Hybrid work

How to avoid all the pitfalls of managing a hybrid/flexible workforce.

Sam Tucker

Apr 5, 2021

A year on from the pandemic, employees feelings toward working from home have started to crystallise. The glee of some is self-evident; their Zoom backgrounds well-lit and spacious, and their email send-offs cheery and upbeat. For others, the lockdown fatigue is palpable. Twenty-somethings anticipating a fast-paced work life in the CBD now take calls from their childhood bedrooms, teen posters and embarrassing space-themed duvets just hidden from view. A workplace divide is fast emerging as companies begin to wrestle with the long-term impacts of COVID-19. With the freedom of June 21st at the forefront of many people’s minds, some sort of resolution is necessary to prevent organisational chaos and a decline in productivity as companies move to a home/office hybrid.

Moreover, preference for working from home or the office is often a highly individualised debacle making it even harder for companies to stick to one style of team organisation concretely. It’s not simply a generational divide, although younger people with less space at home and more yearning for social interaction are likely to favour the office model. Gender is a significant factor, as working from home can implicitly entrench expectations that women should fulfil more domestic duties or childcare. For example, this year, women’s labour force participation hit a 33-year low. Naturally, personality type influences preference too, and many individuals have reported feelings of loneliness over the last few months, despite other statistics lauding a spike in happiness resulting from home working.

The challenge of navigating different employee’s predilections must also be balanced with managerial proclivities. Other work models clearly work for different people, but this might be missed by employers when thinking about promotions or team dynamics. For example, much has been said about inequalities emerging in ‘managerial capital’ in recent months. Those working from home will lose out on the fraternity, camaraderie and creativity that can flow from an office space during chit-chats, coffee breaks or after-work pub trips. As a result, they may be passed over for promotions unfairly due to less personal interaction with their bosses or miss developments within the team made out of office and meeting hours. Adapting to individual preference post-pandemic must also be paired with careful consideration of collective team dynamics.

Juggling each employee’s home-work setup, maintaining a cohesive company culture and increasing efficiency is made even more tricky by logistical and practical minutiae. A wide range of video call services has made the medium relatively reliable (although it doesn’t seem the phrase ‘you’re on mute’ will be dying out anytime soon), but the hybrid model can create new problems. With five employees in the office and four at home, workers may need to learn a whole new dialogue of Zoom etiquette faced with the prospect of multiple people speaking through one online account. More generally, the possibility of tasks being forgotten or miscommunicated multiplies as some workers might return to an old-school sticky-note on the desk, not realising their colleague isn’t in the office for another 2 weeks.

Nevertheless, the work/home divide need not spell doom for managers and employers. The pandemic has encouraged reflection and recalibration of so much of our work world that new software is springing up to resolve these problems preemptively. Common Surface has developed multiple mechanisms for effectively balancing the tensions between individual and collective work habits. For example, ‘connections’ allow employees to choose how frequently they go into the office but automatically timetables their visits when most of the team are also present to reinforce a sense of office community. Home-happy workers won’t be forgotten either, as the product’s smart algorithm will send reminders to those who have not had face-to-face contact for a while. Managers can carefully temper all this scope for individual preference via the minimum/maximum day settings, where companies can set how often each worker needs to come into the office. Thus, a community that works for all employees can be seamlessly built through Common Surface without any awkward trial and error phases, leaving more time for businesses to seize the predicted post-pandemic economic boom of the 2020s.

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