The COVID-19 pandemic gave millions of people a glimpse of what life could be like outside the cubicle. While a few people discovered just how much they liked going into the office every day after being forced to work from home for months on end, most found that they liked the flexibility and comfort of working from home.
As more people get vaccinated and companies consider their options moving forward, one thing is clear: most employees don’t want to return to the status quo. They want the option to work from home at least some of the time.
Enter: the hybrid office.
Dr. Dustin York, an associate professor of communications at Maryville University says, “Unit managers tend to be the best defense against employee turnover, their role in increased hybrid communication is essential.”
Hybrid offices allow employees flexibility, whether that means allowing people to work from home part of the time or having some employees full-time in the office and others full-time at home. While this model is appealing for modern workers and offers many benefits, it has some pitfalls as well. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this growing trend.
Remote Work and Employee Isolation Issues
One major downside of working from home, as many people found in 2020, is that it can get pretty lonely. It’s difficult to connect with coworkers when you can’t talk to them face-to-face. Videoconferencing tools are helpful, but can’t replace in-person communication.
Isolation due to tech-only communication is a major concern for workers and employees alike, especially when it comes to team-building and morale. Hybrid office work can help address this issue by ensuring that people do get a chance to connect in person. However, scheduling and ensuring that teams are in the office together can be an additional headache for office managers to deal with.
Creating an environment that fights isolation while allowing flexibility for employees is a challenge inherent to hybrid models. Leaders within the organization must be proactive in preventing these pitfalls.
Employees Face Difficulties With Maintaining Productive Routines
While some people thrive in both the home and office environment, others struggle to stay productive in the hybrid office. Routine is helpful for productivity and a hybrid model can make it difficult for people to stick with a schedule that works for them.
Recalibrating for in-office work on certain days of the week can reduce productivity, and vice-versa. Some people struggle to focus at home or feel burned out due to the lack of work/life separation. Additionally, new habits like naps and walks have become common for people working from home and don’t always translate well to the office environment.
However, giving people flexibility can help increase employee happiness, which positively impacts productivity. The working habits of individuals require more scrutiny in the hybrid workplace.
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Managerial Challenges & Collaboration Barriers
Having everyone in one place is easier for managers, there’s no doubt. Remote workers might pop in and out during the day, making it difficult for the leadership team to keep track of what everyone is doing. Hybrid offices can be even more challenging to manage, since having flexible schedules puts up barriers to collaboration.
Strong, frequent communication is key for any team. But for a hybrid office to function, it’s even more crucial. Rebecca Weintraub, PhD director of the online Master of Communication Management Program at the University of Southern California, told Forbes that there are four communication pitfalls to be aware of when it comes to hybrid offices. One is that information dissemination can create two classes of team members: information haves and have nots. Extra pressure is put on managers to ensure that informal communication is encouraged so everyone is getting the information they need, are meeting expectations and working well together.
Additionally, Dr. York stressed the importance of authentic communication throughout an organization, stating the need for “clear and empathetic writing skills, to providing authentic reasons for face-to-face interaction, to organic ideas for informal communication.”
Security Risks for Remote & Hybrid Work
Workers in the office are typically working on dedicated computers and devices. These devices are easier to secure and control for obvious reasons: employees aren’t using them for personal reasons as much as their own devices (although we all know that YouTube is still bookmarked!).
Remote work comes with security risks that can lead to consequences like theft and loss of customer trust for companies. Securing devices and providing proper training is costly but absolutely crucial for any hybrid office.
Listen to Your Workers: The Importance of Employee Feedback
Hybrid offices give employees the freedom to balance the demands of their lives with work. It’s a huge perk for many workers, especially those who need extra flexibility or those who enjoy the connection of coming into the office but also appreciate the convenience of working from home.
However, there are potential pitfalls and challenges involved with this model and employers need to be prepared to change policies when necessary. Data-driven organizations are poised to thrive, as long as they listen to their teams. Continually collecting data and employee feedback is a great way to ensure continual improvement and a productive and happy hybrid workplace.
Creating a culture of feedback is the best way to transition to a hybrid office. When employees feel respected and supported, they do their best work, whether they’re at home or in the office.