A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 23, 2022

How Leaders Are Overcoming the Biggest Challenges of the Hybrid Workplace

The 250% investment increase in workplace applications in the past year is not going to solve all problems. 

Many of the challenges leaders face in effectively managing the hybrid workplace involve intangibles like trust, expectations and organizational design. The leadership strategies that appear to be most successful in optimizing outcomes require flexibility, adaptability, frequent communication and, most importantly, customizing solutions to the individuals and teams actually doing the work. JL  

Elizabeth Seay reports in the Wall Street Journal, image Autonomous.ai:

The most effective approach to making hybrid work is one that takes the employee, the work and the team into account, and customizes solutions that give priority to the work itself rather than a corporate desire for uniformity. Hybrid is more efficient when the policy is a meaningful reflection of the work people actually do. Challenges (include): leaders declaring “hybrid,” while signaling bias for in-person work; creating intrinsic motivation; maintaining work relationships; rethinking organizational function; inflexibility; unclear performance expectations. Organizations should be explicit about  unwritten rules, as it’s more difficult to inculcate a corporate culture in a hybrid environment.

As hybrid work emerges as the dominant model at many companies, much of the focus has turned to how to make it work best. When employees work part of the time in the office and part of the time remotely, what are the biggest obstacles to working efficiently? And how can you overcome those obstacles?

We asked a variety of workplace researchers and companies these questions, and their responses revealed the magnitude of the challenge. It encompasses pretty much every aspect of management—getting people motivated, nurturing trust, knitting together teams, monitoring performance, making sure disadvantaged workers aren’t left behind, and more.

But for every challenge, these experts also had a path to overcoming it, and suggestions for making employees both more productive and more connected. Hybrid work, they say, just requires new approaches, new traditions and, especially, a new mind-set.

Here are some of the challenges they talked about—and their solutions.


The biggest barrier to making hybrid more efficient is the desire to have one uniform policy for everyone. The reality of work is that different work—and different people—have different needs for being in person and for being remote.

For example, let’s think about two engineers on a team: one whose job is to test a chip in a clean lab in the building, and the other whose job is to test how that chip interacts with others at different sites. For the first, coming to a work site serves a meaningful purpose: The only place to test the chip is in the clean lab. For the second, coming to the work site is immaterial because they can test from anywhere.

The most effective approach to making hybrid work is one that takes the employee, the work and the team into account, and customizes solutions that give priority to the work itself rather than a corporate desire for uniformity. Hybrid is more efficient when the policy is a meaningful reflection of the work people actually do.

—Jennifer Deal, senior research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California, and co-author of “What Millennials Want from Work”

Mixed Messages From the Boss

The biggest mistake in effectively implementing a hybrid model is for leaders to declare their future arrangement is “hybrid,” while implicitly or explicitly signaling their bias for in-person work. Messages such as, “Oh being in person is so much better than on videoconference,” or, “This conversation is very important, so we should have it in person,” convey a bias that confuses workers. In other cases, too, conveying a bias for in-person interactions versus digitally enabled ones makes workers feel uncomfortable about their remote work days. Leaders need to ensure that their words, actions and attitudes are aligned with the hybrid arrangements they have chosen. Consistency between their policy and attitudes is the only way to build an inclusive hybrid culture for everyone.

Tsedal Neeley, author of “Remote Work Revolution” and “The Digital Mindset”

Fewer Casual Conversations

One of the biggest benefits of working in office is learning from one another—especially for new hires—and sitting next to a tenured employee or a top producer to hear how they handle client calls or pitch a product or service. This is lost when working virtually.


It isn’t always the planned meetings where people get exposure and ideation happens. Often, it’s after the meeting is over, grabbing an impromptu sandwich, or the drive home after work. It’s the unplanned activities that are the catalyst to growth.

State of the Office

Where companies and employees stand on returning to the workplace

Employees choose days to come in

Managers' main challenge when overseeing hybrid teams:




Communicating effectively


Managers surveyed in April said their company’s office attendance policy was:

Among the hybrid workplaces, how the policy works

Trusting employees to get work done


Gauging workloads and preventing burnout







Recognizing accomplishments


Full time in office

Full time remote

A mix of policies

Managers choose days for their group

Company assigns in-office days

No policy

Supporting professional development



How employees would like to work in a postpandemic world vs. what they expect their companies to require

Days in office a week

Full time in office





Full time remote















Sources: Envoy survey of 800 workplace leaders world-wide, April 2022 (attendance/hybrid); Robert Half survey of more than 2,800 senior managers in the U.S., June-July 2021 (challenge); Gensler Research Institute survey of 2,364 employees in the U.S., Oct.-Nov. 2021 (preference, expectation)

Impromptu conversations with leadership and co-workers, discussing projects or personal updates, also don’t happen anywhere near the amount they would if in the office. Not only do these conversations build relationships, but they help employees learn about diverse backgrounds, cultures and traditions, which fosters diversity, equity and belonging.

For companies adopting hybrid structures, don’t let employees dictate when they come into the office. Employees should all be in on the same days, because when different groups come in on different days, it defeats the purpose and prevents cross-team collaboration.

Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network, a national staffing, recruiting and culture firm

One of the biggest challenges is finding ways to nurture social relationships.

We all have been talking about how those hall conversations or coffee chats were important for creative ideas to be triggered. That is not it: Creativity can happen quite effectively through virtual connection. But what those quick chats were good for was to nurture relationships, so that when discussions are primarily about the work, and they involve disagreements, those conflicts don’t erode relationships and the trust that they entail. In a hybrid world, we need to coordinate on time in the office so that we can connect for those coffee moments.

