Hybrid Work and the Future of Workforce Management: Trends and Challenges

There was a clear rise in remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has changed, and there are now subsequent calls to return to the office. The workplace is constantly evolving, and more leaders are contemplating the future of work. Understanding how it evolves can be a deciding factor for success.

Hybrid work is here to stay — what does this mean for the future of workforce management? Managers need to consider the upcoming trends and ongoing challenges of hybrid work. Combining remote work and in-office setups allows work teams to reap benefits from both approaches. However, leaders should attend to the communication and engagement needs of their remote workers.

Stakeholders must understand the drivers of hybrid work to appreciate virtual workspaces. It all starts with recognizing the common pitfalls in this transition. Leaders can then improve implementation solutions and ensure a smoother shift to hybrid work.

Hybrid Work Trends

Until recently, working anywhere outside a physical office was impractical. Due to technology costs, it made more sense to centralize office equipment. Jobs in manufacturing and similar industries relied on workers rendering manual labor in specific facilities.

Management also held firm beliefs about the value of working in the office. It makes collaboration easier because. After all, you get to know colleagues and interact with other people throughout the workday. Real-time office communication that is not face-to-face was also impractical before Internet communications.

Eventually, office technology became more available. But even then, most employers refused to consider hybrid or remote work setups. There are scenarios that warrant a work-at-home setup, such as mobility accommodations. Otherwise, leaders had always taken face-to-face work to be the norm.

COVID-19 challenged corporate perspectives on remote work. Lockdowns required people to limit their mobility. This forced companies to transition to remote work setups to keep operations running. There are businesses that insisted on employees reporting to the office. As a result, they suffered from employee disengagement and productivity loss.

As the pandemic subsides, many employees continue to prefer remote work. To retain top talent, employers must recognize the emerging trends that are shaping the future of work.

Hybrid setups are here to stay 

COVID-19 has caused permanent damage to society. However, it came with one small benefit. People now realize they can make remote setups work. Leaders often fear that remote workers would become distracted. But more often than not, employees prove them wrong with their continued productivity throughout the pandemic. It’s true that implementing remote work setups varies in effectiveness. But many employers were able to keep themselves running throughout the pandemic.

Employees and workers also benefited from remote work.

  • Drastically reduced the chances of catching COVID
  • Removed the need to commute
  • Saved employees’ time, money, and energy
  • Improved work efficiency and productivity

People could also get more sleep and devote more time to other aspects of their lives. This, in turn, contributed to boosting their efficiency at work. Remote work was especially useful for people who had difficulty reporting regularly to an office. This includes people with disabilities or heavy family responsibilities.

Society is slowly shifting to a post-pandemic world. An increasing number of companies are pushing their employees to return to the office. However, many prefer to maintain a hybrid work system. After all, it allows them to work virtually for certain days of the week. This setup helps reassure more conservative employers and ensures that employers can still reap the benefits of remote work.

Employer perceptions are now deeply tied to the availability of remote work setups. Workplaces that do not support remote work or cannot provide sufficient support for virtual work are seen as:

  • Outdated
  • Backward-looking
  • Anti-employee

More people expect their employers to offer hybrid work. An increasing number of people are unwilling to work in jobs that don’t allow for virtual workspaces.

These preferences mean hybrid workplaces will continue to prosper in the future. This setup also has an increasing track record of being effective and engaging. Of course, this idea also has its detractors. We have an article that covers the opposing viewpoint, “Why Remote Work Will Die: A Counterintuitive Perspective & How to MitigateOpens in a new tab..”

Future uncertainties make remote workplaces part of the future 

Another benefit of remote work is that it reduces complexities on the side of the employee. A typical employee has to commute to the office. This can take from several minutes to a few hours. Employees will also have to spend some time each day to prepare for the commute. Because they work in the office, they also need to pack food and schedule errands. But with a work-from-home setup, employees can save money and energy. They will also have more time for work and other responsibilities. 

Many factors can also affect the ability of employees to work in an office. We can’t predict the future. We can’t tell when a pandemic, natural disaster, or political instability will happen. One thing’s for sure, though; another COVID-level lockdown will prevent workers from commuting to their workplaces. In this case, companies doing remote work will have a clear competitive advantage.

According to FortuneOpens in a new tab., “Millennials want two things to stay: high-waisted jeans and hybrid work. In both trends, they have intergenerational support.”

In-office work will continue to exist 

Nevertheless, remote work isn’t expected to fully dominate the future. Some jobs will always require the physical presence of employees. Many professions require products and services that cannot be fully digitalized. For example, skilled trades and healthcare workers. In these disciplines, remote work will never fully displace traditional work setups.

