The consensus in the business/HR community is that hybrid work arrangements,involving working both in the office and remotely, will remain in place even after the coronavirus pandemic is finally in the rear-view mirror. There is a disconnect, however, between how managers and employees feel about this. A recent survey cited in Infoworld found that 73% of workers preferred hybrid working, and 39% would contemplate resigning if forced back into the office full-time.Meanwhile, a McKinsey survey cited in the Rochester Business Journalreported that more than 75% of executives believed “work-from-home damaged organizational culture.” Thus,although managers may be resigned to the reality of a hybrid-work future, it appears they are not as happy about it as their employees, many of whom now view the hybrid option as a more valuable perk than, say, free food or gym access.
As reports on hybrid workinghave begun filtering in from various quarters, business journalists have identified some problems. In Computer Weekly, Cath Everett observes that setting a fixed number of remote working days can lead to “inflexible flexibility,” noting that the better course is to adjust the proportion of remote to in-office work based on the amount of “together” time a particular project requires. Lorri Freifeld in Trainingidentifies several “red flags” of a “toxic hybrid workplace,” such as when noone in management works remotely or when “[c]elebration, praise, and rewards only happen in the office.” These kinds of missteps can be easily addressed if management sets up detailed guidelines for hybrid working in advance.
A more serious issue has been raised by Catherine Mann of the Bank of England, who is quoted in a Bloombergarticle as warning of a “two-track” future in which women will of necessity take on a greater share of remote work because of child-care needs.“I do worry that we will see those twotracks developed. . . . We pretty much know who’s going to be on which track, unfortunately.”
The fears about loss of organizational culture expressed by executives are not unfounded. Mark Mortensen in the Harvard Business Review notes that new employees who start out working remotely just won’t get the same deep exposure to a company’s culture that long-time workers will have had.A related issue is a loss of the spontaneity that arises from random in-office interactions, which can sometimes lead to breakthrough ideas or novel solutions to problems. In HR Magazine Kate Rockwood suggests setting up “non-meeting meetings” that aren’t about a specific topic, “scheduled times during which a manager and an employee—or even two colleagues—can chat.” She also recommends maintaining social engagement through fun activities such as games that can be played either in-person or remotely.
Above all, as hybrid-work guru William Dodson observed in an interview with Neal Goodman in Training, it’s important for those in charge to “[sync] the expectations and activities of staff who work remotely with those who work shoulder-to-shoulder in a physical space.” With careful planning by management, employees can remain happy and productive wherever they happen to be working.