Hybrid work: 3 truths leaders can't ignore

Hybrid work offers advantages for both employers and employees, but it brings challenges as well. Consider these three realities when planning your hybrid strategy
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After more than a year of working through the COVID-19 pandemic, some of us are finally starting to regain a sense of normalcy – one in which many companies have adopted a  hybrid work model. While this approach offers flexibility and other advantages, it can also introduce challenges for both workers and organizations.

For organizations, concerns include the financial aspect of keeping a physical office space, managing employees’ schedules, keeping tabs on a distributed workforce, and making sure everyone has the technology and tools they need.

Many people have strong opinions on hybrid work – views that generally align with their personal preferences.

For some employees, lack of in-office contact can make them feel removed from the team. Others may feel pressure to show face when they’re more productive from their kitchen table.

Finding the right balance is an ongoing task, but many people have strong opinions on hybrid work – views that generally align with their personal preferences. This gives business leaders an extra challenge when it comes to setting the standards and expectations for employees.

[ Want more insight on remote work? Read also: Remote work exhaustion: 13 tips to reduce fatigue. ]

Here are three truths about hybrid work leaders can’t ignore – and how to tackle them head-on.

1. Equal opportunity is a must

In order for a hybrid model to work effectively, office and home workers must have equal opportunities for collaboration and recognition. A study from the University of California, Santa Barbara found that remote workers are seen as less committed, have worse performance reviews, and don’t advance as quickly as their non-remote peers. Additionally, data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) found remote workers are doing almost twice as much overtime than their in-office colleagues but are less than half as likely to be promoted over a five-year period.

Organizational leaders need to destigmatize flexible working by creating opportunities for remote workers to collaborate and innovate with their peers.

Add digital deluge and Zoom fatigue to the mix, and remote workers could be at an even bigger disadvantage: Both of these factors could make remote workers more likely to look for a new job than their office-bound counterparts. Organizational leaders need to destigmatize flexible working by creating opportunities for remote workers to collaborate and innovate with their peers. Managers should check in regularly to make sure this is happening and to encourage a team mentality.

2. Work-style resentment is real

Workers who spend most of their time in an office may start to resent those who don’t, hurting overall productivity. Perceived flexibility and compensation are often at the root of this: Why should Susan get paid the same for doing her job in Iowa, with no commute or in-person meetings to worry about, while Joe fights traffic commuting to the San Francisco headquarters every day? On the flip side, Susan may feel the burden of increased worker surveillance tools and the nagging feeling that Joe is earning more management capital than she is. 

Make it clear that work performance is measured by outcome, not time. The hours an employee spends online or in the office should not be considered a measure of productivity.

The best way to eliminate this discrepancy is to enable in-office employees the same flexible working opportunities as those not centrally located. If that’s not possible, make it clear that work performance is measured by outcome, not time. The hours an employee spends online or in the office should not be considered a measure of productivity.

This concept should extend beyond the office. Being busy is often seen as a badge of honor in our society, so it’s important for managers to regularly check in with employees and address any concerns about workload or feelings of being overwhelmed.

3. Technology hurdles are inevitable

Most organizations had to quickly move at least some of their processes from on-site to digital at the onset of the pandemic. This inevitably shone a light on which processes needed to be overhauled to succeed in the remote and hybrid environment.

The organizations that thrived understood that user experience was key for employees adapting to new tools and processes. While many technology upgrades were needed and welcome, the rate of adoption was fast, and in some cases, with it came implementation challenges, IT downtime, security vulnerabilities, and disruption to workflow and business operations.

To say the COVID-induced proliferation of cloud technologies and more digitized processes created a learning curve for organizations is an understatement. Many are still grappling with the new normal of work and managing employees operating from the office to the home and beyond. The user experience should always be at the core of any tech overhaul, but it’s also important to implement security measures, communication, and training so employees feel comfortable using the new tools at their disposal.

More autonomy: An overdue change

The decision to take your company from in-person to a remote or hybrid work environment is not easy, especially when accelerated by unforeseen circumstances. That said, giving workers more autonomy in creating the work environment that is best for them is a positive change that was long overdue.

The bottom line? If the work is getting done, it probably doesn’t matter whether someone is sitting in their office or poolside – but it’s the responsibility of executives and managers to set the tone, communicate effectively, and ensure people have both the tools and opportunities they need to contribute and flourish.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

John Milburn
John Milburn is CEO at Clear Skye, an identity governance and administration (IGA) software company. On the pursuit to drive Clear Skye’s vision into reality, John is dedicated to closing the value gap that has existed in the IGA market for the last 20 years.

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