Hybrid work: 5 trends to watch

As we continue to navigate the world of hybrid work - combining office and remote settings - what issues should leaders watch carefully?
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We’re early on in this brave, new world of hybrid work, but already there are some trends worth keeping an eye on, say management experts and IT leaders who are busy bridging the remote and in-office gap.

Consider these emerging issues that technology leaders should monitor and manage during this transition.

[ Want a primer on hybrid work? Read What is a hybrid work model? ]

1. Productivity and output

Many employers and managers found that, on balance, productivity remained high during remote work days. The vast majority (94 percent) of employers surveyed by Mercer late last summer said their company productivity was actually the same (67 percent) or higher (27 percent) than it was before the pandemic.

But what happens when some of your team are back in the office? Leon Goren, president and chief executive officer of PEO Leadership, advises identifying key productivity metrics to watch on a weekly and/or monthly basis to assess workforce productivity going forward.

[ Read also: OKRs and KPIs: 6 counterintuitive tips for leaders. ]

2. Automation-enabled resilience

"Increasingly, CIOs are seeing how these technologies deliver the speed, efficiency and productivity needed to operate in a hybrid work environment."

The stay-at-home order shone a light on the benefits of greater automation for business continuity purposes, and many IT leaders are focused on increasing intelligent automation. “As we transition to a new era of hybrid work, CIOs are evaluating which technology investments will position their organizations for long-term success,” says ServiceNow CIO Chris Bedi, who says automation and AI-enabled transformation are top priorities.

“Increasingly, CIOs are seeing how these technologies deliver the speed, efficiency and productivity needed to operate in a hybrid work environment, as well as free up employees from mundane, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks.” ServiceNow is investing in the integration of AI, machine learning, and automated workflows for the hybrid workforce.

“As hybrid work becomes the new normal, it’s important to note where your employees’ jobs can be efficient,” adds Sam Babic, CTO of Hyland. “Employees working remotely are more likely to work longer hours; by easing the burden of administrative work, automated workflows or low code platforms can streamline processes, boosting employee productivity and happiness in the long term.”

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

3. Mental health and anxiety

Last December, Americans’ assessment of their mental health was worse than it had been at any point in the last two decades, according to a Gallup poll. “There has been a significant increase in the challenges of mental health and anxiety being faced by employees,” says Goren.

While that trend may abate with time, employee well-being will be an important measure to watch. A Monster study also reported almost half of workers didn’t use all of their PTO in 2020, which is a key indicator of potential burnout. IT leaders should redouble their efforts to take care of their teams’ health during this hybrid transition and find ways to monitor stress and burnout (such as number of employees taking advantage of assistance programs.)

4. Work-style variety

The shift to remote work has revealed a lot about how each of us actually work best. For some, non-traditional hours and routines actually yield better outcomes.

As companies embrace the hybrid format, “Each employee should be given the opportunity to voice what works best for them, and teams need to be open to evolving if needs change,” says Babic. At Hyland, 25 percent of employees worked remotely in some capacity pre-pandemic; now more than twice as many (60 percent) are opting into work from home at least part time.

Companies can help ease the transition of returning to the office by allowing flexibility, which will help with employees’ overall happiness and retention. “Every employee is different,” Babic says “As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure we are working to support them in producing their best work.”

5. Extreme transparency

The benefits of C-suite transparency became clear during remote work, and transparency will become even more critical for a physically divided workforce. “From the executive suite down, transparency is crucial when discussing the shifts being made within your company,” says Babic of Hyland.

“Expectations should be presented upfront in a way that keeps every employee and executive accountable as we transition. This approach helps everyone feel connected, informed, and comfortable voicing their preferences.”

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

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.