Hybrid Work Part 1: Advantages and Challenges

The Hybrid Work Series

In this, the first instalment in our Hybrid Work blog post series, we look at research from Gallup and Steelcase.

In Hybrid Work Part 2: Do This, Don’t Do That we look at the do’s and don’ts of hybrid work. Is it a technology-first or a people-first problem? Is it fad, or is it here for the long-term?

In the third, and the final instalment Hybrid Wok Part 3: Strategic Considerations, we offer The Hive’s strategic considerations for getting started.

Introduction

With more and more organizations demanding their employees return to work as the pandemic reached into its third year, the fallout has been noticeable – with some employees resigning, some demanding a hybrid model, while still others looking forward to getting back to the office full-time.

A recent study by Gallop examined the advantages and challenges of the hybrid model with two research questions:

  • What are the advantages and challenges of hybrid work?
  • How are hybrid workers spending their time on-site versus at home?

Steelcase did a more comprehensive study in ten separate countries in January 2021. Their findings were presented on a country-by-country basis. We’ve included results from Canada and the USA for comparison purposes to the Gallup research report.

Advantages

According to Gallup, the greatest advantages of hybrid work so far include:

  • Improved work-life balance as their current hybrid arrangements improves their personal well-being and productivity at work
  • More efficient use of time as employees can work in the ways that are most effective for them
  • Control over work hours and work location
  • Burnout mitigation
  • Higher productivity
Figure 1: The Advantages of Hybrid Work ranked by most common responses, Gallup, 2022

Respondents could select all possible choices that applied to their perspective of the question.

Gallup researchers were surprised that responses from managers and senior leaders were so closely in sync with individual contributors, signalling more common ground that might have been expected.

Figure 2: Challenges of Hybrid Work ranked by most common responses, Steelcase, 2021

Steelcase report’s that for some people, the home office is only place they feel safe, while for others it provided the kind of autonomy they seek. They also reported that leaders’ positions changed rapidly over the early days of the pandemic as they expected they would need to allow more flexibility about where, when, and how people work. This prediction appears to have been borne out over the past two years.

Figure 3: Leader flexibility on where, when, and how people work, Steelcase, 2021

Challenges

On the challenges side of the question, respondents signalled their top challenges as:

  • Having the right tools to be effective at work both at home and at the office, noting that onsite conference rooms need to be remote-capable to support collaboration so remote workers could be fully included in team interactions
  • Feeling less connected to the organization’s culture while working at home due to at times feeling disconnected
  • Impaired collaboration and relationships, as while hybrid work fosters it when onsite, it requires considerably more coordination of meetings and schedules based on who will be onsite versus at home
  • Disrupted work processes

What is noticeable when comparing the responses between advantages and challenges is that the percentages on the top challenges are roughly half those of the advantages, meaning the advantages of a hybrid work environment appear to substantially outweigh its challenges to adoption.

Figure 5: Challenges of Hybrid Work ranked by most common responses, Steelcase, 2021

How hybrid workers spend their time on site versus at home

On the second question, hybrid workers, while onsite, prioritized:

  • Collaborating with colleagues which address the top challenges with hybrid work
  • Being intentional about making good use of their onsite time by connecting with their manager and using technology that is unique to that location

However, forcing everyone to come in and still take Zoom calls as if they were at home was not viewed as a welcome use of onsite time.

Figure 6: Onsite/office activities, Gallup, 2022

When working from home, hybrid workers are primarily focused on heads-down, independent work tasks — away from the distractions of the office. This enables hybrid workers to efficiently drive personal performance while allowing for the flexibility to meet other life responsibilities, such as running errands or taking children to school and activities.

Focusing on work that can be done independently while at home becomes even more important as employees spend more of their time on teamwork and relationship-building when on-site. The downside to that is little of the WFH time is spent with their manager, so feedback, recognition and development will most likely only occur during in-person interactions. Notably, employee needs rank low on the list of hybrid work advantages while also not being flagged as major challenges, suggesting they may be falling off most people’s radar. This could become problematic if not monitored and appropriately addressed.

