Anticipated Challenges of the Hybrid Work from Home Model & How to Overcome Them
As more workers are vaccinated and the number of COVID-19 infections decline, businesses are beginning to implement the plans they developed during the pandemic on what their working models will resemble. While some businesses have dumped the concept of an office altogether, the vast majority have not. According to a study conducted by PwC, more than 9 in 10 executives say they are ready to embrace a 100% remote work approach. Employees concur, with 87% indicating an office setting is important for collaborating with other team members and building relationships.
Businesses Gear Up for Hybrid Work-from-Home Models
Those executives who plan to return to pre-pandemic work environments where employees work from an assigned workspace four or five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. are going to find significant resistance from their existing workforces. They also will discover that recruiting and retaining top talent to be increasingly difficult. The genie is out of the bottle, and they will find it impossible to stuff it back inside. Plus, the reality is that remote work has been an overwhelming success for employees and employers—from productivity, to work-life balance, to lower cost, to talent recruitment and retention. It is very difficult to contest those results.
In response, most executives and employees acknowledge the likelihood of a hybrid remote work environment where some of the week is spent in the office and the remainder is spent in remote work environments (most often home offices). In anticipation of workers returning to the office in some form, most businesses are retrofitting their offices to provide a safe yet collaborative work environment. They are also rewriting policies associated with remote work as well as in-office work.
Challenges of Hybrid Remote Work Environment
Following is a quick review of some of the biggest challenges—and how they can overcome them—facing businesses and workers as they enact hybrid work from home models:
Determining Amount of Time Working Remote
More than half of employees indicate they prefer to work remotely at least three days a week once the pandemic recedes. This number is largely unchanged from the earliest months after the pandemic hit. Employers have a different perception, perhaps residual effects of their perception that worker productivity equates to time spent working fixed hours from a fixed office location. In this case, more than two-thirds of executives believe their employees need to be in the office at least three days per week.
To address this misalignment, businesses need to evaluate the sentiment of their workers and institute and codify policies that are jointly agreed upon. Businesses that mandate a return to normal will likely begin to lose top talent and experience greater levels of difficult to recruit top talent—which will become more and more the case as the job market heats up.
Mentoring and Training Least Experienced Workers
One of the takeaways from work from home during the pandemic is that the least experienced workers struggled the most. They require more face-to-face time with their managers and colleagues as well as in-person training programs. And it is not simply businesses that feel that way; workers with less than five years of experience say they feel less productive when working remotely and actually prefer to be in the office more often than their more experienced counterparts.
In this case, executives and people managers need to create workplace policies that ensure junior-level employees spend adequate time working from the office. But this is easier said than done; schedules must be coordinated so that managers are in the office to mentor and train these employees and colleagues with whom these junior-level workers interact are also there for some of the time when they are in the office.
Here, businesses will need to assign work schedule management to an experienced administrator and ensure they have the right technology tools in place to manage worker schedules. For organizations that are resource constrained and do not have the right skillsets or time on staff, they may want to consider outsourcing the function to an on-demand virtual receptionist service like Davinci Live Receptionist.
Outfitting Offices for Safety and Productivity
Some businesses began planning for the post-pandemic return to offices shortly after the pandemic began. Others have not started yet. For the latter, it is time to get started—and soon. Studies show that workspaces prior to the start of the pandemic no longer work post-pandemic. Google, for example, indicates that it plans to take a productivity and financial hit as its workers return to offices. Facilities need to be rearchitected and campuses need to be redesigned. As Jack Kelly in Forbes wrote, “Existing office space will have to be redesigned to ensure social distancing, while also enabling people to collaborate together.” And for those businesses that fumble the ball and health issues occur, the potential for expensive litigation is significant.
Avoiding Two Different Employee Experiences—and Workforces
Employees who return to the office in coming months may forge relationships and leverage impromptu meetings with their manager or executives that are not available to colleagues in full-time remote work roles. An article in Wired explains,” If an office is the ‘glue,’ and processes and systems don’t adapt for a remote workforce, remote team members will not feel included and will face constant communication barriers. This will make it harder for them to perform at the same level as their in-office peers.” The reality is that some companies will struggle to make the transition from the old way of seeing attendance/presence as a quality work outcome and the actual desired results.
Communication requires extra effort and focus when operating hybrid-work environments. The tools businesses adopted during the pandemic will remain critical—messaging applications, video conferencing, and project management tools.
Another way to help combat these perceptions is to institute objectives and measurements that are based on outcomes; work schedules and where one works should not matter. Businesses will also need to monitor promotional practices to ensure that those working remotely are not promoted at slower rates than their colleagues in offices.
Leveraging Alternative On-demand Workspaces
Some businesses made decisions during the pandemic to cancel existing office leases and may no longer have sufficient workspace to accommodate all of their employees—even a hybrid work arrangement. For those focused on permanent office space as the answer, this is a problem. However, for businesses seeking to gain the benefits of flexible, on-demand coworking spaces and rented meeting rooms such as Davinci Meeting Rooms, the transition should be seamless. They will realize the benefits of the cancelled office leases while ensuring their employees have an opportunity to work from an office when needed and the chance to collaborate with colleagues and like-minded professionals.
Winning at Hybrid Remote Work Models
The pandemic has fostered a level of change that few would have ever imagined—particularly over a matter of days, weeks, and months. Most estimates reveal organizations made digital strides and workforce transformations that would have taken three or four to make under normal situations. Those that embrace hybrid remote work models will place themselves at a competitive advantage—from higher productive workforces, to lower costs, to better talent recruitment and retention. To succeed in this new hybrid remote work world, however, organizations must plan ahead and ensure they have the right policies and workflows in place.