The COVID-19 pandemic is fundamentally altering the way much of the world works. As the pandemic picked up steam in early 2020, workplaces that could support remote work increasingly did so. Today, with the pandemic still surging, many organizations are postponing their plans to return to the office. Meanwhile, many American workers are now invested in the benefits of remote work, thus this style of working may be here to stay — at least partly.
A 2021 Intuition survey found that 89 percent of workers were open to remote or hybrid work. Moreover, Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report found a whopping 94 percent of people who had the chance to work remotely during the pandemic would prefer to continue doing so at least some of the time for the remainder of their careers. Most workers cite flexibility as the primary benefit of working from home.
People who prefer to keep working offsite may get that chance. The same Buffer survey found that 46 percent of respondents who were working remotely during the pandemic say their company plans to permanently allow remote work in some form. Large companies such as Twitter and Shopify have helped normalize this trend by permanently switching to remote work.
Meanwhile, a Microsoft report found 66 percent of business decision-makers are brainstorming how to rearrange their workspaces to accommodate hybrid work. Moreover, research from McKinsey found that more than 20 percent of the workforce could work remotely three to five days a week just as productively as they could work from an office.
If your workplace is among the many companies transitioning to hybrid work, then it’s important to familiarize yourself with the benefits and pitfalls of this model. While every company is taking a different approach with return-to-work plans, here’s a close look at some of the challenges of hybrid work, plus suggestions for how to make this workplace model successful.
A Brief Overview of Different Work Models
Before we explore hybrid work more deeply, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what this model constitutes in the first place. Here’s a quick overview of the different work models.
In this traditional workplace model, employees work full-time in the company’s dedicated office space.
As the name implies, these employees work full-time from wherever they live. They may work near the office but aren’t expected to work from the office.
A remote employee will work from a location (most likely their home) that makes the office inaccessible on a routine basis. For instance, they may reside in a different state or country than the office.
This option is one of the more complicated work models. According to the talent activation platform Built In, a hybrid model includes a mixture of in-person and off-site work. Some team members may be 100 percent remote, while others may work at the office some or all of the time. In other hybrid models, every employee alternates between working in the office and working from home.
A remote-first hybrid model emphasizes remote work over on-site activity. An office-occasional framework may require employees to spend at least a few days in the office each week or month. And an office-first hybrid model will establish the office as the primary workspace but allow some off-site work.
The result is that at any given time, it’s likely some team members will work on-site while others will work off-site. Employees may follow a set schedule (for instance, an employee could work in the office every Monday and Wednesday and work from home the other days of the week) or a more flexible schedule that changes from week to week.
Because hybrid work models are more complex than the other options, it requires some effort to ensure hybrid work functions well for both team members and the company in question. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the common pitfalls of hybrid work models and how to effectively navigate each of these challenges.
Challenges of Hybrid Work Models and How to Overcome Them
Without specific policies in place, the hybrid work model may not be successful for every organization. Clear, well-thought-out policies will help ensure employees can work both in the office and from their homes with ease. Here are some common challenges in hybrid workforces plus suggestions for how to solve them as well as facilitate the success of individual workers and the team.
It can be challenging to onboard people who can’t come into the office. Often, new team members feel disconnected and don’t have as many opportunities to get to know the team or learn how things work. Here are some creative solutions.
- Enlist the support of a digital employee platform.
Some employee platforms offer built-in tools for virtual onboarding. For instance, Intuition’s platform facilitates virtual onboarding through easy-to-use tools, customizable training guides, virtual employee introductions, and more. Together, these tools reduce employee onboarding time and ensure new employees can get up to speed even if they’re not on-site.
- Mail a fun onboarding kit to the new team member.
Most likely, you’ll need to supply new hires with equipment such as a company-provided computer or phone, so you’ll need to ship equipment to their homes. Why not throw in some fun items as part of that shipment? Onboarding swag could include branded office supplies, a coffee mug, and so on. You could also include a handwritten welcome note. Welcoming gestures are important during every team member’s onboarding process, even if they aren’t in the office. Learn more tips for how to onboard employees remotely here.
Favoritism in promotions or rewards
Managers often feel compelled to promote and reward the people they see in the office every day, but passing up remote and hybrid workers for promotions creates inequities and breeds resentment. Nearly half (47 percent) of workers in a Intuition survey feared they’d be passed over for promotions, pay increases, and new opportunities if they continued to work from home. Here are some ways to ensure every employee has the same opportunities.
- Create a culture of equity.
Make it clear that employees who work from home have just as much opportunity as those who are physically present in the office. Emphasize this policy during onboarding, repeat it regularly, and reinforce it by providing all team members with plenty of recognition — not only in the form of raises and promotions but also public acknowledgments of tasks achieved and jobs well done.
- Track and enforce equity in promotions.