In finding his own way of fitting into a hybrid work model, Andrew Down, Director of Sales at Vendasta, a Saskatoon-based SaaS company offered “I find that when I need to focus, work on process or strategy, my home office is more quiet and comfortable.  What I really love about being in-office is team meetings, cross collaboration, bouncing ideas off my peers and general ideation.  Depending on my meetings/the day, I may adjust my working location as needed.

Rod Collins, leadership author and keynote speaker, observed it’s up to leaders to understand it is not the hours worked nor whether it is WFH or at the office that matters, what matters is the value of the work delivered. Rod’s insights will appear throughout our series on hybrid work, culminating in an interview with Rod on The Hive Nation Podcast (make sure to subscribe when you are there to get the latest insights from our Coaches, Clients, and friends of The Hive.)

Alex Christian in a recent article on how companies are backtracking on the Hybrid Work model concurred:

While CEOs cite the need for in-person collaboration, camaraderie and mentorship as reasons for returning to the office, studies show that what many employees value most is flexible work. The arrangement has reduced worker burnout, boosted work-life balance and even, in many cases, improved professional performance. This means that there is, indeed, a mismatch between what employers want and what their workers want – yet bosses are forging on with bringing their employees back in.

What Leaders should do next

Gallup summarized their findings by postulating:

  • The art of hybrid work largely comes down to leveraging the advantages it creates
  • Quickly addressing its challenges
  • Being very intentional about how time is spent on-site versus at home

They suggest leaders ask their team members what’s working, what’s not, and what’s most effective for them, and then track how those answers change with time and repetition.

Steelcase also considered what would make people more comfortable in returning to the workplace:

Figure 7: What would make people comfortable returning to onsite work, Steelcase 2021

As the pandemic was and still is a health crisis, it would seem leaders would be wise to consider the Steelcase findings in how they enable onsite work to address employee concerns.

The Hive’s Perspective

At beginning of the pandemic, the focus was on the tools of connectivity to ensure employees could access their office systems so their organizations could continue to function. According to Collins, working from home (WFH) seemed to function OK at the outset as the necessary core work processes were well-established and well-developed.

Once employees had a taste of WFH, however, they became less than enthusiastic about a full return to work for all the reasons cited by Gallup and Steelcase. Collins crystallizes this issue by asking “what do they experience in the hybrid environment that they didn’t have before?” His answer is they’re experiencing a degree of autonomy they did not enjoy previously. And autonomy is extremely important as it means they also feel a sense of power and control over their work.

There’s an old axiom that the only constant is change. Sometimes change is slow and subtle, other times it hits us like a sledgehammer. The pandemic was a sledgehammer. The financial crisis of 2008 was another. There will be many more in our collective future, and if recent history is any indicator, they will be closer together in time than ever before, as they are compounding for us right now with the war in Ukraine, climate change, and an impending recession.    

As a species we know we can be remarkably resilient and adaptable when we need to be. It’s just that some of us may take a little longer than others to adjust to new norms and realities, while at the other end of the spectrum others seem to thrive on change and disruption.

Regardless of where we individually lie on that spectrum, we need to better understand ourselves and where other members of our teams’ may lie. For individual contributors we addressed this topic in “How to make the right investments in yourself”, and in “How to Maximize Your Organization’s Potential with The Hive: The Ultimate Coaching Platform for Business” we looked at it from the perspective of teams and organizations. In both, we offer ways for individual contributors, regardless of their role, to gain insight into themselves and their teammates on how they can maximize their contributions to organizational growth, innovation, and strategy. These insights can help people make better decisions on which type of coaching, as well as which specific coaches may be best for their individual and their organizational needs, as well as which types of work and work arrangements can maximize their contributions.

We believe these insights can also help us better understand how we individually naturally handle the external disruptive changes wrought by sledgehammers like the pandemic. In turn, this will enable everyone to better understand how they individually deal with these changes and in how to better construct their teams to address them when they arise.

About The Hive Professional Network

At The Hive, we are committed to providing people and organizations with the insights, coaching, and mentoring they need to become who they are meant to be so they can realize their true potential in work and in life. To do this we are building an ecosystem for coaches and those seeking coaches to find their perfect match through our proprietary matching algorithm, unique platform, and strategic partnerships.

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Author

Larry Cooper is the Chief Strategy Officer and A/CTO at The Hive Professional Network.

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