Blog entry of Anja Siegert | 21.01.2022

Hybrid work – the future of work

Challenges for leadership, teams and diversity
The Covid 19 pandemic sent many of us into the home office overnight. Today, almost two years into the pandemic, we are in the midst of a change that is at least as far-reaching as when the pandemic began. Initially, almost everyone worked exclusively from home, which created a sense of belonging because everyone was in the same boat.

Work also became more private. Colleagues got glimpses of the home office, pets or family members walking into the frame cheer up video conferences, and often the suit gave way to a comfortable hoodie.

Now a hybrid world is emerging with a flexible mix of working in the office, at home or a third location. What’s new is that different conditions and challenges now arise for different employees, who live the new flexibility in different ways.
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Hund Online Meeting

There is not ONE hybrid work

Let’s first look at what the new world looks like. Be aware that there is no one-fits-all solution. Everyone has different needs and requirements for a hybrid world, and every corporate culture is different.

Initial surveys show that most employees prefer a mix of working from home and working in the office – for example, coming into the office 3 days and working from another location 2 days. This way, the advantages of both worlds can be combined; social contacts and facilitated collaboration in the office on the one hand and the greater flexibility and freedom in the home office on the other.

However, some colleagues stay in the home office full time, while others work in the office every day. There is no ONE model, the right model depends on the needs of the individual, the goals of the team and the corporate culture.

Flexibility as the most important characteristic of hybrid working

The hybrid world combines the advantages of the virtual and the physical world. Hybrid models give employees the opportunity to find the best way of working within a framework. This is a motivating factor and increases satisfaction.

Surveys show that the top reasons cited for working from the office are social interaction and collaboration with colleagues. Top reasons for working from home include not having to commute, better control of work time and better work-life balance.

And here already lies the first interesting finding of current surveys: Even though around 59% stated that they like to work (partly) from home because of a better work-life balance, on the other hand 12% stated that they prefer to work from the office because of a better work-life balance, in order to ensure a clearer separation between job and private life.

The same is true for concentrated work. Again, some prefer to come into the office, while others are more comfortable working from home for concentrated work. Organizations and managers must respect these differences so that everyone has the opportunity to work productively and effectively. Because what almost all respondents agree on is that they would like to be able to work flexibly from home as well as from the office in the future.

At the same time, 1000 managers were asked how much control they want to give their employees over how, when and where they work. 48% said they would give their employees full control. Only 3% said they did not want to give their employees any control at all.

Facing the challenge of hybrid working

But with flexibility comes the need for fixed frameworks to continue to collaborate productively. The team needs a strategy for implementing hybrid collaboration. The elementary questions must be clarified such as: What do employees need? Who will work remotely? Who will continue to come into the office and how often? How will colleagues from the home office be included in the same way as colleagues in the office, so that no feeling of inequality arises? And how can the team’s sense of unity be strengthened if not everyone is in the office together? These questions can be used to derive framework conditions, recommendations for action for managers and a roadmap for the team in a hybrid world.

Strengthen networks

Transparency creates trust

Trust as the basis for leadership

Avoid digital exhaustion

Hybrid work and networks

Networks are important for innovation. In a hybrid world, however, the way we build and maintain our networks is changing. Microsoft conducted a study on this topic with 30,000 respondents from 31 countries.

Networks in MS Teams, Outlook and LinkedIn were analyzed across the different phases of the pandemic. The research shows that in phases of harsher lockdowns, interactions with the extended network decrease, while collaboration with the close environment becomes stronger. Thus, silos are created and innovation is inhibited. In phases with fewer restrictions, contact with the extended network also became stronger again.

These findings are based on data from Lockdown. The future will be hybrid. And here, too, we will face the challenge of building networks. Managers must therefore find a way to promote cross-team exchange and collaboration, even when part of the team is out of the office physically.

Expanding networks in this regard requires resources in both worlds. In the digital world even a bit more than in the physical one. Networking needs to be more proactive and happens less by chance. Managers can promote the formation of networks by establishing a culture in which collegial support is important, for example through cross-team (hybrid) brainstorming.

Trust as the basis of leadership in a hybrid world

Transparency creates trust. Hybrid working helps to promote the autonomy of individuals. Transparency is needed in the process. It is important to know when someone is available and when they are not. The team must not get the feeling that others are exploiting the flexibility of the hybrid world. There’s nothing wrong with extending the lunch break with a long walk with the dog or taking the kids to sports in the afternoon.

It is important that the team is aware of the availabilities, duties and requirements of teammates. It is useful to find a common agreement in the team on how to work together flexibly and hybrid. For example, are there meeting-free days or a fixed, regular team day on which the team meets in person? This creates clarity and reduces uncertainty. In order to create the necessary culture of trust, the feeling of togetherness and inclusion must be specifically promoted.

Trust in the team and trust from the manager are both equally important. A one-on-one discussion with the manager about the motives and decision-making basis for the choice of time and place of work strengthens trust. The manager and team members should also have regular virtual exchanges about current needs and challenges. This creates a common understanding of how flexible collaboration can be designed.

What counts now is not so much the hours worked as the results. If the quality of work remains under the control of the team, this increases transparency. In this way, tasks do not fall by the wayside and the team also works together productively on a hybrid basis.

Avoid digital exhaustion

Where meetings used to be more face-to-face in meeting rooms, in a hybrid world we spend most of our time in front of our screens, hopping from one online meeting to the next. This can lead to digital exhaustion, which manifests itself in a feeling of being rushed. The blurring of personal and professional lives by working from home can also lead to less relaxation.

The increased use of chats also gives many people the feeling that they have to respond ad hoc.

Avoiding digital exhaustion requires a balance of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration and a culture where breaks are respected and encouraged. A little help here can be to start meetings “at 5 past” to give participants a short breather in successive meetings. And why not allow a bit of humor in online meetings, for example in the form of GIFs or vacation photos?

Managers should be role models and set an example of flexibility, while not neglecting the necessary time for relaxation. There should not be the feeling that you have to be available 24/7 for the team or the manager.

Hybrid work and diversity

Hybrid work and diversity

Hybrid work and diversity

The requirements of individual team members for hybrid working are very individual. Studies show differences in various groups of people with regard to the requirements of hybrid working. This in turn results in very individual challenges and consequences for different groups of people.

Young professionals in times of the pandemic

As we described above, networking in a hybrid world is more difficult than it was before COVID-19, when everyone was still present in the office. But networking is especially important at the beginning of a career. This poses a particular challenge for young professionals to build a network and become visible in their companies.

Some of them also don’t even know a working world before COVID-19. Their expectations of working life are therefore very much shaped by the virtual world.

New opportunities and challenges for women

Surveys also show that in a hybrid world, women work more from home than their male colleagues. This is mainly because even in a hybrid world, women spend more time raising children than men.

On the one hand, the possibilities of flexible working can be a gamechanger for many working mothers to better balance career and family.
But there are concerns about the consequences of what happens when women in particular work from home and men are more likely to be in the office. If men in particular are back in the office, they are also more likely to get more attention. Those who are in the same office with their superiors are more visible.

Out of sight, out of mind. Those who are more visible are also more likely to be remembered for important projects or promotions. Informal networking in the hallway or cafeteria has also been shown to drive professional careers.

Accordingly, in hybrid models, it is more difficult to be visible and heard online. We need equal participation of all team members – regardless of where they work. Of course,  also an equal organization of child-rearing in families is required.

Hybrid work and leadership

Management and corporate culture determine equity in hybrid work

Nevertheless, we believe that the hybrid working world offers many advantages for everyone. If mainly extroverts return to the office, it is important that more introverted people, women or people with impairments who prefer to work from home for various reasons can also participate equally and are visible. This is where the hybrid world can present a challenge for diversity and inclusion. The extent to which individuals who increasingly work from home in a hybrid world are disadvantaged in their careers depends primarily on management.

This problem occurs primarily when the corporate culture has not yet been adapted to the new conditions of a hybrid world. Companies must equip their meeting rooms technically so that everyone can participate equally in hybrid meetings – with a physical or virtual presence.

For example, in meetings you can also let the colleagues who are participating virtually speak first. This gives everyone a chance to demonstrate their expertise.

Managers should make sure that they take the same amount of time for all employees on a regular basis. A helpful tool for this can be a so-called team map, which shows how often communication takes place with the individual team members and how they communicate with each other. When it comes to promotions, managers should also make sure to include everyone in the selection process first and not, as is often the case, focus on those who are most visible.

