Results from Employers Association of New Jersey’s 2022 Hybrid Workplace Survey show that over 90 percent of employer respondents utilized a hybrid workplace during the last two years and over 60 percent (either wholly or in partially) continue to do so now.
Hybrid work is usually thought of as some combination of remote and on-site work. According to respondents, 62 percent retain a hybrid or partially hybrid workplace. About 14 percent have transitioned from hybrid to fully in-person.
Hybrid work, of course does not apply equally to all job categories. Therefore, it is not surprising that the survey shows that mostly administrative, managerial, finance, IT and sales jobs are amenable to working remotely.
Challenges abound, including maintaining interpersonal connections, communications and trust to get the job done.
By far, better workplace balance and improved morale are the biggest benefits to hybrid work.
Trusting that the work gets done
The majority of Employer- Respondents – 53 percent - who reported they were once hybrid/remote but now have returned to fully in-person, reported that “trusting that work gets done” as their biggest challenge when they had a hybrid workplace.
Only about two in ten Employer-Respondents say that hybrid work has improved productivity or efficiency.
Employers, of course, were thrust into creating hybrid work because of the pandemic. It was not their choice to deconstruct the workplace. While many jobs were done remotely for decades, many owners and managers have reported that physical presence at work is necessary to promote productivity and to maintain morale. Many employers report having negative attitudes about remote work. A Harvard Business Review survey found that many managers were also dubious about whether remote workers can remain motivated over time.
We did not ask about the level of trust at work before the pandemic. However, research shows that managers who could not “see” their direct reports sometimes struggled to trust that their employees are indeed working. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the employer’s struggle to trust that the work was being performed followed the employee home.
The challenge of resolving a crisis can provide some of the most important opportunities to deepen trust and commitment with employees in ways that not only ensure greater well-being for employees, but also position greater business success when the crisis is over. For some employers that are continuing some form of hybrid work only 35 percent say trusting workers to get the job done remains a challenge. This may tell us that these employers started with relatively high trust levels.
In contrast, 60 percent say maintaining interpersonal relations is the biggest challenge to continuing remote work.
Our survey does not ask Employer-Respondents to define “interpersonal relations” but based on our experience, we can assume that it involves social associations, connections, or affiliations between co-workers. Relationships at work have a direct correlation with well-being, satisfaction and better than average work performance. Interpersonal relationships also have a direct effect on the organization culture.
It would be commonsense to say that trust and positive interpersonal relations are connected. It appears that most employers value positive interpersonal relations at work but not all employers trust their employees to maintain job performance when working from home. We may assume that employers that did not trust their employees pre-pandemic continued that view through the pandemic when employees were working from home. We may also assume that this struggle with trusting employees is evident even when workers are performing their jobs at the worksite.
Employers that are continuing with some form of hybrid work appear to trust their employees more but they are concerned that positive interpersonal relations may be at risk. Physical presence plays a predominant role in human communication. Research shows that roughly 50 percent of human communication is based upon physical body language and 40 percent is based on the tone and intonation of spoken words – not the words themselves.
Our survey shows that employers require employees to report to the worksite as part of the hybrid arrangement. We did not ask how those hours are structured. Many employees have complained that being at work does not necessarily promote positive interpersonal relations. Therefore, employers must maximize the time spent at work to promote that valuable aspect of the workplace culture.
Experts suggest that the best way of fostering co-working relationships is through the work itself. Managers who constantly strive to make work more engaging and meaningful will force their teams to develop higher standards of mutual alignment, commitment and accountability which is the ultimate business goal of healthy co-worker relationships.
Managers can make work more engaging by eliminating bureaucratic practices, minimizing busywork, raising performance expectations and creating opportunities for employees to broaden their skills through challenging work assignments. Thus, the time spent at work is maximized to support the hybrid model.
Our conclusion is axiomatic. Most employers continue to be challenged with hybrid work. For employers that have discontinued the practice, it is unclear whether employees will be more productive and engaged at the worksite. It is likely that employers that had trouble trusting their employees before the pandemic continued to have trouble trusting them during the pandemic when employees were forced to work from home.
The reverse is likely to be true. Employers that did not have a problem trusting their employees before the pandemic continued to trust them during the pandemic when employees were working from home. However, the biggest challenge of maintaining positive co-worker relations within a hybrid work environment remains.