Blog Workplace Culture

How a hybrid working model could fail, and how to prevent that happening

Updated 22 February 2022

Hybrid working. It’s the solution many businesses are turning to in response to employee demand for continued remote work. And for good reason, with a huge range of great benefits for both employees and businesses. 

But how you should implement remote staff depends on the needs of your business and the specific challenges you may face. Here are some of the most prominent hybrid working challenges to look for as you move to a new way of working.

Choosing the right hybrid model for your business

It may be that the way your business operated during the pandemic will keep working well as things open back up. But you shouldn’t assume that to be the case. One of the biggest hybrid working challenges for employers will be finding the right approach for their businesses.

You might think it’s a simple a choice between being office-based, remote, or a mix of both. But it’s actually a little more nuanced than that:

  • Office-based: The traditional working model. Where employees spend most of their time in the office and a few sporadic home working days.
  • Office-centric: Employees spend a pre-determined number of days in the office. They're then free to work from home the rest of the time.
  • Home-centric hybrid: Everyone spends most of their time working from home. But come into the office at key points each week.
  • Home-centric: People generally always work from home, only coming into the office at specific points in the business year.

Remote workers are left out of the loop

Communication is essential. Prior to the pandemic, lack of communication from in-person co-workers was one of the biggest problems remote workers dealt with. Lockdown has done a lot to change this, but as things return to some semblance of normal, it’s important to learn the lesson.

One of the disadvantages of hybrid working is that it can create two tiers of employees. When you’re a centralised employee, a lot of information comes from impromptu face-to-face conversation. A study found that almost 60% of remote workers hadn't received key information because it was communicated in person. 43% also reported being excluded from meetings or brainstorms.

Encouraging employees to make use of asynchronous communication channels can help prevent remote workers missing out on important information. But for meetings, it’s important to build in video conferencing connectivity as part of protocol. Every meeting should have a link to join via Teams or Zoom.

Remote staff are overshadowed by co-located colleagues

One of the most troublesome hybrid working challenges to overcome is ensuring people get the recognition they deserve. We’re naturally biased towards the people we see every day. That means managers are more likely to build up a positive impression of a hard-working office employee than they are an unseen remote worker.

Recognition is one of the key drivers of employee engagement. Without it, your hard-working remote staff will become disillusioned and susceptible to turnover. As a manager, you need to take the time to appreciate everyone’s contributions, especially your remote staff.

You should encourage peer recognition by including recognition questions in your employee check-in. Research shows that peer recognition is an even more effective motivator than manager recognition.

Rigid hybrid work policies can’t cater to everyone’s needs

One of the biggest benefits of hybrid working is that it gives employees flexibility and control. Try not to make the mistake of assuming everyone wants exactly the same thing. Inflexible policies cause more friction when work and personal lives don't align.

Similarly, you shouldn’t assume that your remote workers don’t need any other form of job flexibility. One of the major benefits of remote work for employees may be that it frees up some of their time, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t also benefit from core hours or a compressed work week, or any of the other options for job flexibility you could offer.

In fact, you could argue that remote workers have already earned a compressed week with the hours they work. International research from NordVPN Teams found that working from home led to a 2.5 hour increase in the average working day. 

Remote staff can become isolated from workplace culture

As we’ve said time and again, one of the biggest hybrid working challenges, and one of the most important parts of managing remote workers in general, is making sure they don’t become isolated. As restrictions are lifting, actual loneliness is likely to be less of an issue than it has been. But remote workers can still be cut out of workplace culture. This can threaten their sense of engagement as part of a team and the business as a whole.

You need to support the involvement of your remote work in regular meetings, and use goal setting to connect their work to company objectives. But what’s just as important is to help build their social connections with colleagues. Whether it’s something nice like going out for a meal, or something fun like a day of paintball, social activities are great for getting your team to bond.

A hybrid approach will affect the workplace itself

Of all the hybrid working challenges, this is the one that’ll sneak up on you. Office culture has chugged along steadily over the past several decades. So it’s easy to think of it as being too monolithic to fail. But, with more employees wanting to work from home on a regular basis, even a hybrid approach could affect office life in some unforeseen ways.

Remote work helps to scale back on office costs, but some days will likely be more popular than others. This could result in there being too many employees competing for workspaces on some days, and times when the office is dead on others. Employees who aren’t in on the most popular days could miss out on networking and workplace social interaction.