Hybrid Work Creates New Challenges - American Society of Employers - Mary E. Corrado

Hybrid Work Creates New Challenges

Earlier this month ASE released the results of our 2023 Workplace Flexibility Survey, and to no surprise, a majority of employers offer some form of remote or hybrid work. This new way of working necessitates that employers develop solutions to the challenges hybrid and remote work present.

Some highlights of the survey include:

  • Out of the 177 companies surveyed, 145 (82%) offer the opportunity for remote work, 106 (64%) offer flexible hours, 103 (58%) offer non-mandated personal leaves of absence, and 42 (24%) offer paid parental leave.
  • Of those companies that maintain remote work, data shows that for the majority of the companies, organizational leadership has authority over determining the eligibility (73%) and number of days remote (67%).  In addition, the manager has the authority to determine the specific days worked in-person (62%). 
  • Of those companies that offer remote work, 42% allow at least two days per week and 28% provide at least three days per week, when mandated by organizational leadership.  32% of companies have varying requirements for the number of days of in-person work when mandated by the manager.
  • When it comes to eligibility for remote work, companies reported that the following groups are eligible: executive/senior management (90%), managerial/supervisory (85%), professional (89%), administrative/technician (57%). All 16 of the companies with production union employees reported they are ineligible for remote work.

If not done carefully, hybrid work can lead to a toxic work environment for many. A study by Donald Sull, a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he directs the Strategic Agility Project and the Culture 500, identified five attributes of a toxic culture: disrespectful, non-inclusive, unethical, cutthroat, and abusive. When these behaviors are pervasive and ongoing, they create a toxic work environment.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review outlines four ways to avoid a toxic work environment due to hybrid work:

  1. Educate Employees about Hybrid Team Conduct – While it's easily assumed that employees grasp the basics of respect and inclusion, it's vital to converse with employees about how hybrid setups and choices can inadvertently lead to toxicity. Emphasize that toxicity hinges on behavior, and how actions are perceived matters more than intent. Start by urging employees to contemplate instances of toxic conduct in hybrid work they might have encountered—such as feeling consistently excluded or encountering disrespectful messages on platforms like Slack or Teams. The goal isn't to place blame, but to enhance self-awareness and sensitivity to toxic behaviors.
  2. Establish a Solid Framework – As Benjamin Franklin wisely stated, prevention is superior to remedy. Concentrate on nurturing empathy and psychological safety. Empathy-centered cultures encourage employees to weigh the impact of their actions on colleagues, aiding in preempting unsettling behavior. Psychological safety is indispensable for addressing issues not prevented by empathy. By creating an environment where employees can voice their perceptions of toxic behavior, intervention will be easier.
  3. Sustain Dialogue – Hybrid teams should arrange periodic check-ins, encouraging everyone to voice concerns or highlight toxic encounters. The frequency depends on the pace of change within the hybrid setting—greater dynamics warrant more frequent discussions. An initial monthly checkpoint is a good starting point, with adjustments as circumstances dictate. Prioritize psychological safety to foster honest dialogue, treating these talks as more than superficial obligations. During the pandemic we started weekly team huddles, and we continue this today. I also hold one-on-one meetings with all of my direct reports.
  4. Swift Intervention – Even with comprehension of the issues, a positive cultural basis, and ongoing dialogues, hybrid work may yield toxic behaviors. A significant challenge with toxicity is its tendency to escalate and spread. Toxic conduct either self-perpetuates or prompts disengagement, further intensifying tensions. To disrupt this cycle, vigilance for toxic behaviors is essential, along with the ability to swiftly intervene, initiate dialogue, and seek mutual solutions. Don’t let it get out of hand before addressing.

Of course, toxicity occurs with in-person work too.  It is not a problem directly related to hybrid work.  But different challenges occur with remote work, and leaders must be aware and preemptively have programs and polices in place to address these new challenges in the workplace.

What types of programs or policies do you have in place to ensure a civil and positive hybrid work culture? Email me at [email protected].

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