“Hybrid work is the worst of both worlds”- say many. Unfortunately, such statements sometimes seem to be true according to my findings. At the same time, a hybrid setup could be a win-win solution for office spaces and flexible working trends. However, it would need to be implemented wisely. Hybrid teams need a strategy, change management, trust, and an inclusive approach. If this doesn’t happen, distributed teams will eventually face issues such as proximity bias, burnout, and consequently higher turnover rates.
Hybrid work as a buzzword
It’s easy to say that a company is hybrid. It’s a justification to explain why people have to visit the office, retain outdated workspaces and create a partial illusion of the “old normal”. At the same time, people are getting reassured that they CAN work from home from time to time because that’s the current market trend. Consequently, the so called 3:2 hybrid working model (3 days in the office and 2 days at home) is the most popular one. In this article, we’re not going to cover the pros and cons of such an approach. What we want to understand is what happens in companies that hire full-time remote workers, combining them with office-first employees.
Let’s make things clear once and for all. Hybrid work isn’t about the location at all. It has nothing to do with combining the “old normal” with the “new normal”. I will explain this with a simple, every day situation: Imagine you’re renovating an apartment. You buy brand new furniture, but you keep old windows. You design a new bathroom but all the pipes are 80 years old. Will you feel super comfortable feeling the wind on your shoulder while sitting on your new couch? Will you enjoy your new bathroom knowing that you’ll have to renovate it in a few years as your pipes break? Good luck…
If you don’t prepare a long-term hybrid working strategy but you just rush into the implementation phase, you’ll never build anything sustainable.
Hybrid horror stories
Let me share some real-life examples. I really want you to understand why a hybrid setup can turn out to be a nightmare for remote workers. It can simply discriminate them and cut their wings. You must know that I’ve spoken with hundreds of remote workers, and I also worked with numerous hybrid companies within the past few years. That’s why I’m convinced that we should speak about hybrid work failure loudly! According to my findings, the most common issues are:
Case no. 1: Overseeing remote workers
Employees who regularly attend the office have work-related chats in the company kitchen, they spontaneously walk up to each other and make decisions. Remote workers who are in the same team, find it out much later – usually during a weekly or bi-weekly team call. Unfortunately, it may be that they’ve already started working on something and spent quite some time on in just to suddenly find out that “Oh, we’ve already taken care of it”. What a waste of time, resources, potential and engagement.
Case no. 2: Worthless hard work
I described the problem of proximity bias in hybrid teams in my previous article. It basically means that people who attend the office are more privileged than remote workers. Yes, believe it or not but this is really happening. Consequently, remote workers work more to prove that they’re equally good. They must fight for attention. They must fight to be seen and heard. The reason for this is often a lack of scalable project management processes that would evaluate progress and productivity with a results-based approach. Unfortunately, I’ve faced such situations myself and it wasn’t pleasant at all, believe me. It just wasn’t fair.
Case no. 3: Bias and frenemies
There are friends and frenemies at work. If the leadership doesn’t build transparency upfront, the entire hybrid setup may end up as an unpleasant rollercoaster. Imagine you have a frenemy who regularly attends the office. You, being a remote worker, have no chance to succeed because no one will know about all your accomplishments. Frenemies also often play the “office politics” game to draw attention to themselves. That’s also the reason why I can see so many articles claiming that “remote workers are the first ones to lose their jobs during a recession”.
Case no. 4: Unconditional jealousy
A hybrid setup can mean that some workers have more flexibility than others. This may result in employees going on workcations / workations (temporary working from abroad), and leading a nomadic lifestyle while others are requested to maintain the traditional 9 to 5 routine. So, if the company and its leadership don’t discuss the topic of a clear role distinction as part of a hybrid setup, there will always be gossip about “who went where and did what when I was required to be in the office”. I mean… if you’re a traveler then it would be ridiculous having to hide your adventures just because it can bother someone in your company.
How to tackle hybrid working?
It’s not going to be easy but it will be worth it. I even wrote a book about it and you can check it out here. But if I had to share quick tips that will help overcome the main challenges of hybrid work, I’d suggest the following steps:
- Create an action plan with the core leadership team and get their “blessing” to proceed
If you want to make things work without the management being aware of it and supportive then… don’t event start. It’s not worth your time and energy. I’ve seen this happening before.
- Assign change management leaders, supporters that will help you bring things to life
You can’t do it alone. Trust me. All change management processes require support and nobody can perform them on their own. You need leaders who can move mountains with you and lead by example.
- Reevaluate all people processes by making sure they’re inclusive enough
Check out each and every single people process by imagining that you’re a remote worker (maybe you already are!). Is it user-friendly? Does it serve its purpose? Are there any obstacles? Create action steps to improve everything.
- Create transparent project management processes that are fully location independent
Office attendance should have nothing to do with measuring performance. The reason for attending the office shouldn’t be to get noticed. By all means, traces of such cognitive bias need to disappear as soon as possible.
- Make sure to run separate pulse surveys for remote & onsite workers – that’s how you’ll compare their experiences
Never combine both. You won’t know what influences people’s satisfaction in each target group. You goal is to compare and see what can be done to make sure that onsite and remote team members receive the best possible employee experience.
- Focus on building an inclusive culture that embraces differences and where everyone belongs
There’s no right or wrong, no “we’ve always done it this way” approach. Remember that people are different. They have different needs, hobbies and life goals. Workplace flexibility gives everyone the opportunity to choose what works best for them. Never judge anyone.