Seven challenges of managing in hybrid workplace

Lizzie Buxton

Written By AdviserPlus

22nd October 2021

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The CIPD’s Embedding new ways of working post-pandemic report shows that some 40% of employers expect more than half of their workforce to work regularly from home after the pandemic has ended. While hybrid working – a relatively new term used to describe a balance of working in the office for some of the week, and at home for the remainder – offers the best for the employee, it will force many organisations to consider what this means for them, and what will need to be in place for these new ways of working to be effective.

One thing for certain is the dynamic of managing teams as we know it will change and hybrid working will make new demands of people managers. Although managers have developed new skills in terms of managing a remote workforce, hybrid working brings unique challenges that are different from both predominantly remote and predominantly office-based working.

Here are our top 7 challenges that leaders should be mindful of:

  1. Unconscious bias – Out of sight should never mean out of mind. Without being physically present in the office and ‘showing their face’, employees cannot benefit from the observation of their work. Less exposure between the employee and their manager can create an invisible barrier preventing them from properly demonstrating their commitment to the job, team and organisation, and subsequently, to any chance of recognition or promotion.  In comparison, colleagues in the office may be seen to be more committed even though remote workers may be working just as hard and for just as long.
  1. Dilution of culture – With a dispersed workforce, there are risks that the culture becomes diluted, with office life being the sole focus of corporate culture. The danger here is that employees will become disillusioned. Culture must be embedded and clearly defined – if culture is difficult to define in an office environment, it becomes even more difficult to do so in a remote environment – remote workers are less likely to see their connection to the mission of the company and lack a sense of belonging.
  1. Lack of connectivity – Leaders face a new challenge of connecting employees who are spread out across a variety of locations, and successfully doing so is vital for successful hybrid working. If remote workers are not effortlessly connected with those in the office, there will be disparities, silos and knowledge loss among employees. There are likely to be fewer in-person events, so for virtual events and meetings, creating a quality connection between office-based and remote workers is essential.
  1. Communication and transparency –A lack of open and honest communication has a huge negative impact on morale. Almost 60% of remote workers miss out on important information because it has been communicated in person. In the absence of transparent leadership, rumours can spread like wildfire though an office and has the potential to undermine company culture, cause hurt feelings or arguments, and portray people in a negative light. Managers also should be aware that employees may have communication styles and preferences that are less than ideal. For example, using email to collaborate on a project may be convenient, but ultimately less efficient than working face to face.
  1. Engagement and close working relationships – Good working relationships are necessary for employees to build engagement and be productive at work. People who have a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. The physical separation of staff in hybrid models can make forming these working relationships difficult. Leaders need to shift their mindset to focus on the quality of how they connect with individual employees, rather than checking a “company culture box.” Fundamentally, intentional engagement means personal engagement; being deliberate and personal in how you interact with and support your employees, not painting employee support with a broad brush, but instead looking at how to support each employee individually.
  1. Employee wellbeing – Employee wellbeing implications of COVID-19 will require focus for some time. It’s reported that 80% of UK workers feel working from home has had a negative impact on their mental health. In response, most organisations have increased focus and investment in employees’ physical and mental health during the pandemic. Organisations with a hybrid model must continue this focus on wellbeing to ensure individuals remain supported. Organisations depend on having a healthy and productive workforce: we know that when employees feel their work is meaningful and they are valued and supported, they tend to have higher wellbeing levels, be more committed to the organisation’s goals and perform better.
  1. Inclusion – The pandemic has led to a number of inequality issues. There has been a disproportionate impact on people from ethnic minority backgrounds, while women are more likely to have been furloughed. As a result of school closures, caring responsibilities or even ill-health, not all employees will have been able to be as productive or performed as well as they would have liked, leading to an unequal playing field in terms of career development. Employees who have been on long-term furlough leave may have also had fewer opportunities to learn and develop during the pandemic. In a hybrid environment, organisations must ensure ongoing access to development and career conversations for all employees and make sure there is a fair allocation of work and opportunities.

Organisations are beginning to realise the unexpected challenges the hybrid model presents. These challenges are mostly borne of the need to ensure a consistent experience for all employees, regardless of whether they work in the office or remotely. We have been working with clients to identify and address these challenges, so that their own transitions to hybrid working are successful.

Get in touch if you want to better understand how to address your organisation-specific challenges.

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