Over the past year and a half, we’ve grappled with the switch to hybrid-working. Utilising technology available to us, we’ve connected with co-workers and others in a world where we haven’t been able to meet physically. In fact, by now many people have even worked in a new company for almost a year without physically meeting their colleagues.

Although we’ve had what would seem a lot of practice in the hybrid-working world, a lot of companies and business leaders are not using the technology as efficiently, effectively or engagingly as possible. This often can make business practices slower, productivity lower, and employees to become disengaged. 

So, what are the key challenges of hybrid-working? And, how can business leaders overcome this and what benefits will it bring to their organisation?

Many workers find that the working from home method can bring about greater individual productivity, and allow workers to have less distractions in the office. Karlien Vanderheyden, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Vlerick Business School says, “home working can ensure employees focus more on the job at hand and there are less disruptions than in the office. Many companies indicate that working partly at home increased productivity both qualitatively and quantitatively, and employees get more done in the same time than before.”

So, if individual’s work productivity is increasing, what is the impact on wider, long-term business activities. Well, many cite hybrid-working as a reason that these longer term business decisions are taking longer to make, and firms are becoming less innovative in their future-planning. It’s true to say that the day-to-day activities haven’t had too much of an impact, but longer-term decisions are becoming harder to implement.

The lack of the so-called ‘water-cooler’ moment can ensure that colleagues aren’t having the casual chat about interesting activities spread across the organisation. But arguably, the biggest detriment of hybrid-working affecting businesses long-term is the inability to have in-person meetings.

“One key problem of hybrid working is that we’re no longer able to effectively read body language in meetings”, says Steffen R. Giessner, Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Change at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). “We miss so much vital information in online meetings, that we are unable to recognize when to change our approach to better engage others or respond effectively to those we are conversing with.”

This is something Sankalp Chaturvedi, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership at Imperial College Business School, echoes. “Virtually, we can’t easily tell when someone else has disengaged or is distracted by something in their own surroundings”. Therefore, business leaders have to more empathetic, attentive and observant. Professor Chaturvedi believes that leaders must show virtual charisma, “which requires dialled-up energy levels, clear and simple messages, and a skillset more akin to actors engaging effectively with a virtual TV or cinema audience.”

There are of course a number of other key challenges in online meetings for leaders. Ensuring you have all colleagues attention can be difficult, “there is huge temptation to look at, and respond to the many online notifications popping up in front of our faces, and most of us are only too willing to give it its due, quickly looking away from the camera to a second screen”, says Professor Giessner.

Time is also incredibly scarce for workers too, therefore Professor Chaturvedi says before a meeting is even started leaders need to strictly plan a tight agenda and ensure everyone is needed for the meeting. “Before a meeting is even organised, consideration must be given to its purpose, who needs to be involved, if leaders have the skills required, and whether there is a better way to approach it. Participants must prepare and come ready to contribute, with a short and specific agenda”. 

And ensuring hybrid-working is as effective as possible is of paramount importance to companies. A recent white paper released by Vlerick Business School showcased the five key benefits of hybrid-working when done effectively by companies. 

Katleen de Stobbeleir, Professor of Leadership at Vlerick Business School, says that one of the major advantages of hybrid-working is you can attract top, young talent. “Flexibility in working location and hours is good for your employer branding as younger employees want more control in this area. Employees in other phases of life, such as young parents or caregivers, will also embrace the chance to work from home.”, say Professor de Stobbeleir.

The Vlerick report highlighted a huge number of other benefits for making this hybrid-working effective, including contributing to sustainability objectives, saving on office costs, increasing productivity and energising employees too.

Therefore, it is clear to see the biggest challenges in hybrid-working is reaching long-term objectives, and having clear, efficient and effective meetings. But in getting these right, and leaders ensuring they are adapting to hybrid-working and employees are engaged too, leaders can see huge positives driving forward the organisation and achieving the long-term goals. 

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