How to overcome hybrid workforce challenges
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Going out to restaurants, bars, and movie theaters. Meeting up in person with friends and family. Enjoying live music and sports at public venues. Activities once taken for granted are being embraced with a newfound appreciation in a post-pandemic world.
When it comes to returning to the office, hybrid work models are growing in popularity as people look to balance the advantages of working in-office with the perks of working from home.
Studies show the hybrid workforce is here to stay. A recent survey indicates that 44% of employees favor a hybrid work schedule as do 63% of high-revenue growth companies.
Despite signs of widespread acceptance, the hybrid work model isn’t free of challenges.
Pros and cons of hybrid work
Hybrid work offers people greater freedom and flexibility with their schedules balanced with opportunities to socialize with coworkers and enjoy on-site perks in the workplace.
Some employees feel more productive at home where they’re able to focus without the office banter.
However, hybrid communication can prove difficult. Video conferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams make it easy to hide in the background and not participate during meetings. A hybrid workforce can require more discipline when it comes to coordinating schedules.
These are just the surface-level concerns of a hybrid work environment. Communication challenges in the workplace for hybrid teams get increasingly complex as time goes on.
5 challenges of hybrid team collaboration
Hybrid work can differ by employee, team, or department. Different roles come with different levels of expectation for an on-site presence. Some work relationships or team dynamics only suffer when too much time is spent working independently and remotely.
Communication challenges in the workplace fall into one of these five categories: virtual relationship building, work policies, remote-compatible culture, lack of buy-in, connectivity between home and office.
1. Virtual relationship building
Introvert or extrovert, it doesn’t matter. At some level, all people are social creatures.
What hybrid work from home offers in convenience, it lacks in the impromptu moments that build trust, foster relationships, and create a sense of belonging among coworkers. Too much time apart can make on-site interactions feel strained, awkward, or insincere.
A lack of personal connections can also manifest in feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Hybrid teams benefit from regular social interactions, whether on-site and virtual. When a new employee joins the company, plan a virtual meet-and-greet with the team. Make it easier to onboard people by assigning a work buddy to show them the ropes, including how to log into different systems, use work tools, and provide necessary introductions.
For existing employees, encourage the creation of dedicated Slack or Teams channels.
Whether it’s a group for web devs to talk shop about work-related topics or an ongoing discussion about shared interests outside of work like sports or movies, the point is getting to know one another better while laying the foundation for lasting friendships.
This also promotes a consistent work culture. Employees know what to expect, how to act within the rules and standards of the organization, and get to see where they fit in.
2. Lack of defined flexible vs remote work policies
A hybrid work environment doesn’t mean a free-for-all. If anything, the hybrid work model needs more clarification than a fully remote or traditional workplace.
For a hybrid workforce, a flexible schedule can mean lots of things. It could be choosing which two days of the week to work from home: Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. Or it may mean participating in the hybrid work schedule as defined, or not at all.
Some companies find it helpful for everyone to agree on one hybrid work model. If it’s a company policy for all employees to be in the office Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then weekly huddle meetings and client presentations can be scheduled for those days. This sample schedule would leave Thursday and Friday mostly free of meetings so people can focus their attention on project work.
Communication challenges in the hybrid workplace exist when there isn’t an agreed-upon time when remote employees are expected to start the workday or be accessible. Unlike employees who work fully remote, people on hybrid teams tend to live within a morning commute of the office and are available at the same time of day.
Of course, some employees prefer the flexibility to work whenever or wherever they feel most productive. Working from home makes more sense for someone writing code into the wee hours of the morning than it would for a manager responsible for a sales team.
What’s most important is to clearly define the parameters of your company’s hybrid work policy with all your employees so they can set their expectations accordingly.
3. Developing and maintaining a remote-compatible culture
Apart from tech startups and a host of other nimble organizations, most every company is new to the hybrid work environment. Back in 2005, 1.8 million U.S. employees worked from home at least half the time. Today, that number has increased to 1 in 4 Americans.
