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Oct 21, 2021
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

“What causes hybrid workplaces to fail?”

A variety of talent pros weighed in to answer that question. From overwhelming tech-stack options to the formation of two company cultures, there are numerous ways things can go wrong in a hybrid environment.

“Anything Goes” Doesn’t Actually Go

Hybrid workplaces have the potential to address the needs employees have for flexibility, particularly as safety and wellbeing are at the forefront of the employee experience. Done right, they can be the perfect balance of inclusiveness, collaboration, flexibility, and productivity. 

Where hybrid workplaces go wrong is taking an “anything goes” approach. Without a framework for how and when people work and interact, some will be left out of conversations, decisions, and opportunities. 

People Operations can lead their organizations in developing the structure, schedules, communication norms, and feedback loops required to take the best of both in-office and virtual environments. As flexibility increases, being intentional about the work environment is more important than ever, and leaving it to chance risks losing all of the benefits of that flexibility. — Danny Speros, VP of People Operations, Zenefits

Overlooking the Importance of Mindset

In the rush to create processes and policies, many leaders are overlooking the importance of mindsets and deeper human needs in relation to hybrid work. For instance, hybrid work can be seen as an opportunity to optimize high performance while prioritizing the whole person, instead of merely seeing it as the combination of working in the office and at home. 

With this mindset, leaders can leverage the best of home and office environments to create new ways of working that boost resilience, performance, and culture. For example, leaders can encourage people to digitally disconnect, check in on their employees more, cut meeting time through asynchronous tools, and utilize office time for deeper strategic sessions. 

The silver bullet for hybrid work is not found in any particular process but instead in examining how hybrid work is revolutionizing the workplace and how companies can best support the right mindsets to drive this revolution. — Marissa Afton, Partner & Head of Global Accounts, Potential Project

One Size Does Not Fit All

One of the biggest mistakes that some employers are making is by continuing to apply “brick and mortar” management practices to a remote or hybrid work environment. In some instances, managers are ill equipped to oversee a hybrid workforce and fall back to outdated concepts of “if I can’t see you, how do I know you are working?” 

Employers need to better prepare their managers and employees to be engaged and productive in a hybrid environment. Workplace flexibility with employee schedules, virtual coffee breaks, goal- rather than task-focused performance management, and remote wellness initiatives are just a few ways that many employers can better motivate and engage a hybrid workforce. 

This is a perfect time to retool past practices and grasp innovative approaches to work in the hybrid world. — Jeffery Palkowski, Sr. Human Resources Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Bargaining Power of Labor

We are seeing a huge shift in the bargaining power of labor that we haven’t seen over the past three decades. Not only are companies increasing their wages for lower-income earners, but many corporations are also beginning to offer better benefits to be able to retain their talent from the companies poaching from the coasts. 

People’s finances are better than ever, and as a result, there are a record number of people quitting their jobs. Workers simply have more options to earn better money elsewhere as hybrid workplaces become a common option. — Ryan Nouis, CEO, TruPath

Managing Employee Performance

Hybrid workplaces are facing struggles managing employees’ performance. Many companies were forced to quickly transition most or all employees to remote work in March 2020 due to the rapid spread of Covid-19. In some cases, companies skipped crucial steps, like outlining clear expectations for employees working remotely and setting performance metrics for their remote employees that would encourage success. 

In hybrid and remote roles, clear job descriptions are even more essential because expectations need to be set about the essential functions of the job and about how success will be measured. 

Performance management in hybrid roles can be especially challenging as managers and employees may not overlap days onsite and thus may be missing key opportunities for connection, whether virtually or in-person. Managers should work with their team to set clear expectations while working on-site or remotely and provide regular feedback about how they are performing against their goals. — Heather Whitney, HR Coach, Paychex

Virtual Interaction Is Not the Same

Virtual interaction is not the same as in-person interaction. You lose out on the benefits of a diverse workplace if you’re not actually connecting with your full workplace. Virtual connection has a bias towards connecting us with people who are most like we are. In a hybrid work setting, in-office work days tend to be hyper-focused on catching up with your primary stakeholders.

It will take a greater level of intentionality from team leaders to create space outside of the echo chamber than remote interactions tend to encourage. — Brian O’Connor, Talent Acquisition Recruiting Manager, DailyPay

Two Company Cultures

When done right, a hybrid workforce is a great way to attract more talent, provide flexibility for your employees, and ultimately build a happier and more productive team. 

The problem is when companies fail to provide remote employees with the same onboarding experience they provide onsite employees. Over time, this results in a situation where you create two cultures, rather than one. You have your remote culture and your on-site culture. There’s a divide between these two groups of employees and it hinders your ability to maximize productivity, retain your employees, and remain competitive. —  Kristin Tschantz, VP, Growth Marketing, Hireology

Missing Micro-Interactions

A lack of deep interpersonal engagement is an issue when most of our interactions are remote. There are a host of non-verbal behavioral cues not at our disposal in the videoconferencing interface that would allow us to read a person better and get a deeper sense of how they are doing. Without those important cues, we need to rely more on dialogue and questioning to determine if someone is struggling. 

We also need to increase the number of remote interactions with a person to hopefully deepen the dialogue. Pre-pandemic, there were myriad opportunities to have major and micro-interactions with people to gauge how they were doing. In this new hybrid world, this lack of interpersonal engagement risks a reduction in collaborative energy, innovation, and overall engagement over time. This is a new problem to solve, but one leaders and managers must start focusing on more intently. — George Vergolias, Medical Director, R3 Continuum

Sidelining Remote Workers

One of the biggest missteps in hybrid workspaces is employers treating remote teammates more like observers than active participants. For instance, live-streaming parties for virtual attendees to watch instead of planning activities that include onscreen and offscreen guests, or giving updates to in-person teams first and sending recap emails to off-site teammates much later. 

Virtual teammates should not be an afterthought. Syncing up onsite and remote team members can be tricky. However I think the longer we practice the hybrid model, the easier it will be to naturally and meaningfully integrate remote teammates into the action in real time, and engage staff on- and off-screen. — Michael Alexis, CEO, TeamBuilding

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.