—Francesca Gino, Tandon family professor of business administration, Harvard Business School

Keeping Employees Motivated

The biggest predictor of productive work-from-home and hybrid workplaces is an employer’s ability to create intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is built on pride, purpose, trust and psychological safety. It matters a lot.

Our research has repeatedly shown that it has a meaningful impact on a company’s performance as measured by stock price. During and emerging from Covid, “feeling appreciated” emerged as an even more powerful predictor of value accretion. Why did Covid amplify this effect? Because work-from-home and hybrid models place even more importance on intrinsic motivation.

There are many ways to create motivation. We can build extrinsic motivation by installing glass walls, having open cubicles, and generally giving people the feeling that they are being observed and evaluated. We can have ping-pong tables, kombucha on tap and Friday happy hours. The problem is that these physical (and perhaps less sincere) totems of motivation lose much of their power in the work-from-home world.

On the other hand, companies that invest in intrinsic motivation—encouraging, for example, sincere compliments—are likely to enjoy enhanced competitive advantage in the emerging work-from-home and hybrid environments.

Intrinsic motivation has always been important to the success of companies. But it is even more important when people work remotely, and it is time for companies to start paying serious attention to intrinsic motivation and its impact on human capital.

—Dan Ariely, co-founder of Irrational Capital, an investment-research and development firm

Maintaining Relationships With Employees

For leaders, building relationships with your team hasn’t become less important, even though many team members will be spending plenty of days out of the office. What to do?

Be smart about how you use the time you’ve got in person. Out with the presentation decks, formal meetings and constantly shifting schedules. In with real conversation, discussion, even debate.

Whenever possible, schedule one-on-one time with team members when they’re in the office. Use that time to review work, of course, but to also check in on how each team member is doing. With the fluidity of talent at a peak, it isn’t the time to dominate a one-sided conversation.

When there are meetings with larger groups, each person should have a reason for being there, each person should be contributing in some way, each person should be engaged.

And when the day is done: Say thank you.

—Sydney Finkelstein, professor, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, host of “The Sydcast” podcast

Apps for Everything

Organizations have made significant investments in technology to support the remote workplace. Now, we are at the peak of inflated expectations for hybrid; employees expect a hospitality-like experience with personalized flexibility, and organizations want to maximize in-person interactions. Application vendors are riding the wave by adding new features or positioning their product as the app that solves the challenges of hybrid.

But the reality is that much about humans, including the way we work, is unstructured and unpredictable. Many employees are returning to the workplace to find there’s an app for everything—six or more just to get to their desk. We have seen a 250% increase in investments in workplace applications such as workspace booking, and the markets for workplace experience applications like badging, lockers, health attestation, parking, employee communications and even lunch are in a growth phase.

Not only are these apps proliferating across employee mobile devices but they’re often secured with a variety of methods, leading to frustration. Technology has gone from the great enabler to the great inhibitor. My advice: Don’t worry too much about having an app for every foreseeable need. Invest in key tactical applications you’ll need on day one, such as a method to ensure that workspaces are available on planned office days. Then spend the first three months of hybrid listening and measuring how are employees using the space, what’s going well or not. Then give priority to the applications to make your hybrid great.

—Tori Paulman, senior research director, Gartner

Inefficient Work Processes

Hybrid work isn’t the average of remote and in-person work, and can’t be simply defined as working from the office two or three days a week. Instead, hybrid work requires fundamentally rethinking how an organization functions, and leaders need to thoughtfully design how and when certain tasks get done.

Imagine brainstorming new angles for a creative advertising campaign versus writing an in-depth article on a deep technical topic. One task requires multiple party inputs while the other requires independent focus and concentration. Matching the type of work with the best environment in which to get it done optimizes time and talent.

Working side-by-side enables rapid transfer of information and clear communication that can’t be replicated by working from home. In-person interactions help teams build on each other’s ideas and encourage diverse feedback.

On the other hand, remote work is best for deep thinking, individual productivity and routine tasks. Work-from-home days enable long stretches of uninterrupted time for getting solo work done.

The biggest barrier to making hybrid work efficient today is the misalignment of workflows and processes. Going forward, smart leaders will optimize trade-offs between remote and in-office work and amplify workers’ productivity by aligning tasks and talent.

—Amy Wilkinson, founder and CEO of Ingenuity and lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

An Uneven Playing Field

A major barrier to making hybrid work efficient is the difficulty of creating a level playing field for employees who work remotely and employees who work in the office.

Those who work remotely typically operate at a structural disadvantage compared to their colleagues in the office. In hybrid meetings, for example, it is harder for remote employees to speak up and engage in interactive exchanges than it is for those who are in the room together. It is more difficult for them to build strong personal connections with their superiors that create trust and sponsorship for exciting projects or possible promotions. They also have far fewer opportunities to build networks of relationships with others outside their team that can help them generate novel ideas, solve sticky problems, or find mentors to help advance their careers.

Moreover, there is a potential “double disadvantage” for women, people of color, and other lower-status employees who work remotely. These employees may already be at a disadvantage even if they worked full time in the office. Layering the structural disadvantage of working remotely on top makes them most likely to be marginalized by hybrid work. For their firms, this marginalization is costly not only to the short-term efficiency of their workforce but also to their long-term ability to attract, retain and maximize the potential of the most talented workers.

Finally, even if the playing field seems to favor those who work in the office, these employees may not actually feel advantaged relative to those working remotely—especially if they are not allowed the option of remote work because of their particular tasks or roles. Resentment about unfair treatment and lack of similar opportunities for flexibility can reduce these employees’ motivation and commitment to the firm, further impeding the efficiency of hybrid work.

None of these drawbacks necessarily make hybrid work a bad idea; they just make it critical that everyone involved has their eyes wide open to the potential consequences and how to manage them.

—