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3 Tensions Leaders Need to Manage in the Hybrid Workplace

0 2 years ago

As hybrid work transitions from a temporary pandemic-era band-aid to the normal way of working, many leaders are wondering how they build an inclusive hybrid culture. The pandemic laid bare existing inequalities at work — around caregiving, race and even age — and while there is an opportunity to “build back better,” the path to “better” is unclear, even for leaders committed to inclusive organizations. This is in large part because not all working arrangements work the same for all employees. A policy or “perk” that benefits some people and makes them feel included, can make others feel like they do not belong or cannot thrive.

When it comes to designing an inclusive hybrid work culture, there are three main tensions that organizations and teams need to manage:

  • First, the tension between allowing employees to work when they want and expecting them to be available all the time;
  • Second, the tension between employees feeling isolated when not working from an office and feeling invaded by communication technologies;
  • Finally, the tension between what practices are possible in a hybrid workplace and what is preferred and rewarded.

The right balance for each organization will vary based on organizational priorities, and on its employees and their interests. But identifying — and naming — these tensions will offer leaders a place from which they can start strategizing.

Tension #1: Working Anytime vs. Working All the Time

The first tension leaders and organizations need to manage is between giving individuals the chance to work when they choose and imposing — intentionally or not — an expectation that they be available all the time. Research has documented the “ideal worker” is expected to be available at any hour of the day, any day of the year, throughout all the years of their careers. During the pandemic, the burden of ideal worker expectations fell especially hard on the shoulders of women, who often not only did their day jobs but were also primarily caregivers for family members.

One way to counter the expectation of constant availability is to offer your team the flexibility to choose when they work, while also making clear that there should be times when they’re offline. There is robust evidence that control over one’s schedule helps employees maintain engagement at work and protect their well-being. However, organizations need to ensure that in offering flexibility, they’re not sending the message that employees should always be on or available. Indeed, during the pandemic, average working hours increased, and people were more likely to send emails after traditional work hours. Even beyond the pandemic, when people do not have boundaries between work and home and are not able to “shut off” work, they are more likely to experience burnout.


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