For many, hybrid work is a godsend. For others, hybrid work can hurt culture, connection and collaboration.
For one company in particular, hybrid work caused it to collapse. And while some companies might not admit they have hybrid work issues, their calls for a full return to office (RTO) suggest it isn’t panning out.
Still, most organizations that want to remain attractive to employees and job seekers practically have to include some element of hybrid or remote work. Almost 70% of employees prefer a hybrid or remote work model, according to an Ipsos survey. And most leaders get it: 81% of C-level execs say they’re changing workplace policies to give more flexibility, according to LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2022.
So it’s important to know the current hybrid work issues and cautionary tales to ensure your organization avoids them.
Hybrid work caused issues
Employees at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) blamed hybrid work for its collapse. While the banking industry generally encouraged or enforced a RTO this year, SVB touted its casual flexibility in recruiting and retention efforts. But it reported that remote work was a risk to business in its annual report, citing IT and communication issues.
Still, SVB executives were spread out, the bank crashed and the government stepped in to take over. Then some employees said hybrid work caused a lack of communication which, in part, lead to the collapse. People didn’t collaborate, work didn’t flow and decisions weren’t made in a timely manner.
“The SVB collapse seemed due more to the relatively loose culture and hopeful optimism — maybe false exuberance — around tech ventures,” says Mark Clark, management professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business, co-author of Six Paths to Leadership. “Not only does Silicon Valley rely on the story — sometimes myth — of the booming innovation factory with a casual company climate, but often eschews the formal organizational structures, systems and policies that ensure responsible fiscal decisions.”
While others haven’t suffered a total collapse, some high-profile companies have pulled back on hybrid work: Disney, Starbucks, Twitter and KPMG. They all have mandated more in-person days, limiting hybrid possibilities and likely getting ahead of issues.
Hybrid work ‘exhausting’
Part of the problems: About 80% of employees admit that hybrid work is “exhausting,” according to a TinyPulse survey. They sometimes struggle to manage time, commutes, connectivity and technology.
That’s why HR and company leaders want to take new steps to make sure hybrid work works.
“The future belongs to companies that minimize people’s time wasted commuting and uses human resources across the globe,” says Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Expert and host of Wise Decision Maker.
To that, here are six strategies to make your hybrid arrangements work better.
So often, you’ll see this advice for hybrid and remote work: Communicate more. But communicating more can quickly turn into interfering with productivity or becoming Big Brother.
The key is to communicate right. It might take a Goldilocks Test — finding what’s “just right” for you and your people, not too hot or cold, too big or small, or too hard or soft.
Work with employees to establish the right cadence and proper channels for communication that helps everyone understands priorities, what’s going on and expectations.
Tap technology with tact
“Use technology to support, not to monitor,” says Clark, “not for time and task monitoring. Rather co-develop strategies to complete unit goals and how the individual fits in.”
Employees don’t want to be monitored or micro-managed any more at home than if they were in the office. If you feel you need to keep a constant eye on them, then your organization might be better suited for work that’s exclusively on-site and in-person.
Create an appealing workplace
If you want employees to work on-site, make the workplace a desirable destination.
“Design the workplace with people in mind,” says Clark. “Work must be done, but allow people flexibility where possible — e.g., with flexible work hours, increased autonomy through meaningful goals and training that enhances employee worth in the marketplace.”
Aesthetically, find out what your employees want in a physical work space. For instance, many companies downsized their footprint and created more open, hoteling space. Sounds great for many, but I have a friend who hates it because she wanted a personalized space — like she had pre-COVID. She worked with her boss and colleagues to pick a spot and make it her own for her days on site.
As an HR pro, you’ll be glad to hear Clark’s advice on this: Employees should be equally responsible for making hybrid work seamless and effective.
“Employees in remote work situations, for their part, must increasingly own their career path and take responsibility for their own professional development,” says Clark in his research with co-author Meredith Persily, adjunct professional lecturer at American University.
We’ve said this before, and there’s serious research to back it up: Leaders need to maintain some control over when employees come into the office.
The bottom line that’s worth repeating: Managers can increase employee satisfaction and improve productivity when teams work together on-site at the same time, according to Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford University economics professor and codirector of the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Plus, he found that managers often eliminate biases, improve career development and promotion equity, and promote diversity when they respectfully select and mandate hybrid work schedules.
Consider new leadership
Now, if you take remote and/or hybrid work seriously — and recognize it as the only way forward — it might be time to consider a new leadership role: Chief Remote Officer (CRO).
The role is gaining momentum and helping HR leadership handle the evolving workforce at companies such as Facebook, GitLab and Cleveland Clinic.
A CRO is “someone to manage the personnel, technological, psychological and social complexities,” says one of HRMorning’s expert contributors Dr. Laura Hambley Lovett, HR Expert Contributor.
As remote work continues to unearth legal, logistical and tax issues, it might be time to create this specialty position.