The pandemic-driven shift to mass remote work has had its fair share of challenges, like a disrupted work/life balance and widening communication gaps. Despite that, many employees have come to prefer the flexibility of working from home over the rigidity of working from a shared office.
At the same time, some roles will require a return to the office once doing so becomes feasible, and some employees are excited about the prospect of working from the office once again. How do you handle a workforce composed of both people who love working from home and people who would rather — or are required to — work from the office again?
A hybrid office that merges the benefits of on-location and remote work can be a best-of-both-worlds solution that keeps everyone happy. The question is: How can a company successfully go hybrid?
What Is a ‘Hybrid’ Office?
A “hybrid” office model is one in which employees have the option to choose where, when, and how they work. Employees can choose to work from the office, work remotely, or even alternate between the two as desired. For companies, hybridity provides a way to maximize productivity and flexibility while meeting the diverse needs of employees.
Understandably, some company leaders are hesitant to embrace hybrid office models. Many leaders worry employees will take undue advantage of such a system. They should know, however, that 60 percent of employees feel they are more engaged and productive when they have flexible work options. That suggests a hybrid office could actually boost performance.
That said, there are certainly challenges that companies need to consider — and solve — before going hybrid.
Common Challenges Faced by Hybrid Teams
Every business has its own unique culture, processes, and procedures, so hybrid offices will pose different challenges to different organizations. That said, a few challenges are more common than others:
1. Communication Gaps
Unrestricted, easy communication is one of the biggest perks of a traditional office setup. If an employees has any doubts or problems, they can simply walk to a colleague or superior and sort it out.
Because hybrid offices mix colocation and remote work, employees have to rely on video conferencing and messaging tools to facilitate communication between all team members. This kind of communication may not suit everyone, and it is more susceptible to communication gaps. For example, employees can miss important details or even entire meetings due to tech problems. There is also the risk of hacking: Zoom has experienced serious breaches that compromise employee privacy and company security.
In a hybrid office, simple things like holding urgent meetings and checking in with employees can become tricky if everyone is not on the same page. To mitigate communication problems, make it a point to record every meeting and log every chat. Keep meeting minutes in project management tools like Asana or Notion, where they will be easily accessible to all employees.
Leaders and managers should also invest in educating employees in remote-friendly and hybrid-office best practices. Proper training, along with comprehensive communication policies and procedures, will help keep all employees aligned, regardless of where they’re working from.
2. Lack of Clear Structure and Leadership
Employees often have varying opinions about how and when work should get done. When everyone is in the office together, it’s relatively easy for coworkers to align on their expectations. In a hybrid office, on the other hand, the different needs and preferences of in-office and remote employees can easily lead to misalignment.
To make matters worse, leadership hierarchies can be less clear and less effective in hybrid offices. Leaders may find themselves with uneven levels of authority across in-office and remote employees. Moreover, in-office employees may be perceived as being treated better than their remote counterparts, and remote workers may feel isolated and even resentful toward other team members who are still in the office.
Employees need defined policies and procedures that clarify the scope of and expectations for their work without doing away with the flexibility that makes a hybrid office attractive in the first place. It’s also crucial to determine where to position your leadership teams: in the office or remote? Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to take into account the needs of both individual teams and the overall company when making the choice.
Holding regular meetings for all team members to touch base with their leaders and one another can also go a long way in maintaining team cohesion, leadership hierarchies, and workplace structures…