A lot has happened in the past two years that have dramatically altered the way we define the concept of ‘work’. It is clear that hybrid working isn’t going anywhere and there has been a mixed bag of feelings about this working style. We’ve gone from feeling isolated during lockdowns, to loving avoiding the commute, to thinking about how we can use this model to its full potential.
There are many benefits that hybrid working can bring, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t many real challenges. Remote working, for all its benefits, does not come naturally to everyone. Without seeing your team in-person, we can miss the subtle dynamics that help us be perceptive leaders.
Remote working also comes with challenges, for example, employers may also not discover that their remote employees are struggling before they disengage or look to alternative employment.
What are the challenges of hybrid work?
When you are in the office, it is easy to get a sense of vibe. You can pop over to your colleague’s desk, meet someone in the lunchroom or gather for a chat around the coffee machine. It is easier to interact socially, convey information quickly and get a quicker lay of the land. For those working remotely however, this is reduced to text and video on a screen. While remote working has made it easier for us to avoid distractions, it’s also made spontaneous communication far more challenging.
Remoteliness is a feeling of loneliness experienced when working remotely. In the absence of the bustle of the office, workers can begin to feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues and organisation. Even though 94% of workers want to continue working from home in some capacity on a permanent basis, there are a few things we miss about the office. 54% of our survey respondents said they missed being able to easily speak to coworkers, and 44% said they missed the sense of camaraderie with their team.
Like regular loneliness, remoteliness is a very subjective feeling depending on the individual. Some people may be able to spend long amounts of time alone and never feel a sense of remoteliness, for others, it may appear soon after they enter a remote work environment.
Work-life balance is a paradox of the hybrid working environment. Without the commute and time spent in the office, remote workers get much more time back in their day. But, it also means that they integrate their working life more fully into their home spaces. When your laptop is in the same room as your couch, what’s stopping you from picking it up and flicking through emails? Unlimited access to work tools can make it all-too-easy for many employees to log on after work hours and be contacted 24/7. Before they know it, employees feel overwhelmed and overworked.
Our move to remote work has not happened in a vacuum. We’ve made the switch during an uncertain and chaotic time, which has negatively affected many employees and their family members. The stress of uncertainty is difficult to spot and remedy in a remote environment. Such anxiety can cause disengagement, a lack of focus, overwhelming fatigue and a drop in interest.
What warning signs can HR leaders and managers look out for?
- Withdrawal from communications
No morning greetings, one-word answers, a drop in contribution on team meetings; these are all signs that your remote employee may be struggling. This is especially true if they were a very active communicator when working face to face and you’ve noticed a shift.
How to tackle it: One-on-one (1:1) meetings are a manager’s best tool to confront these types of issues. These confidential weekly meetings between an employee and their direct reports build a sense of trust, and make it easier for the attendees to open a constructive dialogue.
If you have one, share the details of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with your team. This confidential counselling service can help your team members feel supported through tough times. If you don’t have an EAP, reminding your team of trusted mental health resources is a good alternative.
- Cameras constantly turned off
We all have mornings when we’re not feeling like our most glamorous selves. We might have our hair in a towel, or be wearing our laundry day outfits. Once in a while, turning your camera off is no big deal; but if your team member never has theirs on, it’s a sign of disengagement.
How to tackle it: Firstly, create a culture of ‘cameras on’ at your company. Leaders should always have their cameras on and be visually engaging, setting an example for good remote communication etiquette. You may even wish to make a general request at the start of a Zoom call for all employees to have their cameras on.
- A drop in productivity
If your employee is missing deadlines, dragging out their tasks and not meeting their role requirements; this is a big red flag. They could be feeling demotivated by the lack of an office environment, losing interest in their role or struggling to prioritise.
How to tackle it: Does your team have a task management system in place to manage its deadlines, priorities, and the workload of team members? How about clearly defined goals articulated through a step-based process like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)? Using these tools can help increase transparency around visibility around productivity and help you and your employees to discuss the workload and priorities that everyone has.
A confidential conversation can also help employees to reveal that their workload is too much if they do not feel comfortable expressing it openly. They may be fielding too many requests from other sides of the business, or there could be a knowledge gap which is keeping them from completing their tasks.
- Resistance to opportunities
When we feel disconnected from our work, we lose interest in growing or developing within our roles. If your team member has turned down opportunities for; learning or coaching, team-building days and events, celebrations, rewards, recognition or career progression – it’s likely that all is not well.
How to tackle it: Assign your employee the task of sourcing their own development opportunity. This could be enrolling in a short course, finding a mentorship or attending an event that they’ve always wanted to be a part of. Show that you want to invest in them, however they choose to learn.
Empowering them will not only support remote employees in re-engaging with career development, gaining new knowledge could help them rediscover why they were interested in their role in the first place.
- They’re online constantly, or not at all
Being situated at either end of this spectrum is a red flag.
Unless you have an asynchronous working agreement, spotting your employee online at all hours of the day is a sign that their work-life balance is taking a hit. There’s very little pay-off for this style of working. Our research shows that employees who felt they lacked work-life balance were a whopping 174% more likely to experience low productivity.
To the other extreme, frequently being offline is another obvious warning sign that your employee may be struggling to stay present. While you don’t want to establish a surveillance culture – everyone is going to be offline sometimes throughout the day for well-deserved breaks and general interruptions – a constant inactive status might be cause for concern.
How to ensure remote working employees thrive:
We recommend tackling this one head-on during your 1:1 meeting. In the case of your team member always being offline, have a gentle check-in to say you’ve noticed they’re offline during the day and offer assistance to get them back on track.
If they’re always online, offer to help them prioritise their workload or delegate tasks to others. Discuss strategies about setting up their workspace or devices so that they’re not tempted to log on at all hours of the day. Leaders should also set an example; don’t reward working overtime or outside hours and make sure that you are taking adequate time to rest.