Talking the talk is important when it comes to equal opportunity and so is walking the walk. Although some research suggests remote workers are more productive than their office-based colleagues, Gartner’s research found that 64 percent of managers are more likely to award higher raises to office-based team members. Managers also tend to believe office workers are higher performers than their remote counterparts.
To counteract potential biases against hybrid workers, companies must develop clear policies for tracking and enforcing equity in promotions. Train managers to identify and minimize biases against hybrid workers and consider asking team leaders to work remotely more than they work in the office so they don’t unintentionally prioritize office workers. It’s also important to establish mentorship programs for remote workers so they have ample development opportunities.
Inequity in engagement tools
Remote employees can’t come to in-person meetings or team-building events, but your company can employ the following solutions to help engage them.
- Use a digital employee engagement tool.
Helping employees interact via virtual social events can sustain morale and boost productivity. You can find more online tools for engaging employees than ever before, so take advantage of them! For instance, Intuition’s employee engagement platform sparks social connections at work through a variety of tools including live team-building events, peer-pairing, employee recognition, sentiment surveys, and more.
- Host an in-person company retreat.
While company retreats may require expense and effort, they can generate a major return on investment in the form of increased employee engagement. When team members have a chance to meet and develop rapport in person, their relationships may be stronger when they return to working online.
Often, employees who work from home don’t get their share of company-provided perks or benefits for free food, free high-speed internet, on-site IT help, or an ergonomic workspace with multiple monitors. Consider these solutions to help equalize your company’s perks.
- Provide equipment or stipends for at-home workstations.
It’s common for remote-first team members to feel left out of a company perks and benefits program. Disparities in tech resources often crop up, because management sometimes overlooks hybrid and remote team members when it comes to outfitting home offices. To combat this, make sure employees receive the same equipment offered to in-office workers, including extra monitors, a work phone or tablet, quality headphones, a laptop, tech support, standing desk options, ergonomic chairs, and so on. If you limit these resources to the in-office team, it may diminish your hybrid workers’ morale and productivity.
- Provide location-independent perks.
Steer away from providing location-specific perks such as gift certificates to restaurants or other businesses near the office. Instead, offer perks that employees can use anywhere, for instance, stipends to apply toward health-related activities (gym memberships, yoga classes, fitness equipment, and massages), stipends for professional development opportunities (such as online courses), gift certificates to online stores, and holidays off.
Hybrid and remote workers can get lonely, and it doesn’t help that they have fewer opportunities to socialize than in-office employees because they can’t attend in-office entertainment, celebrations, lectures, learning opportunities, and get-togethers. Try these solutions to make sure everyone gets the same opportunities to socialize.
- Try a virtual team events platform.
Get creative with virtual event planning, from team workouts to cooking classes. If you’re not confident in your abilities to plan engaging team events, consult the help of a virtual events platform such as Intuition’s virtual team events services. The platform takes all the guesswork out of hosting fun and engaging online team events, from trivia to escape rooms, scavenger hunts, and more.
- Create a virtual coffee date program.
Because off-site workers can’t engage in the “watercooler talk” that helps build connections among on-site coworkers, it helps to foster informal online conversations. Consider establishing a virtual coffee date program. Randomly assign team members to different coffee date buddies once or twice a month. Pair team members with someone new each time, and encourage buddies to schedule a short, virtual video chat. Colleagues will learn more about each other, connect with coworkers they may not otherwise interact with, and establish stronger relationships within and across teams.
Confusion about expectations
When employees don’t know what you expect, it’s hard for them to be successful. A hybrid workplace works best when employees know when they should be in the office and when they can work at home. Here are two strategies to make your hybrid policies crystal clear.
- Establish guidelines.
Take the guesswork out of remote work by establishing clear guidelines for how often employees should be present in the office and when they can work remotely. Invite team members to weigh in on these guidelines, and make sure leaders model them.
Steer clear of micromanaging policies. Excessively controlling rules, such as prohibiting employees from working from home on Mondays or Fridays, communicates a lack of trust. Breathing down your team members’ necks won’t make them work harder; instead, it will stress them out, reduce morale, and harm engagement. As long as team members meet their goals, trust them to work from home as they see fit.
- Maintain open lines of communication.
Hybrid work guidelines will evolve with time. Just make sure to keep your team members in the loop. When some colleagues work in the office and others work remotely, it’s more important than ever to establish clear and open lines of communication. Make sure all team members are on the same page about processes and procedures and keep everyone apprised of company updates. Create ample opportunities for your team members to connect with you, and listen to them when they do.
Conclusion: Make Your Hybrid Workplace Successful
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing demand for remote-work options, many companies are adopting hybrid-work models. Hybrid work offers many benefits, including increased flexibility, the ability to make location-independent hires, and greater workplace satisfaction among team members.
However, hybrid work models present unique challenges, and leaders and managers need to mitigate these challenges effectively. By planning and prioritizing a healthy company culture, you’ll guide your hybrid team to sustainable success.