The data is conclusive: Hybrid work is here to stay. A few stats to consider: 66% of leaders say that their organizations are considering redesigning office space for hybrid work; 73% of working men and women want flexible remote work options to continue even as COVID-19 recedes; 67% of people want more in-person work or collaboration.
As corona-related restrictions are lifted, and communities reopen, hybrid work is increasingly being viewed as the perfect balance for people who want to return to the office and those who have benefited from the sizable advantages remote work offers.
But what about the potential pitfalls? While there are significant upsides, an organization considering a new workplace paradigm should be aware of the challenges associated with the hybrid work model.
Different models, same disconnection challenge
There are roughly five models of hybrid work that organizations in a post-COVID-19 world are thinking about implementing: fully remote, default digital (‘remote first’), static hybrid (people decide between working remotely or in the office permanently), synchronized hybrid (teams work from the office on the same day), and associated hybrid (office-centered, though remote work option occasionally available).
One of the biggest challenges of any hybrid working model is that it can create a severe disconnect between employees. People working remotely may be cut off from impromptu feedback about their work. When conversations, meetings, and evaluations occur in the office, they will inevitably exclude remote workers, quickly causing them to feel left out of the loop, even isolated from their colleagues.
As such, an HR team’s key role in an organization that uses a hybrid work model is to prioritize constant communication between office-based and remote staffers. Specifically, a hybrid work organization can’t rely only on oral communication. Instead, HR must take the lead in developing a written culture to ensure that information and decisions are shared by all employees—not only those who happen to work in the office.
Pay is an essential nuts-and-bolts issue that a hybrid work model can seriously complicate. For example, organizations driven to keep expenses down may opt to pay a person who works remotely in a place with a relatively low cost of living the same as a person who happens to reside in a costly location. But such a policy can create resentment from people who believe that they are being penalized for not living in a low-cost, low-tax area.
In this case, it’s the HR department’s responsibility to communicate to an organization’s financial department and other decision-makers that compensation should be primarily tethered to professional experience, merit, and an employee’s potential future contributions—not geography.
A question of culture
The competitive advantage of healthy company culture in every facet of an employee’s daily interactions is widely recognized. But in a hybrid work model, there’s a risk that culture will be diluted, with workers becoming disillusioned as a result.
The good news is that this potentially negative consequence can be turned into a golden opportunity. HR can use the uncertainty created by the shift to a hybrid work model to review and adapt their organization’s culture. Questions that HR managers should ask include: Which aspects of our culture should be nurtured? Developed further? Let go? Roadmapping, a new way forward, is a long, complicated process, especially considering the many potential use-cases spawned by a hybrid work model.
But adapting culture to a working world that is radically different today than even a year ago could spell the difference between an organization that thrives and one that struggles to survive.
Managers’ mission impossible?
A hybrid work model makes a department manager’s working life more difficult. Gone are the days when a team member could be evaluated based on time spent on a project, office attendance, or other traditional metrics. Instead, the hybrid work model has contributed to the rise of a results-based culture that puts a premium on work accomplished, not hours spent.
A manager operating within a hybrid work structure must double down on keeping team members constantly connected to maximize overall efficiency. This means increasing the number of weekly meetings while being sufficiently agile to adjust communication modes to team members’ preferences wherever possible.
For example, some workers may be uncomfortable with ‘live’ communication (video conferencing, etc.), while others would rather avoid the ping-ponging that comes with written forms of communication like emails. To help navigate this potential minefield, HR should be deeply involved in bridging the gap between what team members prefer and the results-driven needs of department managers.
Doing hybrid working work: HR takes center stage
A recent Salesforce survey found that at least 64% of people like the idea of working from outside the office occasionally. But even though the hybrid work model is an undeniably excellent idea, it’s tricky to put into practice effectively. But through innovative, proactive HR management, a hybrid work model can be a welcome change for the better in the post-pandemic world.