However, remote work can still have significant impacts on how workers do these jobs. Information exchange dependent operations can be done remotely. For instance, telemedicine allows doctors to hold virtual consultations with patients.

Even when work can be digitalized, some in-person activities will continue to be relevant. Client-facing jobs such as consulting will still demand a certain level of face-to-face interaction. Current technology can not fully replicate non-verbal forms of communication. Thus, professions that require emotional bonds like child care will always exist as in-person work environments.

Technology is empowering more flexible work environments 

There are two main enabling factors for remote work:

  • The rise of the information economy
  • Advances in technology

Jobs that mainly deal with information are ideal for virtual work. These jobs do not strictly require physical goods or manual labor. Whether they are conducting research or providing consulting services, these jobs can be theoretically performed regardless of the surrounding work environment. The sole requirement is access to information communication technology.

Before the Internet, people exchanged information through mail, telegrams, or phone calls. With the advent of the Internet, it became possible to post and retrieve information from anywhere in the world with a network connection. As bandwidth grew, more data-intensive applications became possible. Now, videoconferencing and file sharing are commonplace. Modern technology can handle almost all the necessary tasks in a typical workplace. This makes remote work and real-time virtual collaboration possible.

Emerging Challenges for Hybrid Work

Hybrid work is the defining factor for the future workplace. It has a multitude of benefits for everyone involved. Nonetheless, it does come with its own unique set of challenges. 

As summarized by ForbesOpens in a new tab., “The top challenges to effective hybrid work identified include maintaining employee oversight, losing institutional or tribal knowledge and sustaining company culture—all traditionally highly associated with in-person work.”

Companies may be surprised by the complexity of hybrid workspaces. As a forward-thinking leader, you need to understanding these challenges. This can help you ensure a smoother transition toward remote work.

Hybrid work is inherently more complicated for managers

If remote work simplifies the work process for employees, it may make the day-to-day work more complex for unprepared managers. One key consideration is communication since being physically absent from the office makes non-verbal communication extremely difficult. For managers whose leadership style relies on face-to-face interactions, hybrid or remote work can make it more difficult to relate to their employees.

Remote work also loosens the boundaries between work and life. Some people prefer reporting to the office because it allows them to focus on productivity during work hours. Remote work removes these barriers, tempting less disciplined managers to start giving tasks even outside of working hours. In turn, employees may feel obligated to meet targets by extending their working hours. While work-life balance is still possible in remote work setups, it requires managers to have work discipline and advanced planning capabilities. Preparations for remote work can be challenging, at least during the initial transitory period.

Many employers who offer remote work also give employees the option to choose their working hours. However, managing a team of remote workers with different working hours can be logistically difficult. Synchronous tasks such as meetings can be especially difficult if employees have minimal shared availabilities.

All of these complexities scale up with remote work. Unlike fully remote work, hybrid setups mean that employees report to the office on certain days and work virtually for the rest of the week. Having unsynchronized office workdays can make it even more difficult to set synchronous tasks. Team leaders will also have to constantly switch from managing remote workers to supervising onsite employees.

Issues in implementing hybrid work may be pushing some leaders to reconsider. According to ForbesOpens in a new tab., “Employees think they’re being just as productive as ever in hybrid workspaces but bosses aren’t buying it, according to data from Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, which surveyed 20,000 employees across 11 countries.”

These complexities are by no means insurmountable. Adequate planning can help resolve these issues. However, managers should know what to expect so that they can start adopting work processes that are more conducive to supporting virtual workspaces.

Information security is more essential than ever 

Remote work and information technology are inherently tied. Virtual workspaces are nearly impossible to implement without email, digital documents, and teleconferencing. However, the non-physical nature of digital information makes it easier for data to be lost or stolen. From overzealous competitors to nefarious state actors, there is no shortage of potential cybercriminals that can target organizations.

InsiderOpens in a new tab. says that “with the prevalence of hybrid and work-from-anywhere models, companies are re-evaluating their cybersecurity best practices and addressing challenges head on.”

Nowadays, information security is deeply tied to ICT workflows. A multitude of antimalware tools and other cybersecurity software is available to fulfill protection requirements over a wide range of use cases.

Information security requires cooperation from all actors involved. Even the most competent IT personnel cannot ensure adequate security if other employees cannot fulfill best cybersecurity practices. Team leaders need to understand their organizational protocols on cybersecurity, especially as their teammates rely more on digital products and services while working remotely. Building a security-conscious work environment is one of the many essential considerations when pursuing remote work schemes. 

