As the global economy begins to come out of its pandemic hibernation, companies around the world are reevaluating remote and hybrid work policies put in place in 2020.
For organizations that were already allowing remote and hybrid work before 2020, these policies may only require some fine tuning. But for other businesses, pandemic-era models were a tremendous shock to the corporate system, and moving forward into “the future of work” may require more than just technology upgrades.
Of course, no hybrid work model is going to function well without the right technology at its foundation. Companies need to look carefully at the infrastructure they have for allowing employees to work from remote locations.
Do team members have good connectivity and the right devices available? Does the organization have the right cloud services and apps to power remote work? Can the network support remote work without sacrificing functionality or productivity? Do employees in high customer-touchpoint roles have all the tools they need to address customer needs remotely?
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But building a healthy hybrid work culture goes far beyond simply providing a good technology foundation. To become an organization that genuinely embraces hybrid work as something that can power business well into the future, companies need to consider many aspects of the employer/employee relationship and employee satisfaction.
Producers vs. leaders
It’s something of a cliché, perhaps, but for many employees, the sudden pivot to remote work in 2020 revealed that some bosses who were high performers in the office did not necessarily become good leaders for the remote work world.
A survey by Great Place to Work showed that during productivity lulls in the summer of 2020, the most frequent phrase offered by frustrated employees was “hire leaders.” In other words: hire people who can lead in this environment. After the initial peak in productivity during the spring, employees started to experience burnout and frustration over leaders who expected performance without engendering trust or encouraging collaboration.
When employees are working in a remote or hybrid model, genuine leadership becomes more important than ever, and being a top producer doesn’t always translate to being an effective leader. Within a remote or hybrid model, it’s more important than ever for leaders to be flexible, to encourage collaboration, to listen to employees and take concerns seriously, and to set an example of a healthy approach to remote work.
Remote work burnout
Of particular concern for many employees working in a hybrid environment is burnout. When work can happen anywhere, it becomes difficult for employees to separate work, home, family and personal care. A Gartner survey conducted in April 2021 showed that 93% of HR leaders are concerned about burnout among employees.
Interestingly, some of the very tools designed to improve productivity for remote workers are actually driving burnout. Hybrid work employees are 2.54 times more likely to experience digital distractions than onsite employees, according to Gartner. They are also 1.12 times more likely than onsite employees to feel they are working too hard, and 1.27 times more likely to have trouble disconnecting from work.
To make hybrid work models successful for the long-term, leaders need to create frequent opportunities to check in with employees and take the pulse of the organization. In addition, communicating the importance of disconnecting from work and allowing flexibility for team members to take care of family and personal needs can contribute to a better sense of balance for employees.
Company culture and cohesion
For some leaders, the fear of losing the “company culture” may drive a desire to bring employees back to the office full-time. While it’s true that working onsite creates cohesion and fosters a distinct company culture, there’s no reason that companies with a robust remote or hybrid work model can’t also have a thriving culture and loyal, committed teams.
Leaders can commit to virtual informal gatherings for teams to check in. Employees who work in the same geography can meet in-person outside of work hours for some social connection. And as always, leaders can and should drive the culture they want to create from the top down.
Creating the workplace of the future
Even after many months of remote work, companies will still experience some bumps along the way toward making flexible work options into a lasting feature of employment. However, the trends are clear that remote and hybrid work options are only going to become more common.
Those businesses that approach these options with openness (and a willingness to experiment a little along the way) will have a greater chance of success at creating a thriving workplace culture that will last well into the future.
To learn more about creating a healthy remote work environment, download our hot topic sheet, Nine Ways to Create a Productive and Healthy Remote Work Culture.