?
Only by answering these questions and defining hybrid for their organization, can employers then set clear guidelines for what is expected of their employees.
For some, this might look like everyone having a set schedule, determined by management, for when they work from home versus the office.
For others, it could be allowing employees to use desk booking software (ideally enhanced with a good visual directory) to choose when they come into the office.
And for everyone, it should include crystal clear guidelines around what’s expected of employees.
For this reason, it’s always a good idea to include human resources in your workplace management plan… Both in planning and rollout stages. Ultimately, HR can be one of your best defenses against miscommunications that can lead to problems (especially critical considering 33% of HR managers say poor communication is at the heart of employee morale problems).
Anytime you’re weighing hybrid work model pros and cons, the threat of burnout will come up. When we rapidly pivoted to remote work at the start of the pandemic, there was a lot of (often justified) concern about remote working leading to burnout and other mental health issues.
Remote and hybrid work isn’t for everyone. But it’s important to remember that 77% of all workers have reported experiencing burnout prior to the lockdown. Burnout is not a hybrid issue alone. Wherever or however an employee works, the onus is on leadership to ensure that both mental and physical health remains a priority (noting that happy employees are 12% more productive).
And to be sure, there will always be a percentage of people who prefer to be in the office full-time. Or for whom working from home full-time isn’t a great option.
Note, too, that the latest post-pandemic research is finding that employees who are being compelled to return to the office full time are those showing the biggest decline in their work-life balance. It’s actually two times worse than their hybrid and remote counterparts.
This dovetails with research showing that workplace experience scores jump from 45% to 74% when employees are given choice and freedom over when or where they work.
So when working to improve work-life balance for their people, of course employers need to consider the ‘usual suspects’. Like good sick-leave policies, access to mental health services, and job security.
Employers should also remember that there’s no one uniform experience of work.
For example, yes—most people you survey will say that they’ve loved cutting back on their morning commute since lockdown began.
But there are certainly people who look forward to plugging in a podcast and enjoying their commute.
Finally, one of the best ways to help foster workplace wellbeing is to give employees clear guidelines like we’ve discussed. As well as to ensure that your managers are well-trained in managing remote teams.
A lot of remote working stress comes when employees feel the need to ‘justify’ working from home by being constantly available and constantly working, even outside of the workday. This stress can easily be curtailed by ensuring workers this is not the case.
“You want managers for your hybrid workforce to have empathy and a trust-first mentality,” says workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “Employee stress levels go down when workers don’t worry about always having the green light on in Teams.”
Collaboration in the workplace will always be foundational to organizational success.
And thankfully, while communication and collaboration can certainly be more challenging in a hybrid office, employers can still maintain an incredibly collaborative workspace. As long as they take a mindful approach.
By now, we’re all familiar with communication tools that go beyond email alone to create a better digital workspace. These include Slack, Microsoft Teams, and, of course, Zoom.
Shareable calendars (like Google Calendar) that display a person’s working hours can also add much needed visibility to the hybrid workspace.
But of course, employees need more than just the right tools to enhance communication and collaboration. They also need proper training and guidelines (again), and good managers to support and guide them (again).
Beyond this, hybrid collaboration can be improved in two major ways.
First, if employees are able to pick and choose what days they are coming into the office, then they need a way to see what days their colleagues are picking and choosing, too.
Otherwise, you end up with one of the biggest challenges of hybrid working. Employees who show up to the office eager to collaborate with their team members, only to find themselves working all alone.
“If I go into the office and there are people but none of them are on my team, I don’t gain anything besides a commute,” one frustrated hybrid employee tells Vox.
A visual directory can help solve this problem, by giving people an easy way to locate the people and resources they need.
The ‘Who’s In?’ feature from OfficeSpace Software takes this one step further. It provides detailed information about who is in the office and who will be in the office, along with where they’re sitting.
Second, any company that uses any amount of hybrid or remote employees will also need to create good policies around hybrid meetings
In short, having the ability to do video calls is not the same thing as having a solid strategy around maximizing video calls.
But one of the challenges with hybrid working will be maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members—and ensuring fairness and equity both in practice and in perception.Tracy Brower, Forbes
But one of the challenges with hybrid working will be maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members—and ensuring fairness and equity both in practice and in perception.
To ensure productive hybrid meetings, companies will also have to come up with new meeting guidelines. A popular one is to have everyone connect remotely, if only one person has to connect remotely. This can also help bridge the disconnect between workers who find themselves in different locations.