Cultural alignment, communication, and engagement might all be challenged by hybrid work 

A healthy work culture is a crucial ingredient of effective work environments. However, remote work can make it more difficult for teams to build connections and keep each other engaged. These difficulties primarily arise due to communication barriers, especially for non-verbal cues.

When new employees are onboarded, they typically spend the first few weeks getting to know other members of their work teams. Much of this learning comes from informal means such as shadowing more senior members or picking up specific behaviors. There is a heavy emphasis on non-verbal cues during this learning phase, and it can be difficult to replicate the onboarding experience when working remotely.

Remote work can also be challenging in settings other than the onboarding phase. Any interaction that requires non-verbal cues, whether it be meeting clients or counseling direct reports, becomes more complicated if communication is limited to verbal channels.

Despite the inherent difficulties, there are ways to make remote work conducive to building organizational culture. According to Harvard Business ReviewOpens in a new tab., “Instead of viewing hybrid work as a disruption to the cultural experience, leaders should see it as an opportunity to build culture differently.”

Tips for Managing Hybrid Teams

Hybrid work is an inevitable part of the future. Even if future pandemics are taken out of the picture, the flexibility of remote work makes it a desirable work setup for many employees. Employers would do well to prepare for the future by training leaders in managing hybrid work teams. The following guidelines can help managers prepare for implementing hybrid work. 

Take employee needs into consideration 

As the main stakeholders in the transition towards hybrid work, employees should have a lot of say in how remote work is implemented. Despite being obvious, this guideline is perhaps the most important in this list. All too often, managers push for hybrid work without consulting employees. This top-down approach leads to many of the mistakes seen in remote work implementation, such as inadequate communication or the use of intrusive tracking systems.

Be transparent about work plans 

A key step in consulting employees about hybrid work is to ask them about their needs and preferences. Do they want a fully flexible work schedule, or would they want to have common time shifts with their colleagues? What days should everyone come to the office? How should asynchronous tasks be distributed?

In turn, managers should be clear about their expectations of their people. Far from simply setting rules, they should explain their reasoning for setting specific guidelines. The aim is for everyone to understand how their ways of working can contribute towards achieving work goals.

Cultivate purpose 

Difficulties in employee engagement are key limitations of remote work. Organizational alignment is easier to implement for in-office work schemes due to informal face-to-face interactions among various employees.

One way to replicate this experience in remote work teams is to make it explicit. Sessions that directly cover organizational motivations and team goals can be used to align everyone. One-on-one sessions with employees can also help managers understand their motivations and cultivate shared purpose. 

Focus on trust, agency, and accountability

Leaders can easily check up on their direct reports when working in a physical office. By contrast, remote work naturally comes with less supervision. Some managers may be tempted to regain control through strict reporting guidelines and tracking software, but a better approach is to focus on building agency.

Employees have agency when they are trusted to self-manage and work with minimal supervision. Agency empowers workers to take accountability for their work outputs. Cultivating agency requires a relationship built on trust. Hence, colleagues with high levels of trust are better able to take ownership of their outputs and tend to do better in remote workspaces.

Learn more tips on adopting remote work in our comprehensive guide, “Embracing Work From Anywhere: A Comprehensive Guide to the Future of Flexible WorkOpens in a new tab..”

Related Questions

Why is tracking software not recommended for remote work setups?

There is inherently nothing wrong with monitoring employees. However, many of the tracking tools used during the COVID-19 pandemic are unnecessary at best and intrusive at worst. Software that tracks mouse movements and takes regular screenshots gives the impression that managers don’t trust their employees, leading to potential conflict. Besides, many of these tools have workarounds that unscrupulous workers can exploit. Learn more about the drawbacks of tracking software in our article, “Apple’s Attendance Policy: The Pros and Cons of Tracking Employee Presence in the OfficeOpens in a new tab..”

How much communication should remote teams pursue?

Communication methodologies will vary between organizations and among teams. Remote workers working on rapid timelines may prefer small and frequent updates throughout the day. On the other hand, teams heavily involved in content creation may prefer alignment meetings at the start of the week so that they have uninterrupted chunks of time. The optimal setup will depend on team dynamics and work requirements, underscoring the need to consult everyone before transitioning to hybrid work.

Steve Todd

Steve Todd, founder of Open Sourced Workplace and is a recognized thought leader in workplace strategy and the future of work. With a passion for work from anywhere, Steve has successfully implemented transformative strategies that enhance productivity and employee satisfaction. Through Open Sourced Workplace, he fosters collaboration among HR, facilities management, technology, and real estate professionals, providing valuable insights and resources. As a speaker and contributor to various publications, Steve remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of workplace innovation, helping organizations thrive in today's dynamic work environment.

Recent Posts