“Work from anywhere”. “Work your way”. “Remote first”. “Pledge to flex”. If one thing echoes in all these approaches, it is the flexibility given to employees.
These are a few common themes of work adopted by some agile and progressive companies. More than 63% of the high-growth companies have adopted remote/hybrid working models in crunch time.
But does one size fit all? A concurrence between systems, people, culture, and business amidst change can be hyper-dynamic and episodic. This is why, during the initial days of remote working, organisations observed high productivity but that was not sustained. Things were at breakneck speed. Unawares, there was a shift. The focus was on why the burnout hit, and ways to be pro wellbeing. All good, but then the great resignation happened, quiet quitting showed up and we are still reckoning.
Where were these issues in the past? Though they were not visible in plain sight, they were sparks and flickers of such concerns, gone unnoticed. However, the sensitised post-pandemic mindset let out deep-seated patterns. This article points to six hidden risks of hybrid working that need attention, in a similar light. Risks that are interconnected and that can compound pitfalls for businesses, employees and revenue, too. But before we get to that, here is a hurried peek into a tactical observation of hybrid work, below the surface.
Hybrid work- below the surface
Hybrid or remote work does not alone address the changing work dynamics. So, are there any brewing concerns? Here is an evident one.
Non-homogenous hybrid experience
Hybrid working does not give employees a uniform experience. How is that true? These tactical examples speak for themselves. As per research, 70% of remote employees said that it is difficult to participate in a conversation on a video call. 72% of them, find it tough to identify who is speaking, while 62% say the whiteboard being used in the discussion is not visible. And in such simple situations, employees in the office benefit.
What could this mean? Anything which is not the same in a system backed by organisational philosophy and core values can be a recipe for long-term strife.
Could there be a case of unconscious bias created? Maybe. And what about proximity bias by having more access to official information and leaders’ interactions? Being the first to get the best projects, working out a way for promotions, and taking more credit than one should be some examples of this. Wouldn’t this be an unfair advantage to those who are in office? In simple words, employees in the office may have the edge over others who work more from home.
There are no straight answers or quick solutions to these questions. But they do alert us to have a discerning eye on such facets that could be hidden or quietly brewing.
Below are the six hidden risks of hybrid work that are not new. They are fundamental to our everyday work. And which is why there is a higher risk of undermining them. And can weigh down core elements of organisations sooner, if left unaddressed.
Risk 01- Bias-prone gaps
As humans, we are quite perceptive in visual and auditory aspects. And when there is a lack of it, we tend to be quick to judge. When a team is half at home and half at the office, there is a risk of bias. The bias can be conscious or unconscious. There could be circumstances when employees who prefer to work from the office, get a preferential interaction from leads. It may be for reasons owing to the convenience of proximity.
As per Sociology, the principle of proximity implies that people build a good rapport with others who are in the same proximity as them. And proximity does not mean only distance and physical location alone, but it can include familiarity and frequency of interactions with others.
Hence, hybrid work is prone to such gaps that can feed bias. Managers, team leaders, leaders, and employees- everyone must be educated and made aware of anti-bias, correlating to everyday working activities.
Working from home must not be a stigma, due to low visibility at the office. Flexibility stigma of any kind must be rejected. Unless, there is an intentional effort to observe, analyze, assess and understand the intricacies of each team member, the gap could culminate in misrepresentations.
Leaders must be mindful of such a challenge and fix policies, working culture, and approaches. Managers must be trained to see beyond what is, in front of them and begin to understand the unseen dynamics of virtual working.
Risk 02- Inconsistent decision-making
Virtual working patterns are still perceptive. No one to blame but the pandemic that threw a curveball at us to scurry and work behind closed walls.
With virtual working, there is a risk of randomized custom rules. A lot can be lost in translation if clear expectations are not established. With varying locations of employees, team members could work from differing stances. And organisations must cater to such situations and resolve ambiguities.
There could be cases where managers don't know where to draw the line while using flexibility. This could lead to inconsistent decision-making. There could be a perceived bias, seeming to be lost in the attentional blink but when it gets added up. Such scenarios can disband even the most cohesive teams.
Often, this could be the case when organisations don't have well-defined policies or handbooks around virtual working principles. Instead of depending on DIY policies and rulesets, managers must depend on the company's guidelines or policies from the start. This will ensure that no backpedalling is done on decisions. Also, clarity will boost engagement and not steal the joy of the remote/hybrid working culture. Managers should not be in a blind spot. Lest, it could lodge aspects of micro-management, mistrust, missing deadlines on work, and related which could be detrimental to the spirit of virtual working.
If an employee is working from home and others from the office, managers should be able to manage them equally. This is certainly a new concept because we seek tangibility. Therefore, managers must be trained to rid of any inconsistent decision-making.
Risk 03- Missing work culture footprint
When new hires join an organisation, post-pandemic, the experience of working culture is almost non-existent. Erstwhile, work culture was evident from the start to the end of the talent cycle, with inclusive and professional behaviours top-down of the hierarchy.
With the hybrid working model, the legacy footprint of the work culture may not be evident. Hence, indiscriminate effort must be put into letting culture speak despite the virtual world. And this work culture must have a dual facet, to suit both remote working and in-office / onsite working. Leaders must decide all other decisions and policies keeping work culture at the root. Work culture must be characterized by the overall experience when associated with an organisational brand and its personality.
