During the last couple of years, almost every customer meeting I have attended has started with discussions about the pandemic. In the beginning, the most common topic was whether the company’s production and employees had been affected by the corona epidemic, while over time the focus has shifted to different strategies for the physical presence at work. Should one work from home, from the office or perhaps go for a hybrid model? The variations have been as many as the number of customers I have met, but the common denominator has been the undivided opinion that the hybrid model is here to stay and that it’s the absolute best option we have in a situation like this.
One could easily agree with this, but I feel that the hybrid model also brings many challenges that we must dare to talk about. These are important issues, as some challenges can be directly fatal for your company, if you don’t succeed in solving them.
1. Goodbye company culture
Without physical encounters in the workplace, it’s difficult to maintain a company culture that is based on interaction between people. Furthermore, new research shows that introverts need the social interaction as much as extroverts do. Based on this knowledge, every workplace should strive to encourage a company culture that supports employees to return to the office.
Maintaining two company cultures, one remote and one on-site, is not only difficult, but you also risk prioritizing one of them, resulting in lost control over how the other culture develops. In the worst case scenario, the soft values, such as being seen and heard and sharing a good laugh with colleagues during a coffee break, risk becoming difficult to achieve for those who only work from home. This indirectly makes hard values, such as maximum remuneration for work performance and best employment benefits, becoming most important. Such a development is truly dangerous and benefits neither the employees nor the companies in the long run.
2. There is more to work than the tasks themselves
I am hardly alone in having experienced how much more difficult it is to pick up the phone to call a colleague just to have a little “chat”. Without a direct, explicit question, I won’t call my colleague. But these short social encounters are actually very important. During a chat with another person, you might get a new idea or together you may come up with a solution to a problem. What happens to creativity, joy and brainstorming, when you remove these social encounters? How many development ideas are lost and what does it do to our relationships?
3. Desperately trying to find a gap…
How much time do you spend on scanning people’s calendars trying to find a suitable gap for a Teams meeting? Nowadays everyone’s calendar seems to be even more busy since every single meeting needs to be booked.
One of the more tragicomic examples I have heard of was a CEO who was desperately trying to arrange a Teams meeting. She found a slot that worked for nine out of ten people, whereas the tenth person answered: “No, Wednesdays between 11-12 am doesn’t work for me because then I have my workout class ”. To avoid situations like these, companies and employees need to agree on a meeting culture that must be allowed to take place during working hours, otherwise we will for sure have major challenges in the future.
4. Nobody books seven-minute meetings
Time management is another problematic aspect. The whole idea behind meeting reservations is built on people booking at least half-hour meetings. You must make an active choice to book a meeting that is shorter than that. A discussion that would have taken seven minutes in real life, suddenly becomes a calendar booking of at least half an hour. How much money do companies spend on “unnecessary” meeting time that would never have arisen if the persons would have run into each other at the office and quickly discussed the matter? (PS As an administrator, you can actually set other default time intervals for meetings in Outlook, such as 15 minutes. Give it a try and see what it does to your company meetings!)
5. Others need you
A common argument when praising the hybrid model is the individualistic “because I need it” perspective. The more shameless people can reply with a twinkle in their eye, “how else would I catch up with the dishes / the laundry / my training”, if I am not allowed to take care of those things during the working day? The more diplomatic ones answer that they need to work from home because it reduces their stress level and they need the calmer tempo the hybrid model provides. I can easily agree with this myself, who doesn’t see the benefits of having time to prepare dinner before the children come home and maybe doing the dishes before you need to head for football practice?
But the question is bigger than that, because in a workplace community, not only your but also your co-workers’ needs must be taken into account. You are needed at work, because others need you there. Regardless of whether you are in a leading position or not, there are colleagues around you who might just need your input or experience in a particular case. I have personally noticed that my colleagues often approach me for a short in-person chat and when leaving the room they always seem a little bit happier. Difficulties in personal life will affect the employee’s ability to work, whether we like it or not. Therefore, we need to ensure that there is a safe and secure space, where these kinds of discussions can be conducted. And once again, these discussions will never be easier through online meetings.
I think that most companies and business leaders today are struggling with these challenges. But why doesn’t anyone want to discuss the negative consequences and challenges that the hybrid model brings? Perhaps are many business leaders afraid of being perceived as backward-looking and controlling, and therefore feel they need to accept the hybrid model since everyone else does. But a company can never be compared directly to another company. We all have different types of businesses, cultures and traditions that play an important role and that is not a bad thing, it’s actually what has taken your company to where it is today. Dare to cherish that!
I am missing a discussion where people dare to come up with more constructive suggestions for how the hybrid model could be suitable for their particular company. That discussion needs to start with you and your employees, focusing on how the hybrid model affects your company. If we start here, we make sure to hear all perspectives. Therewith, the chance of finding a customized and successful model increases. Then the hybrid model no longer needs to be potentially destructive for your company, but a model that has been adapted to the situation and that will help taking you and your colleagues to the next level.
Author: Hanna Salo, Key Account Manager, Gambit (part of Atea)