There are undoubtedly many benefits to hybrid work. It offers the best of both worlds for many employees—the flexibility to work from home, with the structure of an office for collaboration and community. There are, of course, some challenges to hybrid work as well.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “there are good reasons why many companies and employees are excited about this mix of in-person and remote work—and equally good reasons why many feel trepidation about the shift […] even those who are doing OK managing their daily tasks may well find themselves feeling increasingly distant and disconnected from their companies, amplifying the risks of reduced motivation, lower organizational commitment, and higher turnover”.
The Harvard Business Review writes that many of the challenges of hybrid work fall under the ‘5C challenges’: communication, coordination, connection, creativity, and culture.
Hybrid work can create breakdowns in communication, difficulties coordinating and collaborating, and can even limit or inhibit creative thinking. It’s important for leaders to first understand the possible issues with hybrid work—and work to address them.
Different employees will be impacted differently by the challenges of hybrid work. Hybrid work has the potential to create difficult social dynamics, where employees who are comfortable speaking up in a virtual environment are the only ones being heard consistently. These problems are on top of, as the Harvard Business Review puts it, the communication barriers that already exist such as “power, status, and language differences”.
As far as connection goes, employees who are central to the organization—strongly committed to and involved in the mission—will feel a stronger sense of community. However, those who stand on the sidelines will be disconnected, as the Harvard Business Review writes, “not only from the work, but also from the social life that creates meaning and bonds employees more closely to the organization”. The consequences of this disconnect, as the Harvard Business Review describes, “can be less happy and less committed employees who are more likely to search for opportunities elsewhere”.
Solutions for the challenges of hybrid work can—and should be—collaborative.
HR resource HR Zone writes that in order to successfully navigate the challenges of hybrid work, leaders need to have an agile mindset. An agile mindset includes not getting caught up in the idea of hybrid work as “the binary of working in or out of the office”. This means that leaders need to be prepared to evaluate their own concerns and the concerns of their employees. The winning approach is to work towards solutions, without getting bogged down with the idea of how things used to or should be.
Here are some of the ways that employers can deal with the challenges of hybrid work:
- Evaluate and re-evaluate. The Harvard Business Review advises that leaders and their employees should give themselves a grade on each of the 5C challenges—communication, coordination, connection, creativity, and culture. This grade can be a letter grade or a number out of 10. Use whatever scoring makes the most sense for your organization. The areas that have the lowest scores are the ones that you should focus on first.
- Brainstorm solutions together. In many instances, employers feel the pressure to always be solution-oriented, coming to their employees with a fix. However, looping employees into the brainstorming process shows that you value input and collaboration.
- Make sure your tech is up-to-date. Double check all of your office equipment (including the Wi-Fi) to make sure everything works well before hosting your first hybrid meeting.
- Strike a balance between remote and in-office. Make sure that any events or meetings are catered to both remote and in-office employees, with specific guidelines in place for attendees.
- Create a clear hybrid policy. You don’t want there to be any confusion about when employees need to be in office or what the protocol is for remote employees teleconferencing into meetings. Create a policy that explicitly outlines everything for employees.
- Be adaptable. You may get a few months into hybrid work and realize something isn’t working. Don’t be afraid to re-evaluate and come up with different strategies and solutions.
- Ask for feedback. In the same vein as above, employers should check in with employees continually to figure out what’s working and what isn’t. The challenges of hybrid work won’t be solved overnight—it’s a continual and collaborative process.