Ways to Make Hybrid Work Better

hybrid work

Like the view from my office?

By Yvonne Milosevic

The past two years have proven that remote employees can be as productive—if not more so—as they were in the Before Times. Yet, as the pandemic lingers on, not everyone is on the same page about a total return to the office. For some people, the freedoms of fully remote work are too good to give up. Others are desperate to reclaim a distinct separation between their professional and home lives. Still others want the best of both options—a flexible work schedule and the ability to go into the office when it suits them. That’s why we can safely predict that hybrid work is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

But returning to the office only to sit alone in front of a screen won’t cut it. Employees don’t want to do the same tasks they could do just as easily from home. Time spent in the office should provide the elements that are missing from remote work. Think social bonding, team collaborations, and tasks requiring creativity and innovation.

“If there is one thing we have learned during the pandemic, it is that we are humans with a need for being with others. Offices should be designed to encourage the moments of being together.” —Arvind Malhotra and Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra

hybrid work

To make hybrid work better, managers need to respond to its unique challenges and opportunities. A piece shared by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Institute of Private Enterprise offers these tips for navigating the future of hybrid work.

Close the culture and socialization gaps.

UNC professors Arvind Malhotra and Claudia Kubowicz Malhotra identify culture gaps as a common struggle when only some members of the team work off-site. For managers, the risk of distance or proximity bias –unintentionally favoring on-site employees over remote workers—is real. The experts prescribe two remedies to avoid this “in-group” vs. “out-group” mentality.

“One way to mitigate the culture gap with remote employees is to rotate who comes to the office and who works from home,” they suggest. That way, you’re not always working with the same group of people. They also support another popular strategy to prevent workplace cliques from forming: have all team members join meetings online rather than as a group in a meeting room. This simple move immediately levels the playing field for remote workers.

It’s not surprising that some employees are feeling disengaged from their peers after two years apart. Meanwhile, recent hires have never experienced their new company’s culture in person. Malhotra and Kubowicz Malhotra also stress that work time devoted to socialization and bonding is critical for remote and in-office employees.

“Every work meeting should devote five to 10 minutes to socialization and resocialization,” they recommend. “Team members should be encouraged to speak about what is on their minds and what is going on in their lives.”

Likewise, managers should strive to form deeper relationships with both their co-located and remote direct reports. They can forge that personal connection through regular virtual coffee chats or lunches. Both will boost morale and employee engagement.

Hybrid work should accommodate professional development needs, too.

As many companies embrace hybrid work arrangements, employers need to make sure they treat remote and in-office employees the same. Opportunities for promotions and bonuses should not depend on where one works.

“To avoid this gap, organizations need to relate performance to objective measures linked to output,” the professors say. Employees can use data to show they can be just as productive and successful no matter where they work.

Finally, remote employees should not miss out on crucial mentoring opportunities. As a recent piece in Harvard Business Review points out, virtual mentoring has many distinct advantages. First, it’s more egalitarian; Zoom exchanges remove the status cues of in-person encounters.

Plus, the flexibility of online mentorship means either party can be anywhere on the map. HBR also notes that cross-gender mentoring in the post #MeToo environment feels less fraught in a virtual setting.

Hybrid work is here to stay

“The location of work is increasingly the choice of the employee,” these Kenan-Flagler professors stress. “To attract talent, companies will need to not only accommodate an employee’s choice but also enhance the experience and productivity of that choice, whether it’s working remotely or in an office.”