If “remote work” was the biggest trend in the workplace in 2020, “hybrid work” seems to be the most popular choice in the post-pandemic era. Whether it’s on LinkedIn polls, surveys, or informal chats, people tend to prefer this flexible work model. And companies listen. However, the hybrid work environment is still in an “experiment” phase.
More and more countries seem to have eased the pandemic restrictions, allowing employees to return to their offices. This is why some employers have asked people to come back to their in-office work, at least once or twice per week. Some others have adopted a “rotation system” so that teams work from the office one week and remotely the next. And some others opt for a more flexible work model in which employees can choose if and when they’ll work from home.
The variations are endless. But the question is one: Is the hybrid work environment the best solution for the post-pandemic business world? Or, are we simply trying to get the best of both worlds (in-office and remote work) only to end up with new challenges?
In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know before transitioning to a hybrid workplace.
How did we reach the hybrid work model?
When the pandemic hit, companies switched to the remote work model to keep their business running. It was supposed to last for a while, but the restrictions remained for longer than anticipated. When the situation started to change, both employees and employers had to figure out a way to return to the office without risking safety. Others didn’t want to return at the office at all.
This is where the hybrid work model came into play. Companies don’t want to completely abandon the office, but at the same time they don’t want to lose their employees who prefer working from home. The combination of these two practices is what we call the hybrid model.
Let’s see the numbers. According to a survey conducted by Eden Workplace, 15% of information workers prefer remote work, 23% want to fully return to the office, and 62% prefer the hybrid work model. Accenture’s survey found that 83% of workers prefer the hybrid work environment, but there are factors that influence their ability to thrive. The majority of Gen Z employees surveyed also seem to prefer the flexibility that the hybrid work model offers. In fact, 81% believe that the place and time of work make a real difference. Thus, allowing them to choose whether to work remotely or at the office (or a combination of both) is an option they would value.
So, is this model the best practice, or are we just compromising? Next, we will examine some of the challenges of the hybrid workplace.
4 challenges of the hybrid workplace
In this section, we’ll discuss the main hurdles that the hybrid model might bring and how understanding them can help you with your transition to a flexible workplace.
1. Communication can be hard
Technology has been the ace on our sleeve since March 2020, when we had to switch to a fully remote environment. However, it comes with some issues. The internet connection is not always reliable, set aside the video conferencing systems. It was a challenge even for the remote work environment.
Along the way, we found ways to tackle this problem in the remote environment, but what happens now in the hybrid model?
Some employees are at the office, while others are working from home, so how is it possible to host online meetings and virtual conferences that could fit everyone? Will employees at the office log in from one computer, or should they join from different devices? And what about impromptu meetings? In-office employees could simply stop by each other’s desk and have a quick sync. But their at-home colleagues could be unavailable at that moment.
2. Coordination can be imbalanced
Similarly to the communication issues, coordination can be daunting when dealing with a hybrid work environment. When it comes to collaborative tasks, sync is key. Now, working in hybrid teams causes more challenges in coordination than working face to face. Let’s get this straight with an example.
Lucas from the marketing team is working from home, but Stacey and Iris from the same team have decided to return to the office. They have an important meeting with the sales team coming up. They have completed their brainstorming, conducted their meetings, streamlined the processes, and whatever needed to be done. Now, Lucas is waiting at home for the upcoming meeting, getting ready on his own. Stacey and Iris, however, had a chat in the break room and discovered that they should mention a few more points. There’s no time to inform Lucas, so the result is that he got left out of the teamwork. Even a minor change can make employees feel like outsiders.
3. Proximity bias can cause significant issues
While the hybrid workplace can solve the problem of retaining employees, there’s a new challenge that needs to be addressed: proximity bias.
Proximity bias is the concept that the workforce with close physical proximity to other team members and company leaders will be considered more competent and will become more successful in the workplace than their remote coworkers.
For instance, Dolores from the client success team works from home while her coworker Tyler prefers to work at the office. Dolores thinks that Tyler is closer to their managers because of his physical presence, so she feels that it’s more likely that he will be promoted faster than her, even though she is a high-performing employee. Thus, she feels overwhelmed, and is willing to work longer hours to be perceived as hard-working.
This can cause a less inclusive workplace as both remote and hybrid employees feel like their efforts are not being fully acknowledged simply because they are less visible. Employees must have access to the same opportunities to flourish and grow. This is why proximity bias needs to be taken into consideration—and tackled—when planning a hybrid work environment for your company.
4. Creativity can be limited
Creativity was a main remote work challenge as well. This can be an issue in the hybrid workplace, too.
It’s true that creativity levels rise when there are in-person encounters. For instance, social interactions, spontaneous conversations, seeing artwork or a nicely designed workspace, the commute to and from work, can all be essential creativity triggers. Staying at home every day, in the same space, without any external influences can drop creativity levels.
Tips to design a hybrid workplace that works
After examining the main challenges that may arise with the implementation of a hybrid workspace, it’s time to explore how to fight them.
Let’s see how you can avoid the pitfalls and succeed in transitioning to a hybrid work environment.
Make clear communication a priority
As we mentioned, communication can be a real issue in a distributed workforce. Make sure you assign each channel to a specific communication purpose. For example, define what you will discuss via emails, on Skype, or on Slack. By simplifying the technological means of communication, you ensure smooth discussions between your in-office and at-home employees.
Enhance personal connections
It’s necessary to find ways to keep your workforce united, no matter their physical location. Plan “ice-breaker” meetings for your new hires, create a virtual break room where employees can chat, and foster a sociable company culture.
At the same time, encourage active collaboration among employees by promoting discussion boards or by creating a gamification scheme. Rewarding employees who are willing to collaborate and promote inclusion can work as extra motivation for the rest of the workforce.
Invest in digital literacy and tools
Not all employees are tech savvy. Don’t exclude boomers, for example, from the picture. Provide online training on how to successfully use video conferencing tools, discussion boards, and other communication channels so that everyone can jump in and work as a team. Also, make sure your workforce has all the tools they need to work at home or at the office, be it the proper equipment (laptop, keyboard, headset, etc.) or bandwidth.
Don’t forget the company culture
It’s a big mistake to compromise company culture because of distance. This is why you should try and replicate as much as possible the overall atmosphere that exists in face-to-face encounters at the office. How can you do that? If you offer your in-office employees breakfast, make sure you send food-related packages or discount coupons to at-home employees each month.
In case you have a gym at the company’s headquarters, it’s a good idea to provide stipend to remote employees for a gym membership, or offer online workout sessions. (In-office workers can join, too!)
Boost creativity and productivity
Productivity comes in different ways for different people. Some employees feel more creative and productive when working from the comfort of their own home, while others are more focused when they physically attend the office. Thus, your goal is to give your employees all the tools they need to be productive no matter where they are located.
So, how can you make sure employees are happy, creative, and productive? Invest in productive workspaces, be it at home or at the office. Streamline processes with regular communication between teams, flexible training, clear due dates, and identifiable project goals.
Is it worth following the trend?
This is up to you, honestly. You don’t have to follow the hybrid model just because it’s a trend. If it works for your business, then you should carefully consider it and plan ahead before transitioning to a hybrid work environment. What’s more important, though, is to listen and follow what your employees prefer. Then, the best practice is to customize your workplace based on that.