Risk 04- Lack of apt recognition and employee experience
Recognition is a big part of employee engagement. Engagement philosophy must complement the modern workspace of hybrid or remote work. When employees are working virtually, the parameters to assess and identify must be clear. While organisations are evolving around the whole modern workspace concept, starting with frameworks around employee experience is critical. These frameworks must be suitable for virtual workspace.
For example, having a meal with your leader may have worked in the past. But it does not suit remote working. Instead, a day off or a voucher for an opulent meal with family, along with a heartfelt note from the leader could be a better option.
Smaller nuances of engagement must be studied, scrutinized, and implemented. Recognition looks different in the hybrid workplace. Some older practices may be redundant.
Employee experience is not homogenous any longer. And flexibility is not the answer. Employee concerns are still prevalent and have become more deep-rooted. Shallow engagement activities don’t stick and cannot be a single scale to measure employee experience or engagement.
The buzz about quiet-quitting in social media was a hidden risk at some point in time. Quiet quitting is a by-product of missed engagement. It is a consequence of employee needs or voices that were overlooked. Hence, organisations need to invest more in this space. Employee experience and engagement require restructuring. And even if this means, that organisations need to go to the extent of employee-centric rebranding, it would be worth it.
Risk 05- Work cannibalisation
When hybrid work parameters for evaluation are not clearly defined, things can get muddy. With uneven hybrid schedules, team members knowingly or unknowingly could step over the work turfs of other team members. Work decisions must not be made on the go, without team member consultation which is highly possible especially when team leads or managers are often present at the office.
Due to minimal visibility, things can get missed from being noticed. For example, a team member could take credit for someone else's work, if the manager is oblivious to work assignments. In other cases, projects could get swiped between members, without much calibration. In rare cases, team leads could take credit or poach a junior member's work. Such scenarios could happen when teams are working in a remote or hybrid manner, in varying locations and times.
Leaders must proactively, foresee such circumstances and nip them in the bud, with strong guardrails.
Risk 06- Blurry work parameters for evaluation
A lot of performance parameters are based not just on the role metrics. They could also have behavioural parameters to show progression to the next level. With virtual and hybrid work, behaviours such as these cannot be seen or measured. Redesigning specific goals and parameters will bring clarification to the hybrid work appraisals. Employees need to know how they will be evaluated if they are working remotely. And be aware of how they can demonstrate excellence.
Without clear parameters, employees may be confused about how to plan for goals. And this must not lead to work stress or burnout which defeats the purpose of hybrid working.
organisations will be able to hold employees accountable for their work if the parameters are clear.
Redesigning needs of modern workspace
The future of work is here. And in this transitioning phase, here are some aspects that need to be part of redesigning the modern workspace:
Anti-bias training: Provide anti-bias training to team leads and managers. Neutralize bias, amidst virtual perceptions in remote or hybrid working. Educate and bring awareness on what is acceptable and what is not. For example, team leads cannot be biased against employees who are also caretakers at home. Anti-bias training can help sensitize and inculcate respect toward personal priorities while honouring organisational expectations. It also neutralizes unconscious bias in remote hiring practices and other aspects.
Robust policies and programs: Make air-tight handbooks and policies on what is okay and what is not. Define flexibility, performance parameters, cultural aspects, and employee expectations. Mind map policies to the organisational vision to reinforce the big picture, and to take employees along in the journey of redesigning the workspace.
Defined work culture suitable for virtual working: Work culture is an experience provided by the people, representing the organisation. It is not a concrete structure. Apart from policies and guidelines, organisations must ensure that employees across levels demonstrate the personality of the brand. Maintain clarity, consistency, and communication as key pillars supporting the brand philosophy.
Failproof meta-learning and meta-policies: Metaverse is here. Several companies have adopted the metaverse for hyper-real meetings and learning. Create policies about the future of work in the metaverse that make the employee experience better. Why wait until the metaverse has disrupted the workspace, when we can start now, proactively? Streamline policies ahead of time and keep up with the technology.
Train Team leads and Managers: Team leads and Managers are the bridge between employees and leadership. They are the key brand ambassadors for providing experience to the internal customers. It is a prerequisite to prep them, as per the brand fabric, and equip them with the capabilities, beforehand, to manage teams and other dynamic situations in the virtual workspace.
Building empathy into interactions is a mandate. Employees want to be cared for. And according to Gallup, quiet quitting could get worse in the days to come due to the psychological detachment between employees and employers.
Progressive and specific appraisal parameters: Appraisal parameters must be as clear as black and white. Employee goals and performance must be directly correlated to the impact of the job role. Make evaluations progressive and output-focused. Evaluate the impact of the output. It is hard to measure intangible aspects such as behaviours. In such a case, seek feedback from team members the employee has worked with. Keep processes and SOPs clear and agile.
Compensation is no more the carrot that can retain employees in the long term but empathy and holistic approaches can. As per research by Owllabs, 84% of employees shared that working remotely after the pandemic would make them happier, with many even willing to take a pay cut. Willing to take a pay cut? That’s new!
Employees are not taking 'no' for an answer when it comes to their priorities like well-being or flexibility. Employee experience goes beyond the employee. It is time to acknowledge that.
The equation of work has expanded into personal space. The silos have melted into an integrated virtual workplace. With a purpose-driven shift, the optimal workplace is possible. And this shift must be demonstrated by proactively identifying and mitigating risks, especially the hidden ones.