In the spring of 2020, employees in the United States shifted their workplaces to their homes in unprecedented numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, more than a year later, workers are moving back to a more traditional workplace, but how we work will never be the same.
Instead, more companies are turning to a hybrid workplace, with a mix of in-office and remote work. In fact, a May 2021 study of 100 corporate executives from McKinsey & Company showed that nine out of 10 organizations envision a future combination of remote and on-site work accommodations. Despite the strides made with the new-style workplace in the past year, 68% of businesses don't have a detailed vision in place for what a future hybrid workplace will look like.
Without such a plan, the hybrid workplace could turn toxic and wind up affecting both staff morale and the company's bottom line.
"What can start as a confused hybrid workplace may ultimately become more troubled and/or toxic over time," said Dana Case, director of operations for MyCorporation.com. "My advice for bosses is to curb this from occurring early on by discussing concepts for a hybrid work plan. Communicate it among members of leadership. Then, put a detailed vision in place for hybrid or fully remote workers."
Last updated: July 8, 2021
Senior Managers Don’t Work Remotely
Like Case said, there should be a plan for your hybrid workplace. And that plan should be fair. Working from home should be a policy adopted and encouraged across the workplace, no matter what the employee’s job title, several business representatives said.
“People at all levels of the company, including senior leaders, will work remotely in a company that truly values remote work,” said Dr. Edward Smith, a neurologist who is the CEO and founder of Nootropicsofficial.com. “If only lower or mid-level career employees are permitted to work remotely while all senior leadership remains in the office, it is reasonable to assume that remote workers will be unable to advance within the company while remaining remote.”
Bosses Criticize the Hybrid Model
For the hybrid model to succeed, bosses must show their support, said Ann Martin, the director of operations of CreditDonkey, a credit card processing company.
“If a hybrid model doesn't work for your business that's fine,” she said. “Plenty of companies are choosing to go fully back to the office. What you want to avoid is a situation where company leaders are speaking negatively about remote work even while they claim to support a hybrid model. Badmouthing employees who work remotely creates tension in the workplace and undermines efforts to have a healthy hybrid model.
“If you're a leader who notices other leaders in your business doing this, try speaking to them one-on-one. Ask them to reserve their complaints to private meetings and do your best to ensure that any concerns on their part are addressed.”
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Communication Is Lacking
“The number one irrefutable sign of a toxic hybrid workplace is poor communication,” said Katherine Brown, the founder of Spyic, a parental control and remote monitoring app.
“Effective communication is the spine of the hybrid workplace as it bridges the gap between remote and in-office workers. Suppose you notice that your organization is not empowering you as the worker with tools that make communication easy, convenient and timely. In that case, it’s a sign of toxicity that is sure to escalate soon.
“As a team member, it is essential to ask the management hard questions on how they plan to facilitate communication. If possible, come up with suggestions that you feel will make communication easy between remote and in-office teams if implemented. On the other hand, the management needs first to develop a policy that allows employees to be trained on communication in a hybrid workplace. This move should be followed by the acquisition and implementation of infrastructure that makes communication and collaboration possible.”
Technology Isn’t a Priority
Today’s productivity technology has made it easy to communicate from all corners of the world, but some workplaces aren’t making the needed investment to make hybrid work a success, said entrepreneur Bing Howenstein, the CEO of office-chair manufacturer All33.
“Inadequate technology is the biggest sign of a toxic hybrid workplace,” he said. “Without seamless communication between remote and onsite employees, hybrid workplaces would cease to exist. An awkward setup — a mid-size group hovering over a laptop or small screen in a conference room — is all it takes to lose momentum and attention. Instead, offices need to transition into acquiring smart screens, intercom and email-integrated voicemails, making it easy for everyone to show up and stay focused."
Employees Don’t Feel Engaged
“Almost all toxic workplaces have one thing in common: the employees are not engaged in the work they perform,” said Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, a management-consulting firm that helps companies improve workplace issues.
“Poor managerial communication impacts employee engagement by making team members feel removed from decisions and devoid of any sense of ownership,” he said. “In many ways, a boss’s poor communication — or a lack of communication — is worse than conflict itself because it signals to someone that they’re not valued enough to be included.”
Castelán said good communication is more important now than ever.
“In our tight job market, where employees now have many options if they want to leave a company, it's crucial that bosses keep their staff engaged in order to retain talent,” he said.
The Company Vision Isn’t Shared
“Perhaps the most important — yet often overlooked — strategy that strong bosses fail to do is setting a clear vision for employees which provides an understanding of why a team’s work is valuable,” Castelán said. Clear goals help staff focus on working toward that vision.
“Reinforcing the vision and goals through regular communication, both as a team and one-to-one, helps employees remember how their work furthers the organizations mission and increases engagement by making the work feel meaningful. Communicating a clear vision and goals to employees allows them to understand how their work fits into a bigger picture and that they’re making tangible progress along the way.”
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Meetings Aren’t Convenient for All
Alex Magnin, a specialist in consumer technology and digital media, calls them “owl hour” meetings — those scheduled at a time that could fall in the middle of the night for some employees — and they are detrimental to employees and companies, he said.
“Hybrid offices often mean colleagues working from different time zones, but some businesses can be selfish when it comes to arranging meetings,” he said. “Instead of arranging two meetings at suitable times for different employees, they often arrange one that favors their local time zone, leaving others feeling undervalued."
Team-Building Activities Are Limited to the Office
Employees who work off-site often are forgotten when it comes to marking milestones or achievements, and that can spread to other crucial events, said Tia Graham, the chief happiness officer and founder of Arrive At Happy, who has worked with major companies to increase employee engagement and also the bottom line.
“Remote work can feel isolating so the key for company leaders is to create meaningful engagement among team members and ensure there is consistent communication. Just because they aren’t physically present in the office doesn’t mean they should be left out of important activities,” Graham said.
“Leadership needs to bridge the gap between remote and in-office workers and ensure no one feels excluded. Every time there is a meeting or organized event (e.g., guest speaker or happy hour), it should be done in a way that virtual staff can take part. Companies were forced to figure this out during the pandemic, so it’s crucial they don’t fall back into old ways and only hold in-person events.”
Remote Staff Is Micromanaged
Employers need to learn how to manage remote staff in a way that doesn’t indicate a lack of trust, Graham said.
“I would challenge managers and say, ‘Don't monitor productivity based on how many virtual meetings people are on or how often your employees are talking in Slack,’” Graham said. “Look at the results. Look at the output. That is what is most crucial. Otherwise, you will quickly lose top talent. Believe that you hired people with drive and passion. If there is an issue with productivity, provide feedback and work with your employees — don't sit back and watch them fail. Give them an opportunity to learn and adjust.”
Not All Employees Can Access Work Materials
A hybrid workplace can be toxic if there is no system in use that allows all employees access to necessary tools, said Solomon Thimothy, co-founder of Clickx, which assists marketing agencies in growing their businesses.
“If remote employees have to wait for on-site employees to provide them what they need to start working, their productivity is dependent on the on-site employees, which makes the workplace toxic,” Thimothy said. “To address this, I will use a document management system to store all of the company's information. I'll do it so that each employee will only be able to view files for which they have clearance. That way, they can work independently and maximize their potential.”
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