Is hybrid working actually working?

Many South African companies are now asking whether hybrid working is actually working as they step back and review their progress towards a new hybrid workplace. It is not always clear whether companies arrived at the right hybrid model that boosts individual productivity, team collaboration and organisational innovation.

“An increasing number of businesses have at least a portion of their employees who spend some of their time working in the office and some time working remotely,” says Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap.

She says companies can check if they are on the right path by considering six warning signs:

Managers out of sync with their teams

“If managers spend a lot more time in the office than their teams are, or a lot less, you have a problem,” Trim says. “If your boss spends most of the time in the office, although the official line is that you are welcome to spend two days a week at home, it is hard not to feel uneasy about working remotely.”

However, it can be even worse if the boss is in the office less than the rest of the team. When you have to be in the office four days a week, but the boss is only there for two, it feels unfair, Trim says, even when that discrepancy is directly related to the nature of your work and responsibilities.

ALSO READ: Time for the ‘Great Return’ to the office in 2023

Yes, people really miss the pandemic

Employees may often ask each other if they remember when everyone was working remotely and this is definitely an alarm bell. “When you hear your employees waxing nostalgic for the days of full-time remote work, you know the return to the office has been less than a clear win.”

She says employers should find out what employees miss about full-time remote work and then look for ways to reduce workplace frustrations, whether that means creating interruption-free hours, or increasing benefits, such as tastier snacks.”

Expanding working hours

Perhaps some executives still see 12-hour workdays as a badge of honour, but it just leads to burnout and resentment for many employees, Trim warns. “That is one risk of a hybrid schedule, since days crammed full of video calls and meetings often push other work, such as answering emails, planning and report writing, into the small hours.”

If your data shows email and messaging creeping past business hours, start by looking at your managers’ habits. “Again, look at a group, not individual users, to see if this is a top-down problem. When the boss is emailing at 9 at night, it can be hard for rank-and-file workers to unplug and unwind.”

ALSO READ: Remote workers 50% less likely to be considered for promotion

When it is all business

Trim says many business leaders worry about what hybrid work means for their company culture, because they think of culture as something that happens when people are gathered around a conference table or heading out for drinks after work.

“The truth is that hybrid teams can build relationships and trust both in person and remotely but only if there is room for play and exploration as well as for the job at hand. When on-site days are so packed or if the volume of online communications is so overwhelming that there is no room to waste on a little personal news, it is a sign that you have not left any space for bonding.”

Her advice is to leave the first or last minutes of every meeting for informal conversation, call remote colleagues on their birthdays and set up an always-on webcam in the break room so that off-site workers can drop in for a spontaneous visit with their on-site colleagues.

ALSO READ: How companies can do performance management in hybrid times

When late adopters start to relapse

One positive effect of Covid was that even the most steadfast late adopters, people who refused to use Google Docs, Slack, Microsoft Teams or really anything other than email, finally had to learn to use online collaboration tools, many of which are just as useful in the office as they are when working remotely, Trim says.

“Now that they are back in the office, at least part of the time, are they relapsing by reducing their use of digital collaboration tools? If so, it is a sign that you have not found an effective approach to distributed and hybrid teams.”

If part of your team reverts to the physical exchange of paper, or at best whiteboards in the office, the hybrid team is not going to be as productive as you would like. “The hybrid workplace, in other words, is not a free pass to go backward, nor is it a free pass to throw out everything that worked before.”

She points out this is rather an opportunity to take what we learned during the pandemic and build something new, something better.

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