How to embrace hybrid work and overcome the challenges

Hybrid work might be the dominant model in the future, but the transition won’t be seamless. HR leaders will likely encounter challenges that require agility and resilience.

Despite being inevitable, transformations tend to be disruptive and challenging. The world saw one of the most shocking changes in March 2020, with COVID-19 spreading global fear and affecting our daily lives. No one was prepared for the long-lasting impact it had. To this day, we navigate the pandemic’s turmoil and seek ways to ensure businesses stay afloat and workplaces stay productive. 

But it isn’t easy when HR departments and company leaders must reorient their entire workforce and switch to remote or hybrid offices. According to recent Randstad research, the most challenging question from leaders is how to roll out a hybrid work model. 

Most HR professionals were comfortable with the traditional in-person model, as it allowed them to monitor employee engagement and productivity first-hand. Even though many leaders see hybrid work as a challenge, 78 percent of employees want to continue working in hybrid workplaces after the pandemic ends. 

Hence, HR practitioners and talent management professionals must embrace this form of work and identify how to leverage its benefits. The best way to do so is to understand what makes this system unique and desirable. It will then be easier to implement the most efficient policies and transition to a new model. Start by learning the principal characteristics of hybrid work and how it differs from office work and remote work. 

Three work models

When reading about hybrid work, you might encounter sources that use this term interchangeably with remote work. But these two couldn’t be more different and semantics isn’t the only thing that differentiates them. It’s essential to understand what each of these models means and their advantages for HR leaders. 

  • Office work

This traditional model includes in-person work, where the C-suite, managers and employees spend their work hours in the physical office. Most business leaders believe it is the most efficient because they can supervise their staff, help out when necessary and prevent potential issues. However, job seekers often see it as an outdated practice that hinders productivity and takes most of their time. Many employees are hesitant to go back to offices full-time after the pandemic ends for fear flexible schedules will cease to exist. 

  • Remote work (telework)

Although remote work isn’t a novelty, it became the dominant model during the COVID-19 crisis due to social distancing, health measures and lockdowns. Most companies switched to telework to prevent workplace infections and protect employees. Yet, many businesses didn’t have relevant policies and regulations, making this transition more challenging. Remote work requires stable tech infrastructure, clear communication protocols and productivity strategies. Because of that, this model gained more sympathy from employees than HR leaders. It can be challenging to track how much time workers spend on their assignments and measure their performance. 

But despite the difficulties, telework is here to stay. Seventy-seven percent of remote workers say they’re more productive when they work from home and 85 percent of managers believe having teams with teleworkers is the new norm. 

However, this model also has disadvantages for employees. For example, 22 percent of people working from home find it hard to unplug, 19 percent struggle with loneliness and 17 percent encounter challenges with collaboration. That created the need for a new model that would close the gap between remote work and office work. 

  • Hybrid work

Remote workers work from home and office employees go to physical spaces, but hybrid work represents a mix of the two models. This system represents a combination of office work and telework, typically depending on the agreement between managers and workers. Staff can decide what option suits them better or split the workweek between the company and home office. Hybrid work is the best solution for people who want a flexible schedule but loathe the loneliness that telework often causes. 

Sixty three percent of high-revenue growth companies use this workforce model. Thus, 83 percent of workers prefer hybrid work to any other system. 

It’s advantageous because it gives employees the best of both worlds: the ability to work in a collective and a flexible schedule. Besides, this model doesn’t require HR leaders and staff to opt for one option only. Instead, it allows them to switch and adopt an agile approach.

In a nutshell, hybrid work is beneficial for employees because it gives them more control over their time and enables them to choose where they feel more comfortable working. On the other hand, it allow leaders to hire people regardless of their geographic location, reduce real estate costs and become more resilient. But hybrid work also has downsides leaders must consider when transitioning to this model.

