Weighing the Challenges of a Post-COVID Hybrid Workplace

Post-pandemic, companies now must decide whether to allow their employees to continue to work remotely or require them to come to the office. Although staff did work at home for about one-and-a-half years without too many problems, it’s not clear if that scenario will transfer to a post-COVID world. The lockdown was an unusual circumstance, and bosses and workers were forced to be flexible. Now, some say a hybrid work environment is likely to be two-tiered, with on-site workers getting more access, networking opportunities, promotions and pay raises.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, unlike pandemic times when no one had much of a choice, “in virtually all the proposed hybrid approaches, employees choose whether they are in or out of the office.” It believes that workers in the office will get ahead more reliably than those who work remotely: bosses looking for candidates “committed to the organization” are likely to choose those who “put in the effort to be … in the office.”

“It may be a biased and unfair signal of motivation and interest, yet it is one that most leaders will find hard to reject,” says WSJ, which adds that employees in the office will “get more access to leaders … [and] first crack at opportunities that pop up.” Remote workers, it suggests, will “likely be a minority beaming into meetings.”

It adds that remote technology for joining meetings might discourage participation and won’t be as good as meeting face-to-face. “It is also a challenge and arguably more work for supervisors to manage remote workers,” WSJ says. “It requires more scheduling for checking in and more intelligence-gathering and … more running interference for projects of remote workers.”

Another problem is, “anytime we have two groups of otherwise equivalent workers doing the same jobs but we are treating them differently, it’s an open door for legal challenges … [although eliminating] supervisor judgment and biases is frankly an impossible task.”

Actions to “help reduce the two-tier outcomes of remote work” could include “explicit statements from leaders that work from home is perfectly appropriate … training for supervisors on better performance management, and so forth … [but] it’s hard to imagine a system where we won’t end up with two tiers of workers.”

Elsewhere, WSJ reports on the “growing communications divide between the in-office and remote people.” At-home employees noted that, “during meetings, the office people would direct their comments to each other instead of to their screens … tell inside jokes and forget to call on the remote people … [and] sometimes … stand around at the end of the meeting laughing; the remote people were stuck watching.”

It declares that the biggest challenges of the hybrid workplace is that, “by virtue of being in person, the office people will have a much richer exposure to people’s behaviors at work than the remote people,” with a shared reality and language that “simply isn’t available to people outside the office.”

It offers five potential solutions: fewer screens; creating turn-taking rules to include remote workers; avoiding the chat box, which “has the potential to create more than one shared reality”; giving priority to in-person time for newcomers and independent workers; and “when people come to work, give priority to social networking over ‘getting down to business’.”

Related:
Video Window Remote Aims to Help Remote Workers Feel Connected to the Office, TechCrunch, 8/17/21
Workers, in Demand, Have a New Demand of Their Own: A Career Path, The New York Times, 8/18/21