That’s approximately 39 million workers! Even with the hybrid workforce being projected to stabilize at around 13 to 27 million people WFH in the coming years, it’s a major shift.
Without the onset of a global pandemic in 2020, it’s hard to know how many companies would have naturally moved toward a hybrid work model on their own accord. For most businesses, the idea to offer a hybrid work schedule was all about survival, not choice.
Getting back to normal doesn’t mean hybrid teams will go away. By 2025, the number of Americans working remotely will still reach an 87% increase over pre-pandemic levels.
Companies that hope to stay competitive and continue to attract (and retain) top talent will need to work harder to maintain cultures that are remote-compatible. To remain agile and rapidly adapt to change requires an investment in training and development.
Only by establishing effective hybrid work policies will companies improve productivity and drive stronger business outcomes.
4. Lack of leadership or team buy-in
Among business leaders, achieving consensus is no small task. For some, the idea of staying with a hybrid work model beyond its lockdown-forced necessity is unthinkable.
For those steeped in traditional office culture, a hybrid work environment may always be an anathema. Never mind that studies show the average remote employee worked 1.4 more days every month (16.8 more days every year) than those who worked in an office.
Some managers continue to question the validity of the hybrid work schedule, somehow equating it with casually sitting around in pajamas and answering the occasional email.
For the successful adoption and gradual normalization of hybrid work to continue, tired and unwarranted misconceptions like these must end. Leaders must strive to grasp the inherent value of their own hybrid workforce and what it contributes to their bottom line.
Unfortunately, leaders are not alone in their biases or resentment of today’s hybrid work environment.
Employees who prefer to work full time in the office by choice, mere force of habit, or a personal disdain for WFH may find it easier to question the commitment of their hybrid work counterparts. Remote employees can pick up on these feelings of resentment, which only contributes to the sense of isolation and lack of camaraderie with the on-site team.
To overcome any perceived bias against the hybrid work model, managers must learn to value everyone’s contributions equally. The use of multiple communication channels, clear goal setting, and proper task delegation also helps keep teams on the same page.
Members of the hybrid workforce can further reinforce buy-in from their on-site leaders and coworkers by being more vocal in team meetings, demanding greater visibility in the decision-making process, and soliciting feedback on performance beyond formal reviews.
5. Connectivity between office and home
Managing a hybrid workforce of any size can introduce a new layer of complexity to any team’s existing dynamic. Strengthening team communications can help minimize this complexity.
First and foremost, organizations need to invest in a video conferencing platform that everyone can use at home or in the office. Whether it’s Zoom, Teams, or Skype, agree upon one that will become the standard for all team meetings. Avoid the temptation to use the free version as they limit usability. Choose the subscription package that fits.
Messaging platforms like Slack or Google Hangouts, will also prove helpful for hybrid work from home. Unlike email, they reflect the spontaneity and urgency of in-person conversations. Their ability to host group discussions is ideal for impromptu meetings.
When it comes to remote collaboration, Lucidchart is a must. A cloud-based tool, it’s readily accessible to all team members. Use it to create process maps, UML models, org charts with one of our hundreds of diagram templates.
Task-management tools are another must for a hybrid workforce as they allow people to remain accountable, keep organized, and stay on top of tasks or projects. Enterprise teams will favor more robust (but expensive) options like Workfront whereas smaller teams might prefer Trello’s user-friendly and customizable Kanban board interface.
Other task-management tools seem to favor different disciplines, like Jira for product teams or Asana for marketing. The most important thing is to simply have one in place.
The success of any hybrid workforce is contingent on building relationships, defining hybrid work policies, maintaining a remote-compatible culture, securing buy-in from leadership, and keeping teams securely connected whether at home or in the office.
The sooner these communication challenges in the workplace are addressed, the more quickly your organization will maximize the productivity of its hybrid work environment.
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