Challenges when implementing hybrid work

Here are the most common difficulties you’ll encounter after deciding to take the hybrid model route:

  • Possible added infrastructure costs: Hybrid work doesn’t mean office work is gone. Instead, it allows employees to work in physical spaces and wherever they feel comfortable. Consider the resources you’ll need for real estate, rent, maintenance and technology infrastructure. Continuous communication, compliance and efficient work require stellar software and data sharing systems. Hence, you might have to invest in a cloud SaaS or an ATS to ensure collaboration across departments and teams. 
  • Maintaining a balance between organizational agility and tech innovation: The post-pandemic future will likely bring more changes and surprises that require fast reactions and stability. That is why business resilience is among the most significant elements in hybrid work. HR leaders must be ready for new challenges and have the necessary technology and agility to persevere. Prepare for uncertainty and adapt to tech innovations that will continue changing the industry.
  • Communication might become messy: Collaboration across office and work from home teams might become hard to track. You might find departments can’t keep up with what the other is doing and align their goals. Stable collaborative platforms ensures efficient data sharing and confident employees. Hence, a potentially messy communication that seems to be all over the place is among the principal obstacles HR professionals could encounter. 
  • Onboarding needs to adapt and enhance: Hybrid work requires cohesive regulations and rules. Have a plan for onboarding new employees and decide what model works best for them. Adapt your onboarding program to each employee and ensure it’s ever-evolving and ready to react to uncertainty.
  • If not implemented well, employees could struggle with burnout: Establish clear expectations and agree with your employees about their work hours and schedules. Ensure you’re on the same page, or they might feel unsure when their workday finishes, resulting in burnout. Moreover, avoid contacting your staff on their free days and weekends at all costs. Even when they don’t work in the office, employees should finish their assignments and have free time afterward. 
  • Not every worker will like the idea of hybrid work: Not all employees will be happy to work from home and the office. Some feel more comfortable working remotely and would prefer to skip in-person days. Inform your staff before launching this model and ensure everyone can choose what works best for them. 
  • Company culture will need reinforcement: Before and after transitioning to hybrid work, your company culture requires additional support and exposure. Show employees the workplace atmosphere, company mission and business goals won’t change.
  • It might be harder to track and measure employee productiveness: When employees work from home, it might be harder to track their progress, see if they need help and react if they aren’t doing their job. Because of that, productivity KPIs might be off base, and you’ll have to identify a strategy to improve employee performance, regardless of where they work.

How to overcome hybrid work challenges

After you transition to hybrid work, you’ll likely encounter various difficulties that might make you doubt your decision. Here’s how you can solve these issues:

  • Plan the budget ahead and eliminate redundant expenses: Assess your resources, business needs and future goals. Align your budget with these insights and only invest in things that add value and help your company work efficiently and navigate hybrid work more smoothly. Cut unnecessary expenses and only spend on relevant technology and appliances.
  • Maintain continuous communication: Regular collaboration across departments, teams, and units is essential for hybrid work. Every employee should know how their work intertwines with other people and be able to share data with others easily. Remote workers should have the necessary means to communicate virtually and participate in meetings.
  • Create equitable environments: When meetings occur with people together in-person along with others joining virtually, those in the room tend to dominate the meeting. Naturally they are able to have sidebar discussions, see more body language and easily talk over those that are virtual. Pay special attention that everyone is being treated equal and respectful of one another so everyone can feel included. This is an especially important component for success of hybrid work environments. 
  • Improve work-balance strategies: Ensure every employee has a reasonable workload and can handle the number of their assignments. Everyone should have the same rights and responsibilities, regardless of whether they work from home or the office. Assess your work-balance strategies and tweak elements that don’t align with the hybrid work framework. That way, you’ll establish standards that promote employee wellness and prevent burnout.

The safest way to implement hybrid work efficiently is to have a mindful and well-thought-out approach that allows you to respond to uncertainty and help employees embrace this system. Despite being challenging, this model represents a well-rounded combination of remote and office work and enables employees to opt for the one that aligns best with their preferences and needs.