According to the 2021 Remote Work & Compensation Pulse Survey, only 8% of employees working remotely are willing to return to the workplace full-time after the pandemic, 48% want to work remotely permanently, and the remaining 44% prefer a hybrid arrangement, working remotely part of the week. On the employer side, 51% indicated that while employees would be expected to return to the workplace, there would be an option to work remotely for part of the week.

Buffer’s State of Remote Work Report 2023 further supplements this data, with 18% of survey respondents leaning towards a hybrid and remote-first work setup, followed by a hybrid and office-occasional work setup (9%).

These statistics paint a picture where hybrid work appears beneficial for all stakeholders. Yet, in practice, the hybrid model comes with a set of challenges. Business leaders and organisations must recognise and tackle these issues head-on to ensure that the hybrid work environment is productive and efficient for everyone.

meeting on a video conference

Top 5 Hybrid Work Challenges

Let’s take a closer look at the top challenges of hybrid work models and how you can overcome them.

1. Difficulty Establishing Company Culture

In the post-pandemic world, many companies were compelled to transition to a hybrid work model, not necessarily out of choice but as a means of survival. As they navigated this new terrain, they were learning on the fly, addressing unforeseen challenges as they emerged.

A particularly prevalent challenge was cultivating a strong company culture, especially during onboarding of new hires. Without the regularity of physical presence and face-to-face interactions, a sense of disconnect pervaded the workforce. This poses a significant hurdle, especially for nascent companies or startups striving to build a cohesive culture from the ground up.

Not only does the absence of a tangible company culture impact the employer brand and its distinction in the industry, but it also resonates at a human level. When employees lack the motivation derived from workplace camaraderie and the shared values of company culture, their engagement and productivity could wane.

Addressing this cultural gap is crucial. Small yet meaningful engagements can make a world of difference. Encouraging employees to be in the office periodically can rekindle the essence of shared physical space and interpersonal interactions. Supplementing this with activities that promote unity and camaraderie – like mentorship programs, knowledge-sharing sessions, and social meetups – can help bridge the cultural chasm.

By prioritising and nurturing company culture in a hybrid environment, businesses can reinvigorate their employees’ commitment and maintain an inspired and motivated workforce.

2. Communication and Collaboration Issues

A hybrid work environment can amplify communication challenges, particularly due to the absence of regular face-to-face interactions. The increased dependence on technology, while indispensable, can sometimes complicate communication dynamics within hybrid teams.

Ineffective communication can set off a cascade of issues: it can hamper productivity, create confusion as employees miss out on vital information, and diminish the sense of connection with colleagues. Such communication gaps can prompt some workers to return to the office even when they’d prefer remote work, leading to broader dissatisfaction.

To navigate these communication challenges, it’s imperative to establish clear and efficient communication channels. Instituting well-defined communication protocols ensures that essential information reaches all team members. Leveraging tools like live video conferencing and instant messaging can facilitate more immediate and formal communication.

Additionally, scheduling regular hybrid meetings can help bridge the gap between on-site and remote workers, fostering better collaboration and understanding across the board.

hybrid worker on a meeting

3. Work-Life (Im)Balance

For many transitioning to hybrid work, achieving a work-life balance becomes an unexpectedly nuanced challenge. The continuous shift between office and remote work settings can blur the boundaries between professional and personal life. A notable downside to remote work is that many find it hard to “switch off.”

With no distinct office environment to exit from, some may inadvertently extend their working hours. This inability to delineate work from leisure time can negatively impact mental well-being.

In recognising these challenges, companies adopting a hybrid model should place employee well-being at the forefront. This can involve increasing investment in support systems tailored to address the unique challenges of hybrid work. Equipping employees with tools and resources to prevent burnout is crucial. Additionally, considering external wellness experts could be beneficial. They can create forums where employees discuss their mental well-being and work-life balance concerns.

Promoting regular check-ins and informal virtual gatherings, such as coffee breaks, can also provide avenues for employees to share their experiences and challenges. Such initiatives ensure that individuals within the hybrid team are not only heard but also feel supported when navigating these new work dynamics.

4. Productivity and Employee Motivation

Managing teams that are spread across both office and remote environments presents one of the most significant challenges in hybrid working. Monitoring employee performance and sustaining motivation can become complex. For instance, a survey of UK workers highlighted that one in five employees felt that working remotely might render them less visible or recognised in their workplaces.

Moreover, many remote employees grapple with establishing a work routine that optimises productivity. This challenge often stems from the absence of the structured environment they were accustomed to in a traditional office setting.

The delicate act of balancing autonomy for remote workers with clear expectations is a conundrum many organisations are working to resolve. One effective approach is to set formalised work targets for individual employees and smaller teams. Such targets serve a dual purpose: they provide a clear direction and also act as a motivation tool, encouraging workers to achieve set objectives.

Regular check-ins, led by managers and team leaders, can further help. These informal updates on tasks and projects ensure continuity and moment. With these check-ins, managers can foster greater accountability among employees, ensuring they remain committed to their roles and responsibilities.

5. Building the Right Hybrid Work Environment

One of the predominant challenges of hybrid working is designing an environment where all employees can flourish. Some companies gravitate towards a “remote-first” approach, where employees predominantly work remotely. In contrast, others adopt an “office-first” stance, requiring employees to be present in the office for the majority of the workweek.

Determining the best approach that resonates with employees while ensuring productivity can be daunting, especially for businesses new to the hybrid model. The key is to pilot different methods and actively seek feedback from employees. This iterative process allows companies to discern what maximises efficiency while sustaining motivation and engagement levels.

Ultimately, the essence lies in agility and adaptability. Hybrid work comes with many challenges, and leveraging insights from your workforce is instrumental in refining strategies and decision-making.

woman on a video conference

Change Leadership in a Hybrid Working Environment

Change leadership plays a pivotal role in navigating the evolving landscape of hybrid working. Here’s how effective change leaders can assist in overcoming the challenges of hybrid working.

1. Vision Setting: Change leaders define and communicate a clear vision for hybrid working. By outlining what success looks like in this new model, change leaders can provide a roadmap for employees, ensuring alignment and understanding across the organisation.

2. Employee Engagement: Through open dialogue, change leaders can actively involve employees in shaping the hybrid work environment. This inclusion fosters a sense of ownership and boosts morale, reducing resistance to change.

3. Training and Skill Development: One of the cornerstones of change leadership is to equip the workforce with the skills they need to succeed. Offering training sessions on digital tools, time management in remote settings, and online collaboration techniques can enhance productivity.

4. Cultural Evolution: Change leaders emphasise the importance of evolving the organisational culture to fit the hybrid model. They advocate for preserving core values while embracing new norms that fit the hybrid context, ensuring unity and coherence.

5. Feedback Mechanisms: Implementing regular feedback channels allows change leaders to understand employee sentiments, concerns, and suggestions. This continuous loop ensures timely modifications to strategies, enhancing their effectiveness.

6. Flexibility and Adaptability: Change leaders promote a culture of agility. They recognise that the hybrid model is not one-size-fits-all and are open to making iterative changes based on emerging challenges and needs.

7. Leveraging Technology: Effective change leaders ensure the organisation is equipped with the right technological tools to facilitate seamless hybrid work. This involves not just adopting technology but also ensuring its effective use through training and support.

8. Emphasis on Well-being: Recognising the potential burnout and mental health issues arising from hybrid working, change leaders prioritise employee well-being, offering support systems, breaks, and wellness programs.

9. Building Trust: Trust is a foundational element in a hybrid work model. Change leaders work to build and maintain this trust, emphasising results and output over hours worked, and ensuring that remote workers feel valued and included.

10. Continuous Monitoring: Through data-driven insights, change leaders can monitor the efficiency of hybrid working, ensuring that both the business and its employees are benefitting from this model.

hybrid worker

Make Hybrid Work Work

Whether you’re on the brink of introducing the hybrid workplace model or have already integrated it, understanding how to optimise this environment for increased productivity and engagement is invaluable. Recognising the day-to-day challenges of hybrid working equips you with insights to create practical strategies to combat them.

While not all hybrid work challenges may resonate with every organisation, for those that do encounter them, the myriad technological tools at their disposal can bridge any operational gaps. As hybrid working solidifies its place as the modern standard, promptly addressing these challenges is crucial to laying a strong foundation for success in this evolving world of work.

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Written by Jayne Ruff

Jayne Ruff, Occupational Psychologist & Managing Director at ChangingPoint. To find out more about how ChangingPoint can help you align minds to transform your business, get in touch.

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