If you’ve read any of our articles on the future of work, you know we’re bullish on hybrid work.
It offers flexibility for employers and employees, promotes more efficient space usage, and can combine the best of both remote and office work. However, that doesn’t mean going hybrid is easy. We’re not oblivious to the hybrid work challenges and potential disadvantages, and if you’re thinking about transitioning to a hybrid workplace, you shouldn’t be either.
The bad news is that there are quite a few hybrid work challenges. The good news is that they’re far from insurmountable and overcoming them comes with massive benefits.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the 7 biggest challenges of hybrid work and some potential ways to overcome them. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Challenge #1: Starting the transition from remote or office work to hybrid
- Challenge #2: Rethinking your (remote) onboarding processes
- Challenge #3: Hybrid meetings require a different approach
- Challenge #4: Getting people back in the office (this one’s widely misunderstood)
- Challenge #5: Reshaping the office to increase productivity and collaboration
- Challenge #6: The danger of using too many workplace apps
- Challenge #7: Ensuring equal opportunities for remote, hybrid, and office employees
Let’s get started!
Challenge #1: Starting the transition from remote or office work to hybrid
Changing the way we work and still being productive is difficult. There’s no way around that, especially at the start.
When going hybrid, work is going to feel weird for a bit, until all the parts fall in place and everyone gets used to it.
Some of the issues during this initial stage can’t be avoided, as most of us suffer from at least a bit of status quo bias, even if the status quo can be improved. So, expect some pushback and productivity fluctuations for the first few weeks of your hybrid experiment.
How to overcome challenge #1 — communication and technology
Again, there’s no way to avoid all potential problems here, but you can make the transition a lot smoother by talking to your employees and using technology.
On the one hand, you need to know where everyone stands on different flexible work options and how they envision their future workplace. This lets you create a workplace strategy that’s optimal for everyone’s productivity and wellbeing.
On the other hand, technology can make the practical aspects of the hybrid transition much easier. For example, a good hybrid workplace solution can encourage flexibility and collaboration by:
- Helping you create a virtual floorplan of your office.
- Letting employees book a desk before coming to the office.
- Showing them who’s on-site so they can decide if they want to collaborate in person.
These aren’t monumental tasks, but you’d be surprised how hard it is to kick off a hybrid work experiment without them. Technology can massively reduce the friction of switching to a new model of work, so use its power to the fullest.
Challenge #2: Rethinking your (remote) onboarding process
Onboarding gets trickier when you have some people in the office and others online.
If you’ve hired remote workers in the past, you likely won’t have a lot of issues, but if not — prepare to make some changes to your onboarding process. The fact that we often don’t realize the perks of in-person onboarding exacerbates this challenge.
For example, you can’t ask a quick question without scheduling a meeting or quickly follow up with someone at their desk when working remotely. Remote employees also can’t randomly bump into people from other departments, who can give them a different perspective on the company and its processes.
In short, you’ll need to plan and structure your onboarding process carefully in advance.
How to overcome challenge #2 — follow-up and create a checklist
The problems with remote onboarding stem from its self-guided nature and the inability to ask spontaneous questions during the process. If you’re a manager, you can start by following these 3 best practices when onboarding remote employees:
- Check-in often. Doing a short sync once a day can help people get answers to their questions quickly. Plus, you get instant feedback on where they’re struggling, which helps you improve the onboarding process for future hires.
- Create an onboarding checklist. This can be as simple as jotting down 5-10 items that everyone must go through during the onboarding phase. You can check out Miro’s checklist for examples of what to include and how to set up onboarding goals.
- Introduce new hires to other teams and experts. For example, a new marketing team member should be introduced to the people in sales, product, and dev, which often collaborate with the marketing team. Knowing who to ask and how to navigate cross-department projects makes things much easier down the line.
This is a complex topic, so if you want to go more in-depth, I suggest checking out GitLab’s guide to remote onboarding.
Challenge #3: Hybrid meetings require a different approach
Similar to onboarding, having a meeting with a hybrid team is tricky.
When a meeting feels like it’s going well, it’s easy to forget about the remote participants. And from their perspective, it’s really tough to speak up, especially when the in-person conversation is flowing.
This can lead to people feeling left out, which can be really demoralizing. Plus, the whole team might miss out on some great ideas.
How to overcome challenge #3 — acknowledge online participants
This one’s really simple. Just make sure that the person running a meeting always takes the time to ask online participants for their take. You can include this as part of your onboarding or culture documents so everyone in the company knows it’s the right thing to do.
Challenge #4: Getting people back in the office
In 2020, the pandemic forced us to undergo a violent change in our work environment.
Today, companies are asking their employees to experience this change again, which obviously doesn’t sit well with many.
People don’t want to go back to the same office full time. As a result, some companies try to lure them back with free snacks, ping-pong tables, or similar benefits (which is usually a horrible idea).
Others force people back through top-down decision-making via mandatory policies. There’s even been a push towards not allowing employees to pick their own WFH days.
In short, getting people back in the office is hard. However, we shouldn’t look at that as a problem, but as an opportunity.
