The workplace has been through a lot of changes in the past 100 years. The five-day work week. The open office plan. Cubicles. Personal Computers.
But few things have created the kind of sudden seismic shift now shaking up the business world: the hybrid office, a combination of remote and onsite working, which radically alters both time and space – the five-day-a-week 9-5 routine, and the bricks and mortar of the physical workspace.
In a way, it was a long time coming. What technology has made possible, the Covid-19 pandemic instantly made necessary. Kitchen offices and Zoom meetings sprang up overnight as we went into lockdown. A year later, the fluorescent lights are starting to flicker back on, the whirr of copiers can be heard throughout the land, and the highways are once again filling up with morning commuters. But only for some of us.
Others, for reasons of convenience and flexibility, have opted for a continuation of remotely reporting for work. The result is a hybrid workforce, employees working together on the same goals but from different environments, daily demands, and experiences.
The effects of this workplace evolution are sweeping and transformational. Some experts believe that such hybrids will comprise 60% of all companies.
There are advantages to such a model:
- More freedom and flexibility for remote workers to structure work around other obligations
- The ability to expand workforce to distant geographical areas, increasing talent pool
- Greater cost-effectiveness as businesses can cut back on office space, travel, and utilities
However a veritable hydra of challenges comes with the hybrid model. What could be sacrificed on the altar of convenience are such intangibles as camaraderie, close teamwork, and the kind of informal connections that occur in the hallway or on the way to the coffee machine. A Harris Poll found that most at-home employees miss on-the-job socialization, collaboration with co-workers, in-person brainstorming sessions, and scheduled face-to-face meetings.
On-site workers, with their proximity to decision-makers can be perceived as having an advantage over their remote colleagues. “You run the risk of creating in-group and out-group dynamics in hybrid teams,” says organizational design researcher Marco Minervini. “There’s consistent evidence to show that in-group and out-group dynamics reduce collaboration and increase conflict.”
The technological miracle of digital communication that has brought us the revolution has by its nature increased the likelihood of conflict and confusion. Minervini points out that people tend to be on their best behavior when interacting face to face. “And the lack of shared social identity that is more common in partially distributed teams can harm team effectiveness and performance, by impairing trust and team spirit,” he says.
The team fracturing, isolation, loss of spontaneity, and lack of bonding opportunities brought about by the hybrid model, if not addressed thoughtfully, can send creativity, productivity, and morale plummeting. The Harvard Review, in pointing out that the office has never been just about work, says that the office is “where people build trust through personal interaction, learn the nuances of their job, and build and maintain organizational culture.”
But the hybrid model, the latest chapter in the evolution of work, is here to stay. Thus, it is even more important than ever to focus on building strong teams. Many companies are experimenting with creative solutions, including,
- Models that have employees working as teams onsite and working remotely on individual projects.
- A commitment to transparent consistent communication with both remote and onsite groups.
- “Modularization,” dividing work into tasks that employees can do independently and collaborate on the whole project.
- Allowing time for fun employee outings, in which colleagues can reconnect personally and establish relationships that carry over into the workday.
With nearly a quarter of a century of experience building and strengthening teams, Group Dynamix is a valuable resource for helping you bridge the hybrid divides. We do it with purposeful fun outings that bond, exciting events that reconnect and re-energize, and impactful programs that develop groups into effective teams. At their core, the key ingredient is relationships. And for that, you have to get together to make it happen.