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The Hidden Drawbacks of Hybrid Work

June 01, 2022 Digital Workplace
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

More than 75% of employees and managers polled by Google Workspace in 2021 said they believe hybrid work will become the norm within the next three years. This comes on the back of mass resignations, clamor for better work flexibility and more focus on employee well-being.

But despite the growing popularity of hybrid work models, there remain many hidden challenges, including proximity bias and unfair treatment, high operating costs and poor interpersonal relationships. To achieve a truly effective hybrid workplace, organizations must recognize these potential drawbacks and learn to mitigate them.

Adaptation Is Key to an Ever-Evolving Model

There is no single definition of a hybrid workplace. For some, it means giving employees the flexibility to work from anywhere, including the office. For others, it's allowing employees to work from home most of the time, only requiring them to come into the office a certain number of days per week — or on specific days or during specific hours.

Hybrid work is a customization of the traditional workplace to a model that works best for the organization. And as tools that enable remote work continue to evolve and improve, employers are given new opportunities to tailor their work model even more. The workplace has become an ever-changing reality.

Considering the number of tools and scenarios in a hybrid model, organizations must continuously adapt to ensure high employee engagement and productivity. Employers need to effectively manage operations, build teams and clearly communicate to meet the needs of both on-site and remote working employees. They also need to keep up with the trends and technology that can be used to improve hybrid collaboration and the remote work experience.

But it's not just bosses that need to embrace change. Employees also play a pivotal role in the success of hybrid work. For instance, they need to adapt to changing software and processes. 

“Employees need to adopt new habits constantly," said David Reid, sales director at Clovis, Calif.-based VEM Tooling. "If they are not capable of doing it, it might be a serious problem."

Related Article: Why Organizations Should Focus on Agile Rather Than Matrixed Teams

Recognizing Unfairness and Proximity Bias

Proximity bias is perhaps the most talked about challenge of hybrid work. It refers to the tendency for managers to show favoritism or give preferential treatment to employees who are closest to them physically, such as in an office environment. In these cases, remote employees may receive fewer growth opportunities, miss out on important communications or be excluded from critical decision-making processes.

“Employees that do not work face to face with their co-workers and managers can be overlooked when company-wide decisions are made or promotions are considered,” said Leslie Tarnacki, senior vice president of HR at Livonia, Mich.-based WorkForce Software

There's also the possibility that employees who work remotely will be perceived as less driven or motivated than their on-site counterparts. To reduce this risk, companies should establish company-wide and team-based communication channels. Moving all employees to a digital collaboration system like Slack can help close the gap created by proximity bias by having everyone "visible" and engaged in various conversations.

Related Article: Can Hybrid Work Be Fair to All?

Strengthening Culture and Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal relationships among employees are vital to an organization's success. Effective collaboration can only occur when team members communicate, often and clearly. Because hybrid employees work in isolation, away from coworkers and team members several days per week, their relationships with colleagues can be negatively impacted.

“By not being in the office five days per week, and often without any mandatory attendance at all, it is common to hear employees cite a lack of community and fun at work," said Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Eden Workplace.

It is essential for hybrid work leaders to reinforce relationships and strengthen the company culture by encouraging team members to collaborate and communicate. Choosing the right collaboration software and facilitating company-wide or team-based activities are key to replicating the in-office collaboration in a hybrid workplace. An employee's location should not deter management and colleagues from exchanging ideas and including them in company meetings and events.

Engaging hybrid employees regularly can also help them shed the feeling of isolation that's often associated with remote work and support a better work-life balance, which increases motivation. It's up to managers to ensure that those working outside of the office continue to feel like a member of the team.

Related Article: How to Make Collaboration Work in the Hybrid Workplace

Employee Feedback Helps Overcome Hybrid Work Challenges

One of the most essential ways to tackle the challenges of hybrid work is to continuously gather employee feedback. Doing so helps ensure fairness in dealing with proximity bias. It also improves internal communications, balances employee workload and identifies challenges with remote and hybrid work conditions. 

“To overcome the challenges of implementing a hybrid work model, leaders need to think about how they can build technology to engage and support — not just manage — their employees, no matter where they are in the world,” said Tarnacki.

Having work-management software, collaboration tools and communication channels can go a long way in mitigating the challenges of hybrid work. Leaders and managers should also assess their operation and collaboration tools across SaaS-based, mobile and desktop software to ensure they suit everyone's needs.

HR-based employee management tools can also help with time tracking, attendance, scheduling and payroll management. These tools are necessary to aggregate and review employee performance, provide breaks to prevent burnout and promote hybrid and remote employee development and wellness.

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