Hybrid Work In Progress

Image credit: iStockphoto/raffaelemontillo

So, the worst of the pandemic might be over, and it’s time to talk about getting everybody back in the office. Or is it?

The answer to that will depend on many things. Many organizations will go through a process of revisiting the remote and hybrid work policies they were forced to implement during the crisis.

Many organizations will find that the new hybrid workforce model can be a big part of a business transformation. It not only saves money on rent and makes employees happier but can make a contribution to organizational resilience and agility.

Virtual fatigue

One danger of the new hybrid workforce model is that employees are burnt out by remote working. It is a phenomenon observed by research house Gartner.

The research firm says that 93% of HR leaders report being increasingly concerned about this. Employees overwhelmingly back the new hybrid model, but there is a downside.

“While exploring the differences between on-site and hybrid environments, our research uncovered that a number of features native to the hybrid environment are driving fatigue, and this is putting employee well-being at risk,” says Alexia Cambon, a director at Gartner.

“In addition, many of the strategies that organizations are employing to ensure productivity are actually exacerbating these fatigue drivers.”

Stress points

Gartner observes three critical sources of remote work stress: digital distractions, virtual overload, and the “always-on mindset.” 

Employees in the hybrid world are 2.5 times more likely to experience digital distractions than employees in the on-site world. When asked to select the distraction most adversely impacting their ability to concentrate, hybrid employees overwhelmingly chose digital distractions as the top culprit.

Investing in virtual tools to drive productivity — as 84% of HR leaders have done — has only increased employees’ exposure to many of these distractions. Employees in the hybrid world are also 1.1 times more likely to feel they are working too hard at their jobs than employees in the on-site world.

High levels of virtualization are cognitively draining to the employee, with 75%of HR leaders agreeing that an increase in the number of virtual touchpoints employees face in their work puts them at risk for burnout.

Monitoring anxiety

Then, there is the problem of being “always on.”

Gartner says that employees in the hybrid world are 1.3 times more likely to struggle to disconnect from work than employees in the on-site world. Forty percent of hybrid or remote employees reported an increase in their workday length in the past 12 months.

This phenomenon is exacerbated when HR leaders adopt monitoring systems: Knowledge workers, for example, who feel tracked are 94% more likely to sometimes pretend to be working due to the pressure to be “always on.”

“Imagine driving a car, and a squirrel jumps in front of your car every 40 seconds. That’s your digital distraction. Now add a passenger next to you who won’t stop talking. That’s your virtual overload. Finally, put this car on a highway with no exit signs. That’s your always-on mindset,” says Cambon.

“So, you’re in a car that’s start-stopping every 40 seconds, with a passenger who won’t stop talking, and there’s no way to take it off the road. Wouldn’t that make you tired?”

Stop replicating

The solution does not lie in trying to make the remote environment a replica of the traditional office; companies should virtualize it. However, the virtualization of office-centric work design is compromising employee well-being.

“Rather than recreate the on-site features of our past, HR must redesign a model that works for our hybrid future — one that offers opportunities for improved performance and employee well-being: a human-centric design,” says Gartner.

The key is having a flexible work experience, intentional collaboration, and more empathy-based management.

It’s all a — hybrid — work in progress. But it is proof that a new work model needs a new approach to deliver on its promise to employees and their organizations.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and HR&DigitalTrends and the editor of NextGen Connectivity. His fascination is with how businesses are reinventing themselves through digital technology and collaborate with others to become completely new organizations. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/raffaelemontillo