Ilkka Mäkitalo looks at new research into the ups and downs of new flexible working practices.
The hybrid work model is reshaping the future of workplaces and work arrangements. Considered to be a happy medium of combining remote work and going to the office, the hybrid work model is being hailed as the new normal.
How viable is it? When planned carefully and strategically, the hybrid work model has the potential to improve your organisation in several ways. However, it’s not without its potential pitfalls. If executed poorly, hybrid work models could potentially set back advancements in workplace equality significantly.
Here are three benefits and pitfalls to the hybrid work model that your company needs to consider to avoid inequality and ensure success.
More satisfied employees
If we learned anything from remote work, it’s that we’re completely able to organize our workdays to suit our own schedules and needs. Basically, we can work around our life, not our life around our work.
Give employees the freedom and flexibility to plan their ways of working based on their preferences and energy levels and you’ll see employee satisfaction skyrocket.
Ensure that your employees communicate the times they can personally focus the best to colleagues and leaders. The important thing is for employees to find a sustainable way to work that benefits them. A better work-life fit with hybrid work models reduces stress and helps prevent burnout.
If executed poorly, hybrid work models could potentially set back advancements in workplace equality significantly
Howspace recently conducted a survey to better understand people’s views and plans around hybrid work and to help solve their main challenges. The survey sample was 303 team leaders, consultants, and employees across a range of industries and organization types and sizes in 31 countries. Flexibility was the number one benefit of hybrid work, according to the survey.
Rebecca Fry, manager of people enablement at AIG, commented in the survey: “My physical health has never been better. I can manage my time in a way I have never been able to do before, my commute to work has given me three hours per day back into my life, and I use them to be more physically active and physically present with my family.”
Pitfall to avoid: Coordination and scheduling issues
Suppose some employees personally prefer to come into the office on Mondays and Thursdays, but everyone else comes in Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In that case, you may miss out on the best benefits of face-to-face, synchronous work time. Schedules that don’t overlap may cause overall company productivity issues as bottlenecks may form.
Also, having teams physically together allows for important ‘spontaneous interactions’. These discussions around the water cooler or the coffee machine aren’t organised but are extremely meaningful for employees. These meetings are authentic and can’t really be recreated online.
We need to understand the need for this kind of social connectivity to support the well-being of employees. Spur-of-the-moment interactions where you’re not talking about work develop better relationships.
It’s true that emphasis has been placed on team bonding in a remote setting, but it’s challenging when it needs to feel more authentic. Also, if employees have spontaneous and unstructured consultations in person, it’s quite easy to forget to update remote colleagues with the same information that was discussed.
Management teams may not want to enforce particular rules for when employees are supposed to be present at the office. This may undermine the trust and flexibility they were given during the pandemic and everyone worked from home remotely.
So what’s the solution? Encourage employees to find sustainable ways of working and co-create the hybrid work model with everyone in your company to help you succeed. Put an emphasis on learning new ways of working and splitting time.
Encourage employees to come to the office for synchronous work, such as for projects that require collaboration, conversation, brainstorming, or group creativity with many interdependent parts. Then at home, they can do tasks that can be completed from start to finish without any external input, such as admin, time tracking, email, or deep creative writing.
This balance and work-life fit will make employees more satisfied and happier.
Better opportunities for continuous learning
Employees aren’t machines. Yet, they’re often treated as output computers, expected to deliver 24/7. According to the Economist, average working hours increased by an extra 30 minutes during the pandemic as remote workers stayed logged on longer, perhaps in a bid to impress managers.
The benefit of the hybrid work model is that employees can choose to work wherever and whenever they please, meaning they can schedule time for learning and improvement more easily than if they were fully remote or office workers.
Learning, training, and development don’t just happen inside training courses. Leaders should try to create everyday opportunities for learning and reflection, and encourage taking time for self-development, learning, and reflection.
According to the Howspace survey, 70% of respondents prefer a blended learning approach (a mix of learning both synchronously in-person and asynchronously online) in a hybrid work environment.
Pitfall to avoid: Human capital silos
Arguably, the younger generation has been hit the hardest in terms of their work life from the pandemic.
Not only does research show that younger workers live in smaller residences than their more senior colleagues, with many needing to work from their beds instead of having a dedicated workstation, but they’ve also suffered from having a lack of time with their older counterparts from whom they can learn new things.
Younger workers are desperate to come back to the office in order to overcome isolation and learn from more experienced employees in real life. Yet, many senior staff enjoy the comfort of their home offices and no commute. So how can organisations bring talent together and reduce the skill disparity between generations?
Set clear expectations about hybrid work. And continue to adopt a facilitator’s mindset.
Create a mentorship programme. Buddy up senior employees with newer staff and create scheduled touchpoints and milestones that can track the progress of newer staff. Adopt a facilitator’s mindset – consider how human relationships work and design work processes that fit team members’ habits and needs.
Facilitating dialogue about how teams can work together helps individuals understand each other better, strengthens relationships, and improves communication.
Improved productivity and efficiency
A hybrid model can offer flexibility and empower employees to work to their strengths, which in turn boosts productivity. By encouraging a culture that views remote work as a positive alternative to completing deep-focus tasks at the office, teams can find a good balance of creativity and collaboration. Employees who need peace and quiet to focus or who thrive in an office setting can be given the choice to work where and when they’re most productive.
Estimates from the World Economic Forum say that a hybrid workforce will boost productivity by 4.6%, mainly due to the reduction in commuting. Sanna Repo,
Development Consultant at Azets reflected: “Seeing colleagues at the office is great for the team’s sense of togetherness and collaborative work – though it is less efficient and commuting takes up a lot of time.”
Pitfall to avoid: Presenteeism and making negative assumptions
Research shows that we look more favourably on those whom we see more often. This is known as ‘proximity bias’. There are legitimate concerns that presenteeism will cause workers to feel pressured into coming into the office in order to get promotions or better pay. Hybrid work may make workers attempt to demonstrate their commitment to managers who are at the office by coming in excessively.
When we don’t see each other every day, it’s easy to make assumptions about other employees. Keeping these assumptions positive and trusting that everyone is doing their best and making responsible decisions from their perspective is pivotal.
If you don’t understand the intention, ask curious questions such as, “Can you help me understand what you are doing and why?” Doing this sometimes takes a little courage, but the cultural benefits are huge.
Employees at the office are no more popular than home employees, just as home employees are no more efficient than office workers. When decisions are made that you don’t understand, ask from a reinforcing point of view as to why that decision was made so that you can understand the thought process better.
Set clear expectations about hybrid work. And continue to adopt a facilitator’s mindset. For example, run a meeting virtually for everyone, even if half of the participants are in the office, in order to create a level playing field where everyone feels included.
Perhaps you enforce a policy that everyone has to work a minimum of one day a week from home. Whatever you decide, the leadership teams need to role-model the plan.
Focus on trust
Workers, teams, managers, and organisations will get the best out of the hybrid work model if the focus is on trust. Employees will understand that the company appreciates their experience and dedication, so they will function at higher levels and take your organisation to the next level.
About the author
Ilkka Mäkitalo is CEO at Howspace.