Eight hybrid work challenges – and how to overcome them
Will your business be a hybrid workplace in the future? Here are the eight biggest challenges you could face and how to overcome them.
Hybrid working is happening everywhere post-pandemic. And there's no sign of organisations going back to the nine-to-five, five days a week any time soon. But like anything in the new future of work, hybrid models of working come with their own set of challenges.
In a hybrid working environment, some or all employees have the freedom to choose when and where they work. This is different from full remote working because there's usually a physical location and the expectation that people will spend at least some of their time working on-site.
This mix and match approach offers multiple benefits. Higher productivity, better employee wellbeing and even increased profits, to name but a few. But hybrid working isn't one-size-fits-all – every organisation will have its own reasons for embracing hybrid working and deciding what it means for them and their employees.
Hybrid working needs planning to make it run smoothly. Recognising the challenges is the first step, helping you create a structure that works for leaders, teams and organisations long into the future.
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The challenges of hybrid working
Let's look at the eight most common challenges of hybrid working models and consider how leaders and teams can work together to get over these hurdles.
Inequality between hybrid and non-hybrid employees
The challenge: Not everyone can work remotely, which means they can miss out on the benefits hybrid can bring. This is a particular challenge in organisations with frontline workers, who may feel they're doing the heavy work while their desk-based counterparts relax at home. On the flip side, employees who spend all or most of their time working remotely could feel excluded from conversations and decisions because they're not physically in the room. This can leave them feeling unheard and undervalued even among their coworkers.
The solution: To counter this, organisations should aim to create a level playing field for hybrid and non-hybrid workers. It's vital that all employees feel valued and included while at work. It's also crucial that you make opportunities for growth and recognition available to everyone, regardless of where they work. Relationships need to be nurtured equally throughout the business. And although relationships are very much a people thing, technology can play a role, too.
Consider investing in tools that enable seamless day-to-day interactions between remote, office-based and frontline employees. Empower distributed workers through easy access to video calls and virtual spaces where everyone can get updates, share information and ask questions. Making sure your communications are mobile brings frontline workers into the conversation and gives them a chance to have their say.
Getting collaboration right
The challenge: Collaboration in the workplace felt easier when everyone was sitting in the same room. But with hybrid working, you can't assume that all employees will be in the same place at the same time. Collaboration is key to quality and success, so leaders must find a way to re-establish this all-important sense of collaboration across a distance.
The solution: Companies will need to shift from synchronous collaboration (employees working collectively in a real-time setting) to asynchronous collaboration (individual contributions on collective projects during different hours and from separate locations). Technology again plays a critical role here. Investments in virtual workspace tools that allow for project organisation, remote communication and live document sharing will enable employees to work collaboratively without ever being in the same physical space.
Managing split teams
The challenge: Managing teams across different locations can be challenging, particularly when it comes to making sure employees have the same opportunities. A fifth of UK workers feel they receive less recognition in the workplace if they work remotely. And this isn't entirely unfounded. According to the Office for National Statistics, people who worked from home between 2013 and 2020 were 38% less likely to receive a bonus than those who were office-based.1
The solution: Formalised objectives and targets give employees a sense of purpose in the workplace, helping them visualise their progression and motivating them to push themselves. Team leaders need to have regular check-ins and informal catch-ups with all their employees. Not only to connect on everyday workloads but also to provide guidance on professional development.
Creating a good work-life balance
The challenge: Our International Workforce Insights study shows that work-life balance has improved for most people since the pandemic. But the downside is that some employees have felt unable to switch off, negatively affecting their mental health. In response, many companies have increased their investment in workplace wellbeing, putting new support systems in place to help their workforce achieve a positive work-life balance even while working remotely.
The solution: Companies choosing to stay hybrid post-pandemic must continue this focus on wellbeing to help their workers avoid burnout and make sure people continue to feel supported. Managers and leaders need to create opportunities for team members to talk about their health and wellbeing. This could be during one-to-one check-ins, virtual team coffee breaks or even during sessions with external wellness experts. Making wellness a topic of discussion among your teams will help people feel comfortable speaking up if and when they need extra support.
Keeping up a positive workplace culture
The challenge: A positive workplace culture is about building connections between people. Almost two-thirds of workers say having friends in the workplace makes their job more enjoyable, while a quarter looks to workplace friends for support with both workplace and personal issues.2 But how do you keep up those supportive connections when people aren't physically working together as they used to?
The solution: According to McKinsey, creating small moments of engagement among employees is key to creating a positive workplace culture. Employees who regularly have the opportunity to make small connections through coaching, mentorship, idea sharing and co-working form deeper relationships with their coworkers and achieve greater focus with higher levels of productivity.
Creating the right hybrid work environment
The challenge: Hybrid working means fewer people are working on-site every day. This can make a dedicated workplace feel like a waste of resources. But if you intend for your employees to work in the office at least part of the time, you'll still need to provide a dedicated space and enough in-office perks to make it worthwhile. So how can your old office work in the new world?
The solution: Be radical. Don't be afraid to rethink your office space in interesting new ways. Changes could include: Renting co-working office spaces or sharing rent with another organisations or becoming more distributed – with several smaller offices across different locations.
Every business is different, so it's essential to take the time to find a solution that works for you and your employees.
The challenge: Poor communication slows down workflow, leaving workers confused or missing out on important information. But achieving efficient and effective communication across distance can be a challenge. Research shows that 90% of all communication is non-verbal, with meaning transmitted through body language and tone of voice.3 It makes sense then that if we can't see or even hear communications from coworkers, messages are far less likely to be understood perfectly the first time.
The solution: Hybrid businesses need to establish new communication channels to make sure important information is received and understood by those who need it. Where possible, you should try to deliver all formal communication in person or through live video conferences. You can use instant messaging channels to encourage regular, organised communication across teams, preventing silos from forming between remote and on-site workers.
The challenge: Regardless of an organisation's best intentions, the onboarding process can be overwhelming for new starters – particularly if you have remote teams. Trying to embed a new starter into your company culture and get them up to speed on internal processes can take far longer if they split their time between home and the office.
A good onboarding process has several pluses, including increased engagement levels, decreased time spent on learning the job and lower staff turnover. Research by Brandon Hall Group found that a robust onboarding process can improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.4
The solution: Managers and leaders need to find new solutions to make their onboarding process work in a hybrid environment. Emphasise personal connections through one-to-one introductions, build a culture of collaboration and feedback, and encourage new starters to get involved with non-work chat and activities. Remember, onboarding isn't just a manager's job, so it's a good idea to get the whole team involved, breaking down silos and laying the groundwork for solid connections right from day one.
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