Finally, since the reason that many of the people who do come into the office are often looking for face time, coworking, and conferencing, companies should ensure the physical workspace is equipped with good meeting room booking software. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting a meeting room and not being able to access one.
Sometimes, difficulties collaborating can point to a bigger issue with hybrid working—namely, a disconnect between remote and in-office employees.
Long standing research from before the pandemic pointed to an alarming fact. Remote workers get smaller raises and fewer promotions than their in-office counterparts. Even when they work just as hard and produce just as good results.
This is troubling on many fronts, not the least of which is that even ‘perceived inequity’ can lead to turnover and absenteeism. Or the fact that women, people of color, and working parents are those more likely to want flexible working options.
In other words, bridging the gap between remote and in-office workers is also critical to maintaining an inclusive company culture.
To bridge this gap, companies need to ensure that all workers have access to the same information and technology. This is usually done by offering the right digital workplace solutions.
Companies should also ensure that remote employees have access to safe and reliable internet, as well as a comfortable workstation; many companies now offer stipends specifically for this reason.
And like always, they should also ensure that HR has good policies in place that allow for good remote onboarding as well.
“One of the challenges with hybrid working will be maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members—and ensuring fairness and equity both in practice and in perception.”Tracy Brower, Forbes
“One of the challenges with hybrid working will be maintaining strong cultures, morale and camaraderie among team members—and ensuring fairness and equity both in practice and in perception.”
Assuming that your physical office itself is automatically going to work for hybrid is a mistake that’s easy to make.
Just because your physical office worked before the pandemic and before hybrid working, doesn’t mean it’s going to work after.
Remember, a hybrid employee is not the same as a fully in-office employee. They use the office differently—and often for different reasons. That means they’ll need hybrid workplace technology to simplify the office for them.
First and foremost, hybrid workers need good desk booking tools available via desktop, app, and Slack and Teams integrations. These tools should work seamlessly with whatever flexible seating strategy the office is using. Such as hot desking or office hoteling.
Since hybrid employees use the office less, they may also be less familiar with it. Meaning they’ll need good wayfinding signage to help them find their way around.
Centralized request management can be incredibly helpful in a distributed workforce.
Finally, companies should consider that employees may have concerns about social distancing long after any official restrictions are lifted. And of course, those concerned with social distancing are likely to be the ones less willing to come into the physical office.
Tools like a social distancing planner, which make it easy for offices to create socially distant floor plans. And Safeguard, which provides wellness checks on mobile devices, can go a long way to easing those concerns.
Finally, many workplace leaders are concerned about the impact of hybrid working on company culture, and rightfully so.
There’s no doubt that in a hybrid office, there’s less of the informal opportunities to bump into a colleague in the elevator or duck into a meeting room if inspiration strikes.
But take heed... Team bonding and company culture may require a little more effort now. But most studies are showing that hybrid working can actually improve company culture, not weaken it.
Specifically, Gartner research shows that 44% of workers forced into remote work by the pandemic report that it’s improved their culture a little, while 32% say it’s improved a lot.
In other words, 76% of workers like their company culture now more than ever, despite—or likely because—of hybrid work.
But remember, a flexible work culture won’t magically appear, unless leaders make it a priority.
It’s why OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara stresses that culture is a shared responsibility.
“We’re all responsible for maintaining the culture,” he says.
“The clients that we’ve seen implement hybrid working successfully have really clear communication around what it means to be flexible, and around the shared responsibility everyone has to make it work together.”Maya Ketter, OfficeSpace VP of Client Success
“The clients that we’ve seen implement hybrid working successfully have really clear communication around what it means to be flexible, and around the shared responsibility everyone has to make it work together.”
While employees face many challenges, employers have many challenges of their own when facilitating hybrid work and managing remote workers. That’s why we’re also exploring hybrid working challenges for employers in more detail. Read the next installment of the series: LINK.
The biggest challenges when leading a new hybrid workforce today have to do with uncertainty. Just like no one could have predicted these past two years, no one can predict what hybrid will look like two years from now. Companies may have to try out many different office configurations before settling on the right one.
“Flexibility and how it’s adopted will really be an experimentation,” says Cocchiara. “It will require a ton of patience by both employers and employees as we adapt to what works best for ‘us,’ which will be very individually defined.”
Ultimately, HR managers and workplace leaders have to be willing to solicit employee feedback. They must try out new initiatives, continually testing to see what works. In this sense, it’s not hybrid itself that’s the challenge. It’s not collecting the right data to be able to make better decisions going forward.
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