Conclusion

The future of work is hybrid. Right now, we are still limited in many places by the pandemic-related measures, but in the future we will have the opportunity to try out how to be most creative and productive ourselves and how the team works best together. In doing so, each must find a model that works best for them and the team. In summary, the following points are important for hybrid work to work:

  • Mindset and actions of managers and the corporate culture must fit the requirements of the hybrid world
  • Regular and open communication within the team and with the manager creates trust and reduces uncertainty
  • Transparency about the requirements and backgrounds of individual team members enables more flexibility and autonomy for individuals
  • Equal opportunities for participation and visibility for colleagues from the home office and from the office avoid discrimination against individual groups of people.

Authors

Are you facing the new challenges in the hybrid world right now? We would be happy to help you face these challenges and take advantage of the benefits for you. Please take a look at our training courses in the open program or contact us for an in-house measure tailored to your needs!

Siegert_Anja_Conturie

Anja Siegert

Team New Business

+49 941 78 44 75 0

a.siegert@contur-online.de

Göll_Anette_Conturie

Anette Göll

Beratung Personal- und Organisationsentwicklung

+49 511 96 96 8 0

a.goell@contur-online.de

Authors

Are you facing the new challenges in the hybrid world right now? We would be happy to help you face these challenges and take advantage of the benefits for you. Please take a look at our training courses in the open program or contact us for an in-house measure tailored to your needs!

Hybrid work: questions & answers

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Hybrid working is a working model that is characterized by flexibility in terms of time and place. There are different ways in which this flexibility is practiced. For example, all employees can work partly in the office and partly from home or a third location. In other models, some employees work exclusively in the office and others exclusively remotely. And in between, there is a wide range of mixed forms.

The flexibility in hybrid work models makes it easier to meet employees’ requirements for productive work than in rigid models. This increases productivity and also employee satisfaction. For companies, there is also a financial advantage due to the reduced space requirements.

In order to be able to benefit from increased productivity with greater flexibility, certain framework conditions and agreements are needed in the team. There must be no feeling of inequality, and employees from home or the office need the same opportunities to participate. If not everyone is in the office on a regular basis, this also poses new challenges for the formation of networks and a sense of unity.

Hybrid working is practiced in different ways by different groups of people. It offers opportunities for better balancing family and work, which is why mothers in particular increasingly work from home in hybrid models. Studies also show that people with impairments or more introverted individuals work from home more than extroverts. The danger here is that employees who remain in the office become more visible and other groups of people have a harder time becoming visible on the job.

When leading in a hybrid world, transparency and trust are particularly important. Leaders should support their team in finding and implementing the most appropriate form of hybrid working for the team. All team members, whether in the office, at home or a third location, must be equally involved and there must be no sense of unfairness. Regular communication is very important in this regard.

Hybrid working is a working model that is characterized by flexibility in terms of time and place. There are different ways in which this flexibility is practiced. For example, all employees can work partly in the office and partly from home or a third location. In other models, some employees work exclusively in the office and others exclusively remotely. And in between, there is a wide range of mixed forms.

The flexibility in hybrid work models makes it easier to meet employees’ requirements for productive work than in rigid models. This increases productivity and also employee satisfaction. For companies, there is also a financial advantage due to the reduced space requirements.

In order to be able to benefit from increased productivity with greater flexibility, certain framework conditions and agreements are needed in the team. There must be no feeling of inequality, and employees from home or the office need the same opportunities to participate. If not everyone is in the office on a regular basis, this also poses new challenges for the formation of networks and a sense of unity.

Hybrid working is practiced in different ways by different groups of people. It offers opportunities for better balancing family and work, which is why mothers in particular increasingly work from home in hybrid models. Studies also show that people with impairments or more introverted individuals work from home more than extroverts. The danger here is that employees who remain in the office become more visible and other groups of people have a harder time becoming visible on the job.

When leading in a hybrid world, transparency and trust are particularly important. Leaders should support their team in finding and implementing the most appropriate form of hybrid working for the team. All team members, whether in the office, at home or a third location, must be equally involved and there must be no sense of unfairness. Regular communication is very important in this regard.