3 Hybrid Work Pitfalls You Can Avoid with a Human-Centered Approach

We mentioned it a year ago in a different blog post: "Work from Wherever" is the new "Work from Home".  Hybrid work is more in-demand than ever before. In fact, a recent study found that 75% of employees would give up at least one existing benefit or perk for the freedom to choose their work environment. Countless organizations, from early-stage startups to larger organizations like Spotify and behemoths like Microsoft, have adopted this flexible structure that includes some combination of working remotely and within an office setting. 

"75% of employees would give up at least one existing benefit or perk for the freedom to choose their work environment."

There's no "one size fits all" model when it comes to hybrid work. Even before the pandemic, we had our own hybrid work model here at Structural: three days in the office with the option to work remotely on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This model, with a set schedule determining which days will be spent in the office vs. remote, is quickly becoming the norm. Other organizations have adopted greater flexibility, allowing employees to pick and choose where they'll be getting work done on any given day. 

It's no wonder why there is so much support and enthusiasm towards hybrid work among individuals and organizations alike. After all, hybrid work is associated with high levels of job satisfaction and employee engagement. It doesn't come without its potential challenges, though. Here are three potential hybrid work pitfalls to keep in mind before, during and after making the shift to this model of work.


Three Potential Hybrid Work Pitfalls:

1. Narrowed Down Networks 

Microsoft's 2021 Work Trends Index presents a concerning finding about the current network size of the average worker. After analyzing billions of collaboration patterns among Outlook emails and Microsoft Teams meetings, the company found a clear trend. Most employees have a smaller network now than they did this time last year. In other words, most of us are interacting with the same group of people every day, branching out and collaborating with our extended networks less frequently. As Microsoft puts it:

"We've clung to our immediate teams for support and let our broader network fall to the wayside."  

With the shift from fully remote to hybrid work, the hope is that all of us will gradually get back to fostering these extended connections. After all, it's easier to create and maintain relationships when there's some level of in-person interaction involved. It's important to keep in mind, though - hybrid work isn't "hybrid" unless a considerable portion of total work time is spent virtually. With remote work being such a prominent piece of this new setup, smaller networks focused on immediate connections may just become the new norm. This habit we've fallen into might be hard to break, even with a portion of the workweek taking place in person. 


2. Heightened Inequality and Lack of Inclusion

There is a very straightforward social psychology concept called "The Mere Exposure Effect" that explains the human tendency to favor people, situations and things that are familiar vs. those that are unfamiliar. The Mere Exposure Effect is tied to another simple concept, "The Proximity Effect", or the fact that people in close physical proximity to one another are more likely to form interpersonal relationships than those who are distanced. Increased exposure, increased familiarity, increased (subconscious) favoritism. 


So, what does all of this have to do with inequality and lack of inclusion in a hybrid workplace? Let's say there's a manager with two direct reports. The manager prefers working in-office, and when the company announces that employees are able to choose where they're working from each day, she chooses to work there most of the time. One of her direct reports lives 5 minutes from the office, the other has a commute that can take up to 45 minutes. It's convenient for the employee with the longer commute to work remotely the majority of the time, so that's what he chooses to do. The other makes frequent trips into the office to get work done, given how close she lives. She runs into their manager more frequently, they build a stronger relationship, and suddenly she's experiencing faster career growth and taking on more responsibility than her distanced colleague. Of course there could be many reasons for this, but it's likely proximity is playing a role, even if nobody realizes it.

Hybrid work is popular because of the flexibility it offers. It simply doesn't work if employees need to sacrifice that flexibility in order to be visible, included and to have equal access to workplace opportunities.


3. Risk of Burnout 

Flexibility is great - it's the number one benefit associated with a fully remote or hybrid work model. But, flexibility also has a tendency to blur the line that exists between work time and personal time. Along with the shift to remote work, there seems to have been a sweeping mindset shift over the past year, equating a workforce that's accessible from anywhere with one that's accessible at any time. According to a recent study on current workplace trends, one in five employees believe their employer doesn't care about their work-life balance, 54% of employees feel overworked and 39% feel exhausted. 


It's not likely this trend will fade with the transition from fully remote to hybrid work. Research by Gartner reveals that hybrid workers are 1.27 times more likely to struggle to disconnect from work than employees who work entirely in-office. Therefore, employee burnout is definitely a risk that any organization planning to transition to a hybrid work model indefinitely needs to keep an eye on.


Here's the Good News:

All three of these potential hybrid work pitfalls can be avoided by keeping your employees and their unique needs, interests, challenges, and aspirations at the center of your hybrid work blueprint. You can build the foundation for this empathetic, human-centered approach by helping your employees stay connected to one another and opportunity, regardless of where they're working from.

The Structural platform is built for this exact purpose. Structural's dynamic people directory, built from data-rich individual employee profiles, makes it easy for siloed and distributed teams to connect at the right time. It helps colleagues discover and get to know one another on a deeper level, fostering relationships that may not have otherwise formed between individuals who don't get the chance to work together on a regular basis or who rarely see each other in person. Added insight, understanding, and a more intentional approach to collaboration makes it easier to maintain a larger network in the world of hybrid work. 


To help drive adoption and engagement, Structural is now available inside of Microsoft Teams


The data-rich profiles that power this directory are highly customizable. They can be set up to include information that allows individual employees to share their preferences and create awareness around their work-life boundaries, reducing the potential for burnout. Some examples we've seen among clients include: most productive time of day, average commute time, best way to reach me, and typical work schedule, just to name a few. 

Lastly, Structural's internal opportunity marketplace provides an easy, inclusive solution for employees working from anywhere to find new ways to learn, grow and contribute. The ability for individuals to connect to the opportunities, small and large, that can help them drive their careers forward no longer relies on physical proximity. Structural creates a level playing field - each employee has the same access to opportunities, regardless of work location. 

See how the Structural platform can help your organization prepare for and thrive in the world of hybrid work.
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