How to overcome challenge #4 — focus on community
Asking yourself “How can I get people back in the office?” may be the wrong question to start with.
Here’s a better alternative: “What’s the biggest benefit of being in the office and how can we make it easier for everyone to experience that?”
At OfficeRnD we believe that community is the biggest benefit of being in the office. On that note, encouraging collaboration and in-person learning (and the occasional office chit-chat) should be a part of any hybrid work environment. As a manager, your job should be to nurture that sense of community and highlight it as the primary reason for coming to the office.
Of course, you could also create a mandatory policy or work schedule of the type “Everyone must come to the office X days per week”, but that’s a very limited way of looking at the problem. Many companies resort to this method since it’s easy and familiar (displaying a type of “Man with hammer” syndrome) while neglecting how risky it is.
A better way to approach this challenge is to let everyone see who else will be in the office when and help them decide if they want to collaborate in person. You can do that in a spreadsheet, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or with a hybrid work solution like OfficeRnD Hybrid.
Regardless of how you do it, the idea remains the same: put the tech in the hands of employees, make it easy to book a desk and see who’s else will be in the office, and trust them.
Challenge #5: Reshaping the office to increase productivity and collaboration
We already said that most people don’t want to go back to the office full time.
However, they also don’t want to come back to the same office at all. And there’s a good reason for that — if the office is just a cubicle with a laptop and a few meeting rooms, there’s truly no point in going back.
That’s why many companies are transforming their offices to better accommodate employees’ needs and prevent the collaboration issues that stem from remote work. For example, Snowflake redesigned their headquarters to be safer, as well as encourage collaboration and productivity.
How to overcome challenge #5 — office neighborhoods
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all here, so you should start by talking to your team members.
They might need more quiet spaces, collaboration areas, or meeting rooms, so just ask them before making big changes.
One idea you might consider is setting up office neighborhoods, i.e., organizing your workplace so that people who need to collaborate or who have similar workspace needs, sit together in one area.
For example, you can set up neighborhoods based on projects, where team members from different departments get together when working on a joint task. Another option is to create activity neighborhoods, based on the demand for certain working conditions like seclusion or collaboration.
When done correctly, office neighborhoods make it easy to come and be productive at the office, since the space is built out for your work needs.
Challenge #6: The danger of using too many workplace apps
Today, many of us use 2-3 video conferencing apps (Slack, Teams, Zoom, etc.) to talk to colleagues and clients.
We also use some type of planning/project management tool (like Jira or Basecamp), an email client, and some app to store and share files (like Google Drive or Dropbox). And that doesn’t include the specialized tooling that each profession requires.
In short, we’re overloaded with apps. App overload is detrimental to both mental health and productivity, as it contributes to burnout and wastes time. As one study of UK and US professionals noted, most people spend an hour every day just looking for information trapped within tools.
If you’re trying out hybrid work, you’ll probably need another app for reserving desks and meeting rooms. However, due to our current overload, you might see pushback and poor adoption.
How to overcome challenge #6 — integrations
As a company building a hybrid workspace solution, we know most people don’t want another app just to go to work.
That’s why integrations are key.
For example, OfficeRnD Hybrid integrates with Office 365, Slack, and Google Calendar, so you can manage your entire hybrid workplace inside these apps. This makes the employee experience much smoother since we already use these apps daily.
Again, it’s about harnessing the power of technology to remove friction and make everyone’s life easier.
Challenge #7: Ensuring equal opportunities for remote, hybrid, and office employees
An unfortunate side effect of the hybrid workforce is that employees who come to the office get more opportunities than those who don’t.
In fact, MIT’s recent research found that:
“Employees who work remotely may end up getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions than their colleagues in the office — even if they work just as hard and just as long.”
Or in other words — out of sight, out of mind.
This imbalance must be addressed early, as it can have devastating effects on company culture and work relationships. Fortunately, this challenge is also an opportunity to rethink how you’re evaluating performance.
How to overcome challenge #7 — evaluate results, not familiarity
A huge part of the challenge here is that we’re often not consciously aware of our bias towards people we face time with daily.
What we see becomes familiar, and what’s familiar becomes reliable and trustworthy, at least in our heads.
We likely can’t avoid this bias entirely, but we can mitigate it by setting clear individual goals and evaluating everyone’s results based on them. That way, we can let data, rather than our subjective perceptions, guide us. Beware that this is much easier said than done.
This is a massive topic that deserves an article (or book) of its own, so I’d recommend checking out this HBR article on making sure employees succeed for more details.
Can we make hybrid work?
So, as you can see switching to hybrid isn’t easy. As with any other mode of working, there are challenges and potential disadvantages, which everyone should be aware of.
At the same time, hybrid work’s benefits — the increased flexibility, more efficient office space usage, and the opportunities to improve collaboration and work-life balance — far outweigh the negatives. That’s why we firmly believe that hybrid work is the future.
If you want to see how some of the biggest businesses in the world are approaching the transition to hybrid, check out our 6 examples of hybrid work models from companies like Meta, Microsoft, and Amazon.