The past year has massively affected the way we work. We’ve been focusing on navigating the new landscape of working from home, and now it’s time to look to the future.
As the UK leaves what is hopefully its last lockdown behind, and businesses across the country are allowed to open their doors again, we’re wondering: is hybrid work about to become the new normal?
As we consider the pros and cons of hybrid work and await further developments, let’s take a look at the most common pitfalls of a hybrid-remote work setting – and what we can do to avoid them.
1. Lack of Space
The ability to work from home sounds amazing. There’s the freedom to stay in your pants if you desire and the freedom to structure your day however you see fit. Unfortunately, the reality can be a little less-than-ideal.
One major obstacle when working from home becomes the norm, rather than the occasional treat, is the lack of space. Most employees don’t have a home office setup. The self-employed most often do, but anyone who has been used to going to an office every day has most probably refrained from investing in a spare room with an office chair and desk.
And when you have to be productive from the same table where you’ve just had breakfast and from where you have a clear line of vision to the TV, it can become increasingly difficult to focus.
Depending on the extent and the availability of alterations needed to set up a better WFH environment, some employees might be ready to construct themselves a space they can work from.
One way employers can help is to offer to help with the costs – this could be by providing a set sum of money to each staff member, sending them the best new hardware, or letting them claim back relevant expenses. Just because they are not physically in the office doesn’t mean your staff have stopped working for you and towards your business goals.
2. Not Having The Right Tools
Another problem that can arise when working remotely is a lack of tools. Many businesses had to adjust to the new reality of remote work practically overnight, left them with no time to prepare. Consequently, many remote teams have never fully developed their processes and procedures and are still working without the tools they need to succeed.
If you want your hybrid teams to be as productive as they reasonably can, you need to ensure they have the right tools for the job. Depending on your line of work, you may require a standardised way to share files, for example, as opposed to the different ways your employees are reaching for at present.
Before you enter the world of hybrid remote work, carefully examine the roles of every employee. What do their jobs entail? By making decisions about the tools to be used, you can ensure everyone can a) excel at their job and b) be on the same page. Plus, you’ll save your team the hassle of figuring it out themselves.
3. Poor Collaboration
This is one of the biggest challenges of moving to a hybrid model. Efficient collaboration is key to success. Unfortunately, achieving it can be difficult even when everyone involved in a project is located in the same room, let alone when they are connected only by the frail waves of their respective WiFis.
To overcome this obstacle, you need to ensure you have chosen your team carefully. Randomly assigning people to a project based on arbitrary reasons will hinder any potential progress. You want to match people for their skills and the way they work together. No matter how competent individuals are, you’re in trouble if they can’t stand each other.
Of course, complementary personalities (and skills) isn’t the only thing you need to plan for. Your team must have access to the same resources, even if they don’t technically need all of them. In particular, make sure they all have access to internal communication solutions, like team messaging.
This is especially important in a hybrid setting, as everyone may be working from different locations. While it can be worth facilitating in-person meetings, it also should be possible for everyone to communicate from home.
4. A Work-Life Imbalance
This challenge is more individual – but it’s still something companies can help with. Anyone working remotely might struggle with their work-life balance, which is a surefire path to burnout.
You might think that having the option to wake up late and avoid the commute is better than rolling out of bed. While you might be right, it ignores some of the other problems: the structure going to work provides means there is a clear end and a clear beginning to the workday.
When we work from home, these lines can get blurred. It’s easy to struggle to start or keep working late into the evening. Given that working from home can negatively impact our quality of sleep, it really is no wonder we can get caught in a vicious circle.
Overcoming the work-life imbalance when enjoying hybrid work is ultimately a burden shouldered by the employee. However, you can help – don’t send urgent emails outside of working hours, and encourage all staff actually to log off at the end of the day. Creating a work culture where no one works beyond their hours and where no one is expected to respond to things immediately no matter the time of day, can make a huge difference.
That said, finding the right mixture of flexibility and structure will not be an easy task, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Talk to every employee working in a hybrid setting and find a solution based on their specific needs and habits together.
5. A World of Distractions
It can be tricky to avoid time-wasters at work. There’s social media, the chat app we use to catch up with colleagues, the ever-filling inbox, not to mention the mere existence of our phones!
To eliminate some, if not all, of these distractions, make sure you’ve chosen the right tools for the job. If your team has to spend time working out how to share files or get in touch with another department, it’s only going to slow them down. For instance, you could implement new tools and ask your staff to use time trackers to identify the bad habits they might not realise they have.
It’s not just external distractions that can cause problems – we’ve all been in those meetings that could have been an email. Before you invite people to a meeting (whether in person or a video call), ask yourself if they really need to be there. And if they do, try to avoid that meeting going off-topic.
Just remember: micromanagement isn’t the solution. When your employees work from home, stop yourself (and their other team members) from checking in on them too often. A calm and uninterrupted work environment is more likely to lead to the results you want.
6. Cybersecurity Threats
The hybrid work environment can be very exposed to a whole host of cybersecurity threats. Not only has the number of cybercrimes dramatically risen during the pandemic, but the fact that your staff are using numerous routers and devices to access sensitive data can also provide just the loophole an attacker needs to infiltrate your organisation.
If you have a bring your own laptop policy, or if your staff are taking their office laptops home on remote days, you need to ensure these devices are thoroughly protected. It would be best if you had a very reliable antivirus, firewall and threat prevention tool. You also need to implement clear and straightforward cybersecurity policies and provide adequate training for your employees.
By teaching them to identify common risks, including phishing, unsecured websites, unsafe passwords, and so on, you can minimise a lot of the risk that comes with hybrid work.
7. Social Distancing at its Worst
If you’re not careful, the hybrid workplace can end up feeling like the worst of both worlds rather than the best. It can combine the stresses of an office workspace while also promoting the inherent loneliness and isolation of working remotely.
When working from home, your teams are naturally cut off from each other. But when they do come in, especially if it’s for 50% of their time or less, they will focus on getting certain aspects of their work done and mostly socialise only with the colleagues they need input or feedback from.
If they are having trouble being productive at home, they may be increasingly work-focused in the office, which will cut down their socialisation to a bare minimum.
To circumvent this issue, foster the human touch both remotely and in the office. Have a weekly video chat where everyone can chat about their week. When in the office, have joint breaks or mealtimes where no work is discussed and when people can enjoy the benefits of working from an office: talking to other humans.
8. A Disruption to Routines
When we were plunged straight into remote work, a lot of us struggled with the disruption. The same issue is present (though to a lesser extent) in hybrid work environments. Switching between getting up at a certain time, getting ready, perhaps preparing a meal and an outfit, and commuting is very different from working from home. This change in habits can lead to stress and a drop in productivity.
Luckily, this problem is an easy one to solve. The key is routine. Perhaps your employees would like to work from home on Mondays and Fridays and come into the office mid-week? Any combination of days will work, as long as you try to line up office and non-office days. You might even find that a week in/week off system works better.
Your main challenge will be finding a solution that works for everyone. Depending on the size of your hybrid team, it may not even be possible. Instead of trying to force the solution that the majority is comfortable with, make it a point to find a solution for everyone, even if that means there are very few days in the month when every single employee is physically present in the office.
9. How Are We Supposed to Manage Hybrid Teams?
Finally, there is one more point we need to touch upon.
And we do really mean touch upon, as the hybrid team management is a topic that warrants an entirely new article. However, let’s just run over some of the main things to put in place:
- Write clear processes: employees should always find out what to do, whether at home or in the office.
- Over-communicate: it’s better to be clear than misunderstood.
- Cut your meeting times down: remember, if it can be an email, it should be an email.
- Include everyone: make hybrid working available to everyone. Otherwise, you’re likely to create friction between teams.
- Offer and ask for feedback often: when you’re more distanced from your colleagues, it can be harder to judge your performance. Stay in touch, and make sure you’re all happy with how things are going.
- Trust your employees and don’t micromanage them: stressed employees aren’t productive. Avoid making them feel like you’re constantly looking over their shoulder.
- Be clear about your expectations: have clear targets that need to be met so that everyone knows what they’re doing and when.
It’s a cliche, but the future of work really is now. What we once thought impossible had become a reality: those who once claimed hybrid work meant doom had been forced to eat their words.
However, just because we can now embrace hybrid work doesn’t mean everything is instantly perfect. A hybrid work scenario blends the worst of remote work with the worst of office work and results in utter disaster.
To reap the benefits of the hybrid work model, make sure you carefully consider its potential pitfalls and do your best to preempt them rather than work on solving them when they have already begun disrupting your productivity.
Originally published Sep 07, 2021, updated Jan 16, 2023