Hybrid work after covid-19 crisis, employee choice to work remotely from home or on site office for best productivity and result concept, businessman with hybrid cloth work both from home and office.
Image: Nuthawut/Adobe Stock

Hybrid work has been a tantalizing proposition: Employees can work both in the office and remotely, and many are taking advantage of the opportunity organizations are offering. In fact, a recent Forrester report, “Mastering the Messy Middle of Hybrid,” observes that 51% of organizations are moving toward hybrid work. However, the report also finds that hybrid work is not without its issues.

SEE: Home video setup: What you need to look and sound professional (TechRepublic Premium)

“The road to hybrid success has serious speed bumps: Doubtful leaders; dissatisfied managers; frustrated employees; and a need for new processes, technologies and culture,’’ the report said.

But it appears hybrid work is here to stay, the report noted, saying that the firm’s data “reveals business and technology professionals expect a permanently higher rate of fully remote employees.”

Hybrid work complexities include burnout

Some two-thirds of U.S. firms have adopted anywhere work. With that in mind, organizations must address the fact that hybrid work is complex and “introduces daunting new challenges … that remote work didn’t prepare us for,’’ the report said.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the anywhere-work revolution, the remote-work experience was always going to be easier than hybrid because everyone operated on a level playing field, according to the Forrester report.

Hybrid work eliminates the equal footing of remote work and introduces the complexity of a multi-location workforce in perpetual motion, the report said. As a result, employees too often don’t know why they’re in the office.

“A typical hybrid work dilemma: An employee comes into the office, but their teammates aren’t there; they’ve wasted a commute for no job benefit,’’ the report said.

Another issue is that in-office experiences frequently don’t make employees happy, and because workers have experienced the hybrid model, that leaves them wishing for more time at home.

For U.S. workers whose jobs can be done remotely, the average number of days per week that they want to work from home has increased from 2.55 days in September 2020 to 2.77 in January 2022, and 2.86 in July 2022, the report said.

This increase is due to the fact that too few organizations have thought intentionally about what should be done in the office versus remotely, the report maintains.

A proliferation of online meetings during the pandemic has led to ongoing fatigue because “hybrid meetings are hosted in rooms that were never equipped for them.”

Yet another factor is ongoing workforce burnout. Forrester’s 2022 Workforce Survey indicated that 55% of business and technology decision-makers believe they’re working harder than before the pandemic.

“Burnout is a long-standing problem with new causes, impact and urgency,’’ this latest report finds.

Forrester said that fully in-office workers report lower employee experience scores, particularly related to stress and anxiety, work-life balance, flexibility and satisfaction with their work environment. Hybrid employees scored higher, while those working fully remote scored highest.

“Forcing employees back to offices exacerbates burnout,’’ the report said.

There is also a perception that “in person is always better,” which leads to presenteeism, with some employees trying to impress management by being seen, Forrester said.

How to manage anywhere work

Moving to an anywhere-office model and implementing anywhere work is necessary but requires changing long-established practices, which Forrester observes “will be hard on leaders and workers alike’’ and will take years before it succeeds.

Hybrid work specifically requires strong leadership and a commitment to building organizational competencies. The firm recommends a number of steps.

Elevate employee voices and invest in employees’ experiences

Keeping the dialogue going between leadership and the workforce is crucial. This means establishing a regular cadence for data collection in an employee listening program. The best practice is to establish your own deep listening function, one that iterates with pulse surveys and focus groups and keeps up to date on changing employee needs, preferences and desires. This is a critical first step, Forrester stressed.

Hire new organizational expertise to guide anywhere work

Organizations have been hiring or skilling up employees with new capabilities to navigate anywhere work. Consider emerging titles like “hybrid workplace flexibility lead,” “director of hybrid working,” “flexible workspace operations manager,” and “vice president, employee engagement and flexible work.”

Build cultural practices and insights that support your strategy

Consider both your corporate culture energy and the wider culture to determine how anywhere work fits in.

Aim to lower psychological distance

Physical distance has less impact on key outcomes for the workforce than operational or relational distance — put another way, collaboration technologies, workflow participation and emotional relationships all play a stronger role than physical colocation.

Ensure that your organization’s leadership models the right behaviors

A bank interviewed by Forrester said that its hybrid work policy was suffering from presenteeism pressures because executives have returned to the office five days a week, thereby disincentivizing employees from taking advantage of flexibility, the report said. By contrast, executives at Slack are told to spend no more than three days a week in the office.

“We want them to model the behaviors we’re seeking, understanding that what they do manifests with employees and could invite proximity bias,” the report said.

Does your company’s hybrid work policy cover all the necessary bases? If you’re unsure, download this customizable hybrid work policy from TechRepublic Premium.

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays

Subscribe to the Executive Briefing Newsletter

Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays