Hybrid Work Could Present the Ultimate Management Challenge

Companies across the country are shifting to a hybrid-work model, with the workforce expected to head into the office a few days per week. Employees love the shift, but for managers, the transition to hybrid offers some challenges.

The most pressing of those challenges: How do you keep teams engaged with their work? According to a recent survey by Microsoft, 38 percent of hybrid-work employees thought their biggest challenge was knowing “when and why to come into the office.” Meanwhile, only 28 percent of managers had created ‘team agreements for hybrid work to define why and when to go to the office.”

That lack of “intentionality” is a serious issue; over the past few months, we’ve seen employees at companies like Google and Apple pushing back against hybrid work, often questioning why they need to come back to the office at all. And when you think about it, they have a point: While many tech jobs (such as hardware specialists) demand a physical presence in an office, factory, or lab, the pandemic demonstrated that technologists can perform even the most insanely complex jobs from home.

That leaves it up to managers to provide the “why” for hybrid work. Perhaps in-office days could be reserved for meetings and in-person collaboration (an idea that many companies seem to have embraced); in that scenario, managers will need to push back and ensure that “remote” days are indeed left open for team members’ uninterrupted (“deep”) work.

According to Microsoft’s data, managers also need to ensure that hybrid workers aren’t “digitally overloaded” on the days they’re working remotely. That state is harder to achieve, simply because it’s difficult to regulate how many emails and digital messages someone might send or receive per day. Managers must help team members establish manageable work schedules and avoid burnout.

“The path to performance excellence is built on trust and relationships, not increased monitoring or arbitrary metrics of busyness,” reads a recent report by Gallup on the management issues involved in hybrid work. “Employee engagement captures the intrinsic motivation of workers when they feel supported and connected to their team. Great managers generate trust through relationships; they unlock intrinsic motivation that drives productivity to new levels.”

Managers must regard their hybrid team as a “new” team, the Gallup report added: “Consider drafting a new team charter. Discuss as a team what makes an effective meeting—and how remote members can feel included. Consider etiquette rules and video policies. If employees are coming into the office at different times, how can they increase the possibility of seeing each other?”

Poll after poll suggests that workers and managers see hybrid work as pretty much permanent at this point. That will put more pressure on managers to adapt their practices and ensure their team members are effective and happy. If they don’t succeed, employees have made it clear they’ll jump to a company that offers them the flexibility and benefits they desire.