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The workplace as we once knew it has drastically changed in the last few years, considering that the pandemic has forced organizations worldwide to adopt remote and hybrid work arrangements at an unprecedented pace. In fact, close to half of the United States is working from home, and 56% of those working in a hybrid environment choose their work from home schedule at will.
While this new way of working has brought many benefits, it has also resulted in some unintended consequences that are just beginning to show. There is a large contrast between the amount of work from home days that employees want versus what they are actually getting — 30% of employees want to work from home all five days a week, yet almost 34% are given zero work from home days. This poses a higher risk of turnover considering that many employees say they would look for another job if not offered a hybrid work model.
With that, however, the hybrid workplace is putting some strain on employee engagement and social connection. And when employees don’t feel connected, the suffer more burnout and stress.
Recently, Circa hosted its 4th Diversity Symposium with a panel of futurists and thought leaders to discuss the new ways of working, and the following are our 6 biggest key takeaways focused on the unintended consequences of hybrid workplaces.
One of the top issues teams have faced in a hybrid work environment is the need for connection. Many employees are feeling disconnected from each other, their organization, their mission, and their work. The lack of face-to-face interaction, socialization, and body language can affect employees’ ability to build relationships and rapport, ultimately resulting in lowered morale.
When you only see a few people on a regular basis (or perhaps you’ve never met your teammates in person), you may get a fragmented sense of culture. Because of this, there has been a bit of blowback against the idea of “culture” and how it impacts the organization versus the individual.
As we continue to go through the transition to hybrid, it’s important for frontline managers to set a clear vision and determine how to create and build that connection with their people.
Constant communication and collaboration in both virtual and physical spaces, and being intentional about when to do which, is paramount in creating that human connection. When you’re having meetings and discussions, it should be more than just work related, even on a remote call. One effective way to balance the crossover between in-person and online work is being intentional about reaching out, making small talk, and creating presence equity. Presence equity is ensuring all members of a team are being brought into a conversation and creating a sense of perceived proximity.
One of the most frequently asked questions is whether remote work or in-person work is more productive and motivating for employees. On one hand, many organizations reported increased productivity when everyone was working from home, but once some people began to return to the office, many organizations are reporting that productivity is higher face to face. So, while productivity may be increasing or staying neutral for truly individual tasks an employee is completing on their own, the tasks that require collaboration and problem solving are where face to face work contributes to productivity.
It’s important for managers and leaders to shift their mindset to be more outcome oriented. The traditional “butts in seats” mentality of having people in the office is not necessarily the best or only way to achieve efficiency and produce results. Clear goals and expectations are a major factor in this — if more days working remotely is how employees get their work done more efficiently and productively, then that is how it should be considered. Along with setting expectations and goals, leaders also should be giving clear and regular feedback to their people, so they know whether they are driving toward those outcomes.
While work from home has a lot of benefits, it can also tend to be a bit isolating. Following the pandemic, we are already connecting less with people in our neighborhoods and communities. We order food on apps, get deliveries at our door, and don’t connect as much in our day to day.
Increasing numbers of people, especially younger generations, are reporting that they feel their work is transactional. This level of social disconnectedness is highly correlated with mental health, physical health, and cognitive health.
Because of this, work has an increasingly important role in helping us feel a connection while being a part of something that matters. This is where leaders should be reinforcing shared goals and tasks, giving people the opportunity to learn outside of their swim lane, and connect with people outside of their department. Collaborating on tasks together, solving problems, and learning about each other’s capabilities reinforces that the work employees are doing is important for them and the organization.
With remote work, employees have commonly reported better work-life balance and increased flexibility. However, it also comes with its own challenges and often blurs the lines between work and life.
On one hand, remote workers are able to map out their workday a little bit easier. They can accomplish personal tasks when they need to, and can choose the right hours for them to work. On the other, working life can become unified with home life because of an overlap within the same space.
One of the recommendations for mediating this blend is creating a “virtual commute”, meaning creating some sort of separation from the day starting, to work starting, to work ending in the evening. Additionally, getting out of the house is a really big part of a healthy work-life boundary.
We are seeing enhanced communication capabilities through the improvement and sophistication of the tools teams use every day, such as the chat apps, project tracking software, Zoom, etc. These tools can coordinate thousands of people, allow simultaneous interactions, expedite production, and so on.
We’ve also seen the remote hybrid work environment make an impact on underrepresented groups. For example, some groups may face additional responsibilities or challenges in their personal lives such as caring for children, an elderly family member, or dealing with a disability. The hybrid environment provides them with more flexibility and balance, and can give them better access to opportunities they didn’t have before. The most important aspect of making hybrid work a positive experience for underrepresented groups and creating more inclusivity is ensuring clear company policies and strategies are put in place.
At the end of the day, the most important aspect of managing a hybrid team is truly listening to your team and understanding their needs. If they aren’t getting what they need — whether that’s flexibility, connectedness, productivity, etc. — then morale is going to take a hit and teams will lose good talent. This is where a strong sense of trust needs to exist, goals need to be clearly defined and communicated, and leaders need to get feedback from their teams.
Managing hybrid teams can feel like a high wire act and may take time to really master it, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon the idea of hybrid. It’s going to help managers and their people more if they figure out how to find the balance between flexibility and accountability together versus abandoning it entirely.
Watch the full panel discussion on the Unintended Consequences of Hybrid Work which is now available on-demand as part of Circa’s 4th Diversity Symposium.