From equipment failing to the cat taking a stroll across the keyboard, hybrid working can be trying at times. And while some hiccups are inevitable, others can be significantly reduced by organisations prioritising remote work support.
Recent research from HP has uncovered some of the more persistent hybrid work headaches that get in the way of what is otherwise a positive step forward in the evolution of the workplace. So, as employees grow tired of hybrid work quirks, what can organisations do to smooth over these issues and ensure better collaboration and communication within teams?
1. Shame around technical difficulties
Almost everyone can relate to the frustration of technology getting in the way of a productive day – meetings interrupted by cries of ‘you’re on mute’ or the wifi deciding to play up on the busiest day of the week.
However, HP’s research found that many workers aren’t just irritated and held back by technical issues, but actively embarrassed and ashamed. Younger workers, in particular, reported feeling embarrassed when facing technical issues, skipping meetings as a solution and even purchasing their own equipment to hide challenges. A quarter of 18–29 year-olds said they would avoid participating in a meeting if their tech caused a disruption, compared to just 6% of workers aged over 50.
“This appears to illustrate that seniority is a factor, but the findings could also indicate that tech equipment is letting down younger workers more frequently,” says Dave Prezzano, managing director for HP UK & Ireland. “Organisations should do their best to ensure that employees are set up for success in the hybrid office, with access to appropriate technology solutions. Equipping our workforces with the right technology set-up can help drive a greater quality of experience, while also building confidence and enhancing the productivity of younger workers.”
2. The persistence of presenteeism
One of the nuances of a hybrid set-up, as opposed to a fully remote or fully onsite set-up, is that the flexibility can end up causing more worry than freedom if organisations fail to get a hybrid culture right. Employees can feel pressured to choose their working arrangements based on perceived expectations of the organisation or the opinions of their direct line manager.
Many employees feel they must be present in the office or risk missing out on opportunities. HP’s global study found that most workers believe coming into the office puts them at an advantage when it comes to being considered for a promotion. Meanwhile, 18% of UK workers feel left out of the decision-making process when they’re not in the room. This suggests that presenteeism is still very much alive and kicking in the hybrid workplace and that employers aren’t going far enough to make remote workers feel included.
The solution? Employers need to practice what they preach. If company policy allows employees the flexibility to choose their working arrangements, organisations must follow through and provide an environment that makes remote workers feel as included and valued as those in the office.
However they personally choose to work, managers should clearly outline their expectations around office working to their subordinates and provide tech solutions to support remote workers. For example, simply having video conferencing set up and ready to go in meeting rooms, rather than dialling someone in as an afterthought, can go a long way to bridging the gap between remote and office workers.
3. Outdated workplace language
Communication between teammates is hugely important in any workplace, and hybrid working can leave employees in the dark about the availability or working patterns of their colleagues. When you can no longer just pop over to chat with someone, status messages indicating whether a teammate is online, on a call or taking time off are crucial.
“Working in a hybrid team means that we don’t always know where and how our teams are operating. Instead of looking over at each other’s desks, we now rely more on status messages to signal to our team if we are available,” says Prezzano. “The challenge with these messages – now that hybrid is no longer a temporary arrangement – is that the options are too limited to fully express the realities of a day in the virtual office.”
HP’s survey found that almost 70% of UK workers feel that the status messages we use don’t represent the way we work now. “We should encourage our employees to set custom status messages that better reflect their situation,” says Prezzano. “Instead of ‘away,’ try ‘walking the dog for 15 mins;’ instead of ‘do not disturb,’ try ‘I’ll be ready to collaborate at 2pm.’ These subtle shifts in tone will improve communication collaboration and culture across our hybrid teams.”
4. Meeting crashers and other disruptions
Children, housemates, pets – the average hybrid or remote worker is rarely far from a distraction, and other household members are prone to making guest appearances in the background of remote meetings. While this may have been an amusing home-working quirk to start with, the novelty is wearing off. Whether it’s noise disruption forcing employees to stay on mute for a call or difficulties concentrating on important tasks, productivity and collaboration can easily take a hit. Not everyone has the luxury of a peaceful workplace or a separate home office, so employers should consider how they can support a better work environment.
Prezzano says: “Employers need to support their workers in navigating the environmental realities of hybrid work that could derail a productive meeting or prevent effective contribution.” He suggests that employers should regularly check in with their employees and ask if they have the right technology support that enables them to effectively work remotely.
“UK respondents to our survey ranked a headset with an integrated microphone as the most important piece of kit for the hybrid work environment, second only to internet connection. Peripherals like headsets are now starting to be seen as an important investment by companies to help boost the productivity of their hybrid workforce.”
With hybrid working now less of a trend and more of a permanent feature in our working lives, employers need to ensure it really works as a sustainable practice for their employees. It’s time for organisations to really put the time and resources into getting it right.