- The rapid acceleration of hybrid and remote work during the pandemic represents a seismic shift for organizations.
- By leveraging internal capabilities, incorporating external support, listening continuously, and driving ongoing enhancements, companies can foster flexibility without sacrificing connectivity, creativity, or culture.
- Three HR leaders outlined several major upsides that hybrid work strategies can unlock when executed deliberately.
The rapid acceleration of hybrid and remote work during the pandemic represents a seismic shift for organizations. While enabling greater flexibility, this dispersal of work also risks fracturing company culture, stunting collaboration, and isolating employees.
To provide guidance on realizing the benefits of hybrid arrangements while avoiding the pitfalls, I interviewed three experienced HR leaders on hybrid work strategies: Sharlene Shikhmuradova, Director of Talent and Culture at the Clean Slate Initiative; Carrie Krehlik, former Chief Human Resources Officer at Global Blood Therapeutics; and Lupe León, former Chief Human Resources Officer at Golden West Packaging Group.
Capturing the Benefits
These HR leaders outlined several major upsides that hybrid work strategies can unlock when executed deliberately:
- Increased Flexibility and Work-Life Balance: “Hybrid work allows employees to split time between office and home, giving them more control over their schedules,” explained Krehlik. “Employees can work when and where they can make the greatest contribution and are most productive. Greater autonomy improves work-life balance and job satisfaction.”
- Expanded Access to Diverse Talent: “With location constraints removed, organizations can recruit anywhere,” noted Shikhmuradova. “Tapping into talent globally substantially widens your pool of potential candidates, enabling companies to assemble the best hybrid teams.”
- Enhanced Employee Empowerment: “Hybrid arrangements signal trust in employees to get work done responsibly, wherever they are most productive,” emphasized León. “Workers feel treated more like professionals than hourly laborers. This empowerment boosts engagement and morale.”
- Sustainability Benefits: “By enabling remote work, organizations shrink their carbon footprint through reduced commutes and office needs,” said Krehlik. “Employees driving less also cuts emissions. The environmental benefits make hybrid models very attractive.”
Mitigating the Risks
However, our experts warned hybrid approaches also pose serious hazards that require mitigation:
- Employee Isolation: “Remote workers can quickly feel disconnected from colleagues and culture,” cautioned Shikhmuradova. “Virtual fatigue is common. Younger staff may also miss out on mentorship and growth opportunities from limited in-person interactions.”
- Stunted Collaboration: “Creativity suffers without spontaneous in-person brainstorming and bonding,” noted León. “Relationship building erodes over time. Innovation and culture are both degraded by the collaboration void.”
- Perceptions of Inequity: “Hybrid work can breed resentment between remote and on-site team members,” warned Krehlik. “Those employees required to be in the office more regularly can perceive unfair treatment compared to employees in full-time hybrid roles.”
- New Health Concerns: “Improper home office setups often lead to ergonomic issues,” said Shikhmuradova. “Mental health can also suffer from isolation and burnout. Viral outbreaks remain ongoing concerns as well.”
Guidance for HR Leaders
To tackle these challenges, our experts offered five key recommendations for HR leaders responsible for guiding successful hybrid strategies:
- Leverage Internal Expertise: “HR should take the lead collecting data on engagement, culture, and other pain points through surveys and pulse checks,” advised Krehlik. “Learning teams can improve onboarding and training. Employee communication focuses on reinforcing culture. HR can support business leaders in how to effectively manage and lead in a hybrid work environment.”
- Curate Useful Resources: “HR plays a critical role identifying and sharing resources on mental health, ergonomics, teambuilding, and more to support hybrid teams,” explained Shikhmuradova.
- Listen and Iterate: “Continuous feedback through pulses and stay interviews uncovers what’s working and what’s not,” noted León. “HR must use these insights to refine policies, programs, and tools to address areas of concern.”
- Bridge Perceived Divides: “HR serves as a connector between groups feeling disconnected or resentful,” emphasized Krehlik. “They must represent all voices and address any real or perceived unfairness.”
- Incorporate External Perspectives: “Third-party specialists like consultants provide an objective outside lens on problems,” said Shikhmuradova. “Vendors also offer valuable tools for listening, learning, ergonomics, and culture building.”
The Elevated Role of HR
Our experts emphasized HR’s amplified importance in this new world of dispersed work. Key responsibilities include:
- Advisors to Leadership: “HR guides leadership on hybrid strategy, providing data on effectiveness and issues,” explained León. “They recommend evidence-based policies to support hybrid teams based on employee feedback.”
- Culture & Inclusion Guardians: “HR holds responsibility for actively nurturing culture, community, and inclusion in a distributed environment,” noted Shikhmuradova. “This requires creativity and constant reinforcement through activities and technology.”
- Coaches to Managers: “HR must educate and provide ongoing support to managers to lead hybrid teams effectively, focusing on engagement, flexibility, and employee wellbeing,” said Krehlik. “They coach managers to support all team members no matter work location.”
- Conduits Between Groups: “HR ensures all voices are heard, while providing support to managers and addressing issues raised by employees,” emphasized León. “They are the bridge connecting remote staff to leadership.”
- Continuous Improvement Drivers: “The world of work continues shifting, so HR must listen and refine strategies constantly,” cautioned Shikhmuradova. “Regular assessments and incremental enhancements are essential to optimize the hybrid experience.”
The Future is Undoubtedly Hybrid
“Hybrid work is here to stay — the new norm for knowledge workers,” noted León.
With diligent effort from HR experts like these leaders, organizations can embrace hybrid’s advantages while dodging the risks. That’s similar to what I tell the 5-10 HR leaders who contact me every week for advice about hybrid work models.
By leveraging internal capabilities, incorporating external support, listening continuously, and driving ongoing enhancements, companies can foster flexibility without sacrificing connectivity, creativity, or culture.
The future is hybrid. Guided by the insights of leaders like Krehlik, Shikhmuradova, and León, organizations can thrive in this new dispersed work paradigm. HR holds the key to unlocking the full potential of hybrid work: a brighter future within reach.