Overcoming the biggest challenges of hybrid work
Updated: Dec 23, 2021
The changed situation has brought many unexpected problems to the HR field, but also many challenges and opportunities for faster adoption of new technologies and better hybrid work methods at the same time.
Working from home has brought many advantages. The most obvious are logistics, less driving, and less time spent for employees. On the other hand, almost empty offices indicate the possibility of lower rental costs in the future. Because of this, many organizations are considering downsizing their premises to make way for a hybrid work model, meaning that employees may only need to be in the office for a couple of days a week or when necessary.
With many benefits of hybrid work, there are also new challenges. Office absence and lower in-person interaction with co-workers creates new processes, relationships, communication, and productivity. It can be difficult for employers to create an inclusive environment where everybody feels included and heard.
According to McKinsey and Deloitte research, the future of work will require new approaches, technology, and solid virtual culture. With experience, clear rules, and appropriate tools, organizations can maintain a culture of cooperation, job satisfaction, and achieving business results. Organizations that recognize opportunities in changed circumstances will simplify, improve, and reduce the cost of work processes. At the same time, new approaches also present some unique working challenges:
Anja Žibert, Recruitment Marketing Specialist and Founder of Free Spirit Human Capital, says that many companies have decided to switch to hybrid work or complete remote work due to the pandemic. The challenge can arise due to a lack of interaction between team members and leaders.
"Of course, communication was already essential before the pandemic, and given that we have a considerable number of communication tools available today, it is important how this communication is carried out and between whom. More than ever, hybrid working reflects the real picture of interpersonal relationships, the level of respect and trust in a team - either between management and employees or between team members. Someone who loves what he does and feels good in the company of his team identifies fully with the company's mission and will certainly do his job with the same passion as before," she states.
According to McKinsey's research, small connections between colleagues, such as discussing projects, sharing ideas, networking, mentoring, and coaching, increase productivity. Two-thirds of productivity leaders report that these kinds of "microtransactions" have increased, compared with just 9 percent of productivity laggards. Organizations that have kept employees connected have also tended to see their productivity growth.
As for measuring employee engagement, trust is the main foundation of everything. If someone has a task they must complete in a certain amount of time, the only way to check productivity is to check if they completed the job on time.
Anja Žibert's opinion is that "how and when" should be of secondary importance. Another part of the employee engagement challenge is the work-life balance, which became very hard to maintain for employees. A healthy balance and a clear line between work and private life are easy for someone who already knows how to set personal boundaries and has a certain level of self-awareness. McKinsey`s research points out that a unique approach to fostering culture and positive change will create a meaningful impact now and well into the future for organizations that set a course focused on employee experience.
Digital technology facilitation
For hybrid working teams, digital technology has become a necessity. But besides many benefits of using digital remote work tools, 75 % of HR leaders believe having too many virtual communication touchpoints increases the risk of employee burnout, according to Gartner. Over the past 18 months, productivity tools have become crucial to people's work lives around the industry and the world. Team members cannot sort things out at lunch or while working at a computer, and team leaders cannot check in on a project by walking down the hall.
The ways of hybrid work have shifted and are further accelerated into a primarily digital approach due to Covid-19. New digital tools include Slack, email, shared work project management tools like Trello, and more. According to a Deloitte survey, these digital tools will be critical enablers for increased cross-cultural teaming. 72 % of respondents see virtual teaming capabilities across cultures as becoming significant and normative in the next five years. Collaboration strengthens relationships, so the choice of technologies should ideally allow for relationship-building activities and efficient communications.
Everything is switching to digital, which means that companies should be investing in communication technology and maintaining productivity.
Consistent and solid virtual culture
Employees expect to be engaged, challenged, and feel a sense of belonging at work. In a virtual environment, it's easy to feel lonely and isolated, even if team members are surrounded by family that's also working or learning remotely at home.
Virtual culture is more than Zoom Happy Hours and random meme sharing. It's a space where each employee feels comfortable, safe, respected, and treated like a valued team member; it's where they feel like they belong. Chances are employers did an excellent job of scheduling virtual lunches or happy hours this year – but maybe they didn't notice that overtime attendance began to dwindle. It's essential that they don't give in to the struggle and stop working at it next year, and don't take that as a sign that you should stop arranging these connection sessions.
Getting to know employees on a personal level helps foster relationships. Creating solid virtual culture is crucial, especially for companies that want to grow and scale. At the same time, smaller companies will sooner or later have to adopt this as they grow.
In conclusion, our future work will be even more networked, devolved, mobile, more team-based, project-based, collaborative, real-time, and more fluid. The challenge is to make sure it is not more complicated, confusing, or overwhelming. It will require better and different ways to communicate, collaborate, and network. Future work offers the opportunity to provide the most engaging and motivating environment we have experienced so far and become genuinely learning organizations after decades of aspiring to the idea.
2. McKinsey&Company: What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work. 2021 Survey
3. McKinsey&Company: COVID-19 and the employee experience: How leaders can seize the moment, 2020 Survey
4. Gartner, Article: Watch out for 3 Challenges driving remote work fatigue, 2021