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Hybrid Work Arrangements Aren’t One Size Fits All

Not too long ago, if the word “hybrid” was used in 2019, it was usually in regard to a gas/electric vehicle or a type of exotic pet. Now, in the post-COVID world, the term is associated with “hybrid work” — the once-outrageous notion of flexible working arrangements for employees either from home or in the office.

Indeed, hybrid work is a practice that has caught on. In March 2023, global employment law firm Littler Mendelson released The Littler Annual Employer Survey Report. Its data is based on a survey of 515 in-house lawyers, executives, and HR staffers from a wide range of industries and companies. The report found that 71% of U.S. employers intend to continue offering hybrid work arrangements this year.

Trouble At Home
However, not all the data coming out about hybrid work is positive. In May 2023, child-care provider Bright Horizons published its 9th Annual Modern Family Index. The report’s findings are based on a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults who are employed with children under 18.

On the one hand, about 58% of respondents said that schedule flexibility (including hybrid) contributes to them feeling more fulfilled at their current job than they did three years ago. But survey participants also noted that remote/hybrid work is causing them to feel more isolated. According to the report, about 47% said they talk to only people in their own households, and 41% reported going days without leaving their homes. Such factors could have long-term implications on the mental health of hybrid workers.

Potential Risks of Hybrid Work

As the data comes in and employers gain experience with hybrid work, potential downsides are emerging. It’s important to identify the risks and determine whether and how they might apply to your organization. These may include:

Employees feeling disconnected. As revealed by the Bright Horizons report, many employees struggle with isolation, as well as the lack of in-person supervision and interaction with colleagues, while working largely from home. To mitigate this risk, many employers are moving away from a ‘DIY’ approach and toward mandated/scheduled days on-site. To the extent feasible, work on those days should focus on collaboration and training rather than tasks that can be performed alone and remotely.

Too much distance between supervisors and staff members. Supervisors may need training on how to manage in a hybrid environment. Even if you’ve provided training in the past, additional sessions may be in order if your hybrid work arrangements have changed over time. Employees, in turn, could benefit from coaching on how to create and nurture productive relationships with supervisors as well as how to avoid the pitfalls of remote work.

Problems with organizational culture. Many organizations have varying degrees of hybrid work, with some employees not working remotely at all. This can lead to resentment and confusion. For example, in-office workers might believe — usually wrongly, according to many studies — that their remote counterparts aren’t working as hard. And new employees may find it difficult to form connections with colleagues.

Devote some time and resources to identifying your organizational culture and cultivating a positive, productive version of it. An employee survey can help determine whether issues exist and, if so, what they are. Team-building initiatives can help bring staff together.

A Moving Target

For many employers, hybrid work is probably here to stay. But these arrangements are turning out to be moving targets that call for regular reassessment and occasional adjustment. Contact us for help with your workplace culture and employee engagement concerns.

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