When the Hybrid Work model fails, it can leave workers feeling exhausted

Hybrid working was initially hailed as the “best of both worlds”, mixing home working with some days in the physical office — but is the reality a disappointment? Is it ideal to have to adjust to two totally different working settings week after week? And factoring in the commute, is it potentially doubling the effort needed? Let’s examine the context, transition needed and readiness of many workers to make the hybrid working effective for them as an individual and ways to support a positive implementation.

Hybrid working, commuting again and routine change is exhausting!Recently a contact shared this with me: “I had to go into the physical office yesterday for the first time, it was terrible; the commute time, then I couldn’t find parking, when I actually got to my desk none of my IT set-ups would work or connect to the office network and then later, at lunch, my usual café was shut. By the end of the day, on the commute back to my home office, I really wondered why I had bothered to make the effort at all as I was totally exhausted!”.I wasn’t surprised at hearing this. The move to the hybrid model was the default for organisations’ that had physical offices and leases as they planned their move out of pandemic and emergency home working. In 2021 it became the focus, by default but often its implementation was stalled by further local restrictions and also a lack of capacity to prepare fully for the transition. Many organisations have been in “contingency” mode for far too long.

It is neither here (in office) nor there (remote) One of the most significant problems with a hybrid model is its potential to lead to a confusing organisational identity and a bewildered individual worker status. It is a halfway house between fully remote and in person, making it extremely difficult to implement effectively. Issues in its implementation can span the gambit; from lack of strategic alignment and agreement to issues with workspace planning and logistics to worker inequality and ultimately a negative impact on worker wellbeing. All in the already delicate context of a global pandemic.

International remote work expert Laurel Farrer highlighted the potential for inequalities arising from hybrid model implementation: “Without intentional change management and equality support, hybrid models can be riddled with complications and potential blind spots” Source: @Forbesread article here.

Moreover, like any planned organisational change programme, it requires focused effort and time to implement, both of which have been in short supply in recent pandemic times. Finally, the one thing we know emerging from the pandemic is that workers want and demand more flexibility. A rigid or unfinished hybrid model can quash that and disappoint workers, leaving them feeling rejected and frustrated.

Disrupting an already fragile routine and balance At its most basic level, moving to hybrid involves a routine change for workers. Asking them to have a fixed home and remote working schedule can cause serious disruption. “Moving to hybrid has the potential to disrupt someone’s home-working routine,” explains Gail Kinman, a chartered psychologist and fellow of the British Psychological Society. “Hybrid practices haven’t become second nature yet, so it takes greater energy, organisation and planning. You have to form new strategies — hot-desking, planning commutes — that you wouldn’t need if you were fully remote or in-person.” Source: BBC News articleread article here.

Again upsetting a schedule and rhythm that has often been hard-won and fought for, can cause major disdain and frustration from individual workers.

A considered approach to hybrid, in 3 steps

Step 1: Launch a pilot to test the approach- Testing and trialing any approach to a new model has been the chosen route for some organisations, outlined below:

  • adopt a hybrid model pilot as the first stage
  • invite volunteers to test the new model
  • create a working group to support the pilot
  • support pilot volunteers practically with additional time and time back for commuting and testing the new model
  • top up wellbeing supports for this pilot group, including opportunities to talk in confidence via concerns and mental health considerations
  • review and learn from the pilot feedback, ensuring that issues are identified and rectified before a full operational rollout organisation-wide
  • Read more about this pilot approach from expert Ram Srinivasan, from JLL, read the full article here.

Step 2: Create a Hybrid Working Charter for your teams During the transition to Hybrid Working, keeping team norms in availability, communications, online presence, workflows and expectations clear, is paramount. Linda Hill, professor at Harvard Business School, explains it as: “Have an explicit discussion about how and when you’re going to communicate, who has access to what information, who needs to be in which meetings, and who needs to be in on which decisions”. She recommends coming to an agreement on norms for communicating — Should people always include the entire team? Must recipients acknowledge every message? — and set guidelines for when to use what channel — email, Slack, phone, etc. Read more about here.

Step 3: Foster compassionate leadership, that is really ready to lead change A reminder, we are asking leaders to be hybrid model transition ready too! Recently I wrote about remembering that leaders are humans too, that they need to put on their own lifejacket first, before being able to attend to others. When we are planning any sort of organisational model transition, leader readiness, compassion and overall wellbeing have to be considered. Fundamentally, as part of the workforce, leaders are also being asked to move to a hybrid model and also advocate and lead others in that transition. It is a major task and ask. Employers need to realise how big an ask it is, for both their leaders and the wider workforce

In summary, appreciating the potential negative impacts and nuances of the hybrid model on workers is the first step in moving to action and planning carefully the transition. Factoring in the least disruptive, most considered and careful move that ensures workers feel supported in the adoption of the new model in practice.

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Originally published at https://www.rowenahennigan.com on February 1, 2022.

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Remote work advocate, educator, lecturer, keynote speaker and author. Follow me on Linkedin and sign up to the Newsletter “Remote Work Wellbeing Digest”.

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