The global pandemic and lockdowns transformed how (and where) the majority of us work. Even after restrictions eased and people returned to offices, it was clear the influence of enforced remote working would change how organisations operate in the future. In this blog, we explore the key challenges of managing in this new era of hybrid work.
How the hybrid working environment brings both challenges and opportunities
The new world of work will be radically different – there won’t be a return to the office 9-5, Monday to Friday. 86% of the UK’s biggest employers said they expected staff to split their time between the office and working from home, and other research revealed that 29% of employees would quit if they were told to return full-time to the office.
This hybrid workplace brings new management challenges and opportunities. Given the manager’s impact on employee engagement, there’s a real need for leadership development to create inspiring managers and strong leaders across the organisation. While there are efficiency, flexibility and agility advantages to the hybrid working model there are challenges to address and the right tools, processes and strategies need to be in place to enjoy these benefits. Employees and managers require the right technology for hybrid working, combined with good hybrid workplace design.
Let’s look at the biggest issues to overcome and the development areas managers need to focus on when planning hybrid working patterns.
Key Challenges of managing hybrid teams and a dispersed workforce
1. A greater focus on communication
One of the main ways that companies kept morale high and staff informed during lockdowns was regular, focused communication using technology to help meet the need for contact and reassurance. For example, proactive CEOs sent regular emails and shared video messages, while managers held formal and informal catch-ups and meetings with their teams. The result was strong engagement and understanding amongst staff about what was happening in a turbulent, worrying time. 70% of businesses we surveyed during the pandemic said they implemented regular business updates, with 62% running team-based meetings.
Given the time-consuming nature of this increased communication, there’s a temptation for managers today to reduce this regularity post-pandemic. That would be a mistake. Firstly, employees have come to expect and appreciate being kept in the loop – dropping this support risks impacting their wellbeing, morale, and productivity. Secondly, for managing teams in a work from home and office hybrid model, good communication from supportive managers is vital. Even if staff are in the office for a few days every week due to hybrid flexible working, the likelihood of them all being in the same place at the same time is minimal.
Managers need to be intentional about their communication – ensuring that everyone hears important information and organising meetings at times when all team members can attend, either physically or virtually. They also need to ensure that the meeting experience is positive for everyone and that no one feels they’re missing out by being remote. Great managers understand the importance of time management and factor in time for informal catch-ups and social interactions to keep morale high.
2. Continue to focus on wellbeing
Supporting employee wellbeing has always been a vital part of running a successful business. However, the stresses and anxieties of the pandemic and the potential isolation caused by remote working renewed the focus on wellbeing, breaking down barriers and taboos, particularly around mental health.
These worries, around jobs, money and family, have not gone away. Employees are also grappling with the lack of certainty about the future, particularly as many organisations are still not sure what the future of work looks like and are unable to communicate clear messages. Many employees feel comfortable working remotely, while others feel the opposite. That means that for some staff, the thought of potentially going back to an office causes them to feel worried, whilst for others the isolation of continuing to work at home causes anxiety.
Anxiety reduces work performance. McKinsey suggested that anxiety could amount to a global loss of productivity of $1 trillion per year. When managing hybrid teams, you need to make time to connect with people one-on-one to understand their concerns, collect constructive feedback and support them through challenging times. Use open, effective manager/employee communication.
How much is your company doing around wellbeing? Read our article on the benefits of implementing a wellbeing/wellness strategy.
3. Managing hybrid teams equally and monitoring contributions fairly
Staff want the ability to work flexibly and take control over when and where they work. Whether it is hybrid work from home or hybrid office working. This shouldn’t prevent their work and contribution from being understood and recognised, whether through praise, promotions, bonuses or pay rises. Selection processes must be fair in hybrid working frameworks. After all, it’s easy for managers to subconsciously reward those they see and chat with every day in the office and inadvertently neglect those working remotely – even if they’re contributing equally to achieving team and company goals.
Hybrid work research from the Office for National Statistics highlight the issue. It found that between 2012-17 people who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted compared to other workers. They were 38% less likely to have received a bonus than those who never worked from home between 2013-20. This shows that hybrid remote work can have a hidden cost to employees, impacting their motivation and engagement.
Managing hybrid teams effectively means treating individuals equally. The reopening of offices shouldn’t lead to the return of presenteeism, where being in the office is seen as a sign of dedication and commitment. Star employees can be both in the office or working remotely. Managers need to be trained and educated by the senior leadership to ensure they’re managing performance and rewards based on an individual’s contribution, outcomes and results, rather than unconsciously favouring those who they see most regularly.
The changing business world and hybrid workplace brings new behaviours, concerns and demands for employees and employers. And addressing and overcoming the challenges of managing hybrid teams should be a key priority, as effective management helps businesses to ensure optimal team performance. Take a look at our related blog on developing managers for the new world of work and get insights about equipping managers with the skills to overcome today’s biggest challenges.
Tivian is a provider of employer software solutions that help to transform workplace culture, enhance the employee experience and leverage feedback insights to drive meaningful change and boost staff retention. Explore our Leadership 360 tool to see how feedback can be used to develop leaders to meet the needs of the hybrid workforce era.