The dark side of leading in a hybrid environment

Written by Lindsay K. Beers, OD Consultant, Development Solutions

Are you one of the millions of employees who found themselves trading in the commute, water cooler talk, and potluck lunches for sweatpants, homemade coffee, and blurred video backgrounds of your kitchen? The transition from a majority of employees working in a physical office to a large portion working from home has been dramatic. While the numbers continue to shift, Gallup reported earlier this year that 80% of the workforce is either exclusively working remotely or operating on a hybrid schedule.

The changes in one’s physical workplace may have initially seemed temporary, but they are proving to be more permanent than most anticipated. In fact, the same article disclosed that over half of those surveyed anticipated hybrid work becoming the predominant working arrangement moving forward. As a result, it’s important to take note of other employment practices that need to adjust to this more flexible work model – namely, how managers adapt their leadership style.

Advantages of a hybrid work environment

Employees across the globe have experienced both the advantages and disadvantages of working outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar offices. Some benefits which have been touted quite clearly include:

  • Greater flexibility – Many organizations recognize that work can be completed well and on time even if an employee needs to run out for a doctor’s appointment or to pick up kids from school during business hours.
  • Less commuting – Whether it’s to avoid high gas prices, traffic, inclement weather, or simply having more availability in the mornings and afternoons, most employees can provide at least one reason why not having to drive to and from an office five days a week can be beneficial.
  • Increased employee well-being – With that greater flexibility and less daily travel time plus the power to build in healthier routines and create more personalized workspaces, employees can benefit from increased well-being and productivity.

Disadvantages of a hybrid work environment

On the other hand, the potential drawbacks of this arrangement have not been as widely discussed as the benefits and could be stumbling blocks for organizations moving forward. If not proactively addressed by managers, such challenges could lead to disengagement, low morale, and even attrition. Some key factors to be cognizant of include:

  • Work-life balance – With the aforementioned flexibility can also come the blurring of lines between work and home life. If managers aren’t helping their employees to set (and maintain) clear boundaries, this can eventually lead to employee burnout, among other issues.
  • Promoting relationships with colleagues – In the past, this initiative may have seemed almost effortless between meetings, office lunches, and happy hours. Now, however, making connections as well as building and maintaining relationships may prove more difficult and require more intentionality – especially for those who may be new to an organization.
  • Fostering and maintaining employee engagement – As another initiative that is typically easier when there is regular interaction among employees, employee engagement is arguably even more important to manage when so much of an employee’s daily human contact is through the medium of a computer.
  • Creating a sense of belonging, particularly for new employees – What used to begin as a quick tour around the office to meet new coworkers has evolved into virtual introductions where some employees may never actually meet face-to-face. Organizations need to create a cohesive culture that is embedded from day one of the employee’s tenure or risk them feeling isolated or out of touch with their colleagues.
  • Effective communication and collaboration efforts – What could have been a quick conversation in the hallway or in the office kitchen now requires a form of more intentional, virtual communication. Managers need to create standard practices where team members are kept up-to-date so key information doesn’t fall through the cracks.

How to address hybrid environment challenges

While such obstacles may sound or feel overwhelming, they can be addressed, managed, and overcome with a few targeted initiatives. In fact, when organizational leaders are mindful of such challenges and place intentional effort on them, these potential disadvantages can be converted to great opportunities and benefits.

To learn more about solutions to the dark side of hybrid working, register for our upcoming webinar.

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