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Part One: The 7 Biggest Challenges to Hybrid Work

Hybrid workplace
Brendan O'Neil
Published on

Hybrid work is a massive experiment we’re all conducting. We know it’s flexible and we know that one size will not fit all organizations, nor will one approach to hybrid work fit all functions, departments and individuals within any given organization. 

Top-down, rigid rules won’t work, nor will letting everyone “figure things out” on their own (that’s chaos). Big challenges to hybrid work are looming and must be overcome – every organization and employee will be customizing their own solutions.

Listed below are some of the biggest challenges to hybrid work, as I see them, with insights about how organizations might go about addressing each. No matter the challenge, organizations will need to collect feedback from employees in order to drive actions and improvement. You’ll always need to listen, learn from the data/feedback, and adapt.

Challenge #1: Employers Need to Actually Trust Their Employees to Make Hybrid Approaches Work

The challenge of trust has been with us since the first wave of the pandemic began in early 2020, when people around the world transitioned to working remotely. Employers were nervous that people might be slacking off and watching their favorite shows, but that didn’t happen: employee productivity didn’t drop and work didn’t stop.  

Business leaders are now asking questions like, “how do we ensure our people go back to the office but don't spend all day socializing?” That question echoes the previous concerns around remote work. 

“Re-socialization” may indeed be happening for the first few trips back as employees rebuild their in-office social fabric. But in the long-term, employers have to re-evaluate the value proposition of the office as a resource. One of those value props is social connectivity: people need to have trust and familiarity with their colleagues, and the office is a good place to foster that.

At the organizational level, the challenges around building trust require ensuring that your goals and use cases for the hybrid office are aligned and communicated with all your people. The way Robin helps you manage “the trust challenge” is through giving people visibility – we enable people to see who’s coming into the office  when, allowing them to coordinate their in-office days around in-person collaboration and building social/team cohesion. 

Organizations can build trust by giving the office a purpose. It used to be the default location and now it's a tool they provide – they should explain how they expect everyone to use it. Robin helps people coordinate and collaborate around that purpose. 

Challenge #2: The Approach Of Managers, Especially Mid-Level Managers, Needs to Change to Accommodate Hybrid Work. 

One of the biggest problems we've seen with hybrid work is when C-level decisions are not adapted and are just uniformly applied throughout the organization. That's the most rigid, top-down application of hybrid work, and it won’t work. Mid-level managers should be there to explain the why and collectively set expectations with their team.

The mid-level manager needs to have that translational conversation, asking her team “what does this particular organizational policy mean for us? How do we approach the expectation as a team, and when do we want to come together with intention in the office? What team activities are best done in the office and what can be done WFH?” 

The challenge for the mid-level manager is to align the organization's goals, with the functional success of their team, using the office as a resource. That “solution” for a team can be sliced a million different ways, but C-level leaders need to trust their mid-level managers to have those team conversations and mid-level managers need to trust their teams. 

Communication needs to be shared up, down and across in a continuous feedback loop, and the organization needs to flexibly adapt to the incoming feedback as it moves forward. You build “adaptability” as a muscle, from constant use.

Challenge #3: Better Tools are Needed to Enable Hybrid Work.

Organizations need to be making decisions based upon the perspective of the individual employee. The question needs to be: “how can we best support and enable employees and their productivity through hybrid work?” 

The first need is a tool to make it easy for employees to coordinate their work week, one that lets them decide when and how they want to go into the office. A tool like Robin allows employees to see who’s coming in and coordinate in-office time with their colleagues and teams. That visibility eliminates the guesswork that might keep people from defaulting to WFH.

Another important factor is knowing where things are in the office so people aren’t walking into an unfamiliar location that’s potentially being constantly reconfigured. Robin enables that visibility too. 

Another set of necessary tools are audio visual enhancements to support hybrid meetings. Upgrading the microphones is something every office needs to do, because almost every meeting room has a terrible audio configuration for microphones. Enhanced virtual collaboration tools are also important – things like interactive whiteboards and better cameras so that if you’re writing on a whiteboard, the people dialing into the meeting can participate. 

These tools are all about coordinating and giving employees real choice so they can best coordinate when they want to go into the office and when WFH is a better fit. Upgrading the audio and the visual side of hybrid meetings should make meetings much more collaborative and productive. Organizations need to ensure that work is not dependent on where the work is happening.

Ready to learn more? Tune in for part 2 next week.

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