"How" and not "if" is the question when it comes to hybrid work. How to help people transition smoothly to hybrid work, keep them engaged, and performance intact.
COVID-19 drove people out of their offices and had them switch to work from home. Now two years after the pandemic, leaders are testing the waters and are now looking at making hybrid work the new reality.
Hybrid work is here, and it's the future of work. But while it seems like it offers the best of both worlds where people like the flexibility remote work gives them, most HR professionals have become increasingly aware of the challenges.
40% of them would quit if asked to return to the office full-time. One McKinsey survey found that 75% of people would like to continue working from home.
In fact, 41% of people plan to change their jobs this year. Experts are calling it "the great resignation." When people leaders look at this, they ask if it's worth even measuring the performance in the hybrid work environments, let alone managing and uplifting it.
We believe it is. And it's even more critical than ever because it's not only the companies worried about hybrid work performance. Employees, too, want to know how well they are performing, where they need to improve, and what new skills they need to learn to grow in their careers.
The Emerging Challenges of a Hybrid Work Model
So why is that a lot of people leaders, managers and HR professionals alike find the hybrid work model so challenging and exhausting?
In fact, a recent poll conducted by Mesh found that among the 46% of people there wasn’t a single HR professional who answered hybrid work doesn’t bother them at all. However, among the 19% of people who found it really hard to work from home as compared to working from office were mostly HRs.
So what does this mean?
With a range of hybrid structures that organizations are experimenting with, this model presents new challenges for leaders who must now manage a workforce that is spread across multiple locations and time zones. So here are the five key challenges that people leaders & HR professionals face:
1. Establishing trust and confidence among employees
One of the biggest challenges is managing a hybrid workforce which includes managing remote workers, managing different work schedules, and managing employee productivity. In a hybrid work model, some employees are working in the office while others are working remotely. This can create a sense of mistrust and insecurity among employees who are working remotely. They may feel that they are not being given the same opportunities or treatment as their colleagues who are working in the office.
2. Maintaining a cohesive company culture
Another challenge is creating a cohesive culture within a hybrid workforce. This includes ensuring that all employees feel like they belong to the organization, that they are valued, and that they have a sense of purpose. It is important to manage expectations in a hybrid work model. Employees who are working remotely may expect to be able to work flexibly and have more control over their work-life balance. However, this may not be possible if the company’s operations require them to be in the office for certain hours or days.
3. Proximity bias
When working in a hybrid model, it is important to be aware of proximity bias – the tendency to give more weight to information that is physically close to us. In a recent study, researchers found that people are more likely to believe information from sources that are physically closer to them, even when that information is less reliable.
This bias can have a number of implications for decision-making in a hybrid work model. For example, if team members are located in different time zones, they may be more likely to believe information from colleagues who are physically closer to them, even if that information is less accurate. This bias can also lead to problems with communication and coordination, as team members may be more likely to trust and act on information from colleagues who are physically nearby.
4. Addressing issues of communication and collaboration among employees
Communicating effectively with a hybrid workforce becomes a recurring challenge for HRs which includes communicating corporate messages, sharing information across different time zones, and using new communication channels such as video conferencing and instant messaging.
5. Managing the increased use of technology in the workplace
The internet has transformed the way we live, work and communicate. It has also had a major impact on how HR functions are carried out. So one of the biggest challenges for HR is integrating technology into a hybrid workforce. This includes selecting the right tools, implementing them effectively, and troubleshooting any issues that may arise. In order to stay ahead of the curve, HR managers and employers need to be proactive in managing the increased use of technology in the workplace.
How to overcome the challenges of hybrid workplace?
For successful performance management in the post-pandemic hybrid work environments, people leaders need to go beyond the makeshift policies of the early pandemic and align their tactics to employees' expectations today. They need to have ongoing feedback conversations, involve people in goal-setting, and promote accountability and ownership. Here's how they can do that.
Increase check-in frequency
One of the biggest worries with hybrid work is communication gaps or the fear of missing out (FOMO). Even with many digital communication tools, people feel isolated and find it challenging to have a healthy communication flow with the team.
People leaders should encourage more check-ins and 1:1s to connect with employees. That will help managers track progress, clear potential roadblocks, and help people feel listened to and supported—boosting their performance. Mesh Manager 1:1s help people leaders see what really matters during 1:1s with the right content and actionable insights.
Have clear, measurable goals
Vague goals promote a culture of finger-pointing and low performance. It is particularly damaging in hybrid environments where it's critical to know what the "progress" looks like without being physically present. People need to have numbers to show for the hard work they are doing.
OKR is one of the best goal-setting frameworks and one that is most suitable for hybrid work. People leaders can use OKRs for hybrid-ready goal-setting, development, and ongoing feedback. Dive deeper into OKRs here.
People are working alone at home, and they appreciate it when people leaders have got their back. So, you should have a digital communication infrastructure in place to help people get answers to questions, clarify the next steps, and troubleshoot potential roadblocks. Think of it as the virtual version of an office water-cooler.
People leaders should also encourage managers and team leaders to mark "Discussion Hours" in calendars or on status updates to let people know when to talk. Remember, communication is critical for hybrid work. And you should make it as smooth as possible by removing any and every obstacle in the way.
As with other DEI efforts, companies also need to bridge the digital divide among people working in hybrid environments. For example, find out if there are differences between people working from home and those at the office. Does everyone have a say in decision-making? Does every team member have equal access to opportunities?
Look out for those disparities and fix them before they stand eating into people's performance. Bridging these divides will also help you resolve potential tensions among people and nip favoritism in the bud.
Be more human
After a year and a half of the pandemic, the last thing employees want is pure transactional behavior from their bosses and coworkers. Managers used to bad-mouth office gossip, but it served a purpose—letting people connect with other people casually.
People leaders can provide the same environment by having small talk and rapport building during check-ins and meetings. That will make up for the loss of in-person casual chats and help people build rapport and feel heard.
One major perspective change that people leaders need in today's hybrid workplaces is to stop focusing only on individual performance. Instead, they need to take a step back and take a broader view by looking at team and customer outcomes. Because these three combined give a complete picture of a company's overall performance. Doing that will also help with goal-setting by clarifying who needs to do what.
People leaders should also use stretch goals generously. When you give people challenging enough goals and set a high standard for success, it drives them to get out of their comfort zone and achieve excellence, not just get by. Stretch goals and recognition go hand in hand. So, people leaders should make two-way communication a norm in feedback conversations, talking about the progress, celebrating little wins, and maintaining accountability.
A culture of high performance helps both the people and the businesses grow. When people feel supported, engaged, and empowered—they deliver more for companies. People leaders can ensure that by listening to their employees, giving honest feedback, and asking for it. And then act on it.
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