IN THE MIDDLE | career advancement

3 Hybrid Work Challenges and How to Overcome Them With Communication

By Alyanna Silvestre
Published April 20, 2022

The transition to virtual work that the pandemic triggered has, without a doubt, impacted all aspects of every organization, from management to operations to sales – even career development strategies and especially workplace culture and the nature of work itself. Now, as we continue to go on with our lives while still in the middle of a (somewhat tamer) pandemic, what comes next for the world of work has shown itself clearly – hybridity.

Working from home has emerged as the preferred setup for many workers around the world, but as we continue moving forward from the height of the pandemic two years ago, businesses are now blending in-office and remote work, adopting a hybrid work model – something that may not be new to many organizations. Still, this comes with challenges that managers may not be prepared for, just like how the management wasn't really ready for the sudden shift to remote work in 2020. So in this article, we'll talk about some of the challenges of hybrid work and discuss ways to address and mitigate them.

Disconnect among employees that may lead to collaboration issues

Collaboration is one of the most crucial elements for work to work as smoothly as possible, and this is one of the many things that was taken away farther from most organizations and employees during the height of the pandemic as remote work was imposed. But now, with hybrid work arrangements becoming more prominent than its remote version, we finally see hope, albeit still with challenges. 

True, collaboration is much easier to foster and establish with a hybrid setup since your people are able to meet personally and regularly a few days a week. Still, when hybridity is implemented haphazardly, it can result in a disconnect among your employees, lead to confusion and isolation, and even encourage workplace cliques.

While that can be addressed by choosing the right tools that enable effective communication between in-office and remote employees, the real work to establish or retain the connection among them goes beyond acquiring the necessary apps. It actually starts with making sure that everyone is on the same page in using the tools or software you and your employees have identified as best for everyone.

Also, software aside, don't forget to touch base with your employees to ask for their preferred method of communication for all types of situations. Some find calls more convenient for emergencies and urgent tasks (and others don't, especially introverts), while others think emails are necessary as it also doubles as a record of the interactions made or whatever the directives are. And speaking of emails, as you make sure meetings are as inclusive and as often as possible to encourage frequent communication between everyone, remember not to overdo it because we all know almost everyone hates the idea of attending a meeting that could have been an email instead.

Additionally, you can choose to prioritize collaboration and team rapport on days when most, if not all, are scheduled to work in the office and make sure to catch up with those working remotely with whatever went down, then leave the days assigned for remote work for more autonomous tasks wherein in-person interactions are not really necessary.

Disrupted corporate culture

It's hard enough to reflect and reinforce company culture at all levels way back before COVID-19 happened. Now, it's even more challenging to do so in a remote or hybrid environment where workers are less likely to see or build a connection with the company's mission and, well, their colleagues, which could lead to a lack of inclusion or team cohesion.

To address this, it might be worthwhile to rethink your culture, shift your focus, and make a few tweaks here and there. When you do, don't forget to consider your company's current work model and, essentially, your people and their ever-evolving preferences to reach more apt, realistic, and achievable goals perfect in these changing times. After that, more is to be done, such as learning to value your employees' needs, at least making yourselves aware of what they're going through, and involving them in the decision-making process. Such efforts can lead to – you guessed it – building empathy and connectedness.

Also, since meeting in person still has its limits even in a hybrid setup and we are now beyond the time of employees just wanting to bag a paycheck, management should make it a habit to remind everyone how the work of one another connects, intersects, and contributes to the overall success of the organization to let each know that they are valued and are more than just some kind of professionals getting paid regularly. Doing so will help create a culture with a sense of shared purpose and belongingness – things that are pretty hard to build on when there's a lack of in-person interaction.

Gaps in opportunities and imbalance in access to resources

Hybridity creates an imbalance among employees in terms of access to resources and visibility levels. Meaning to say, the access to resources of an employee who works remotely is at a disadvantage when compared to that of someone reporting to the office, and that difference has a tendency to extend to the opportunities for career advancement, promotion, and mentorship. Such differences can fall under proximity bias, and according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), some common examples of it include:

- Evaluating the work of onsite employees more highly than remote employees regardless of objective performance metrics;

Offering the most interesting projects, assignments, or development opportunities to onsite employees; and

Excluding remote employees from important meetings or not encouraging them to speak up on calls.

      Well, as you can see, this hurdle also goes back to building a sense of belonging at work for everyone. So, here are ways to ensure that no one feels left out and that everyone is on the same page regardless of their location:

      - Make sure everyone is equally informed and looped into necessary information and company news no matter where they work with constant and necessary updates.

      - Make daily or weekly huddles a thing where remote workers are included and everyone is encouraged to have their cameras on while you provide directives to both remote and in-office employees at the same time and in the same format to keep everyone on the same page. (However, remember not to treat such meetings as a formality but an opportunity to address concerns and queries.)

      - Provide necessary equipment and infrastructure that would enable remote workers to book meetings, access company-wide resources, check on colleagues’ schedules and calendars, and reach team members and superiors instantaneously.

      Consider a rotating hybrid schedule to increase the visibility of each employee at work.

      Measure the performance of both in-office and remote workers with fairness and as per usual.

      - Set new and clear metrics on how each will be evaluated so each member knows what's expected of them. 

      - Give employees equal opportunities to showcase their capabilities, competency, and skills by alternately assigning each to take charge in leading crucial tasks and high-profile projects.

        Basically, communication really is key – well, in addition to a clearly defined hybrid work policy that outlines where, when, and how employees can work and reach one another, plus the appropriate tools and infrastructure. However, keep in mind that everything is different for each company, so don't hold back on exploring more solutions and tweaking more than what's stated above thoughtfully to find the right recipe for your attempt to adapt a hybrid work model. Good luck!