What are the Challenges of Hybrid Working?

While most people’s experiences with virtual and hybrid working have been extremely positive due to the many benefits of hybrid working, many organizations continue to hold reservations centering around three key issues: on-boarding and training, employee retention, and productivity. This piece will explore what are the challenges of Hybrid Working, followed by some evidence based insights on how to overcome them.

1. On-boarding and Training

Throughout the history of office work, new starters have always been required to come into the office. This has provided them with a chance to meet their new teams, to familiarize themselves with their new offices, to learn about the companies they are going to be working for, and to undergo the training necessary to fulfill the duties associated with their new roles.

These are the ways on-boarding and training have always been done, and many employers struggle to see how they can ever be done differently.

And yet, for the last eighteen months, almost all training and on-boarding has been done remotely, so it can be done. There may still be kinks left to iron out – old practices and processes will need to be revised to adjust for the new virtual location – but with enough care and intention, there’s no reason why virtual on-boarding should be any less effective than in-person on-boarding.

Here are some important things to consider when designing virtual on-boarding processes:

  • Laptops need to be provided, preloaded with the necessary applications, and delivered to the homes of new employees.
  • Virtual meet and greets need to be arranged.
  • Starters need to be trained to use the remote working tools that they’ve been provided with. There’s no use buying state-of-the-art virtual working software if your employees are not trained to use it effectively.
  • Efforts must be made to expose starters to the company vision and culture – this is not something that will happen on its own, as it might have when they were coming into the office for their first day.
  • New starters need to be given tasks that help ensure they gain knowledge and develop relationships with people.
  • Buddies and mentors need to be assigned to ensure the new starter has a ‘go-to’ place when they need to ask the silly questions and get an informal understanding of who’s who and ‘how things work around here.’
  • Screen sharing and video-calls need to be utilized. This will often mean that new starters spend their first couple of weeks constantly on call with HR, their team leaders, and other colleagues. So much the better. This will allow them to build relationships with their new team while also absorbing the company culture.

2. Retention

One of the top concerns many employers report relating to hybrid working is what they believe to be its negative impact on retention rates. The physical office space has traditionally been the place where relationships are formed and where organizational culture is absorbed. If physical offices are taken away in favor of virtual workplaces, how will employees learn to be loyal to the organizations they work for? And if they have no loyalty, what’s to stop them leaving the second someone offers them more money?

This is a legitimate concern, but again, it’s based on an old construct: Culture and relationships needn’t be confined to physical offices; these are things that can, with enough conscious effort, be brought to the virtual realm.

Company culture and values, for example, are transmitted through leadership behavior. By adapting their leadership approaches, hybrid leaders working from home should have no more difficulty transmitting their organizational culture than they would have had when they were working in a physical office.

Likewise, lasting relationships can be developed between team members working remotely provided that new practices surrounding communication are established. Maybe, for example, team leaders can allocate ten minutes every day to ‘water-cooler’ chats, providing their teams with a chance to vent and interact on a purely personal level. Or maybe team socials – either online or in-person – can be arranged periodically, to allow team members to build personal relationships with one another.

Just because we’re not meeting with our colleagues in-person every day doesn’t mean that we can’t develop a strong relationship with them.

3. Worker Productivity

The third and final concern that we tend to see about virtual and hybrid working is that these models negatively impact productivity. But these concerns, it must be said, fly in the face of much research showing that knowledge worker productivity has actually risen since the start of the pandemic, when employees first started working remotely.

No doubt in some cases productivity has actually fallen – some roles are more intensely collaborative than others; certain individuals may, for any number of reasons, work better in an office than at home; untrained team leaders may not have provided certain team members with an appropriate level of supervisory support while they were working from home, etc.

But in general, concerns surrounding productivity are no doubt a result of old ways of thinking: if employees cannot be seen while they are working, if they cannot be micromanaged throughout the working day, then how can senior managers be sure that their employees are working as hard as they say they are? In the absence of such proof, it can be tempting to revert to distrust.

But as we’ve discussed in other blog posts, trust is at the heart of hybrid working. Leaders need to give their employees the benefit of the doubt, and they need to judge them by the quality of their output rather than, as previously, by the number of hours they are seen sat at their desks.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it: traditional, ‘face-to-face, in-the-same-space’ working came with plenty of challenges that had to be overcome, and hybrid working is no different. But with a little extra effort, a little additional know-how, and the right intentions, many of the challenges presented by hybrid working can be overcome with relative ease. And the benefits to be enjoyed once this has been done are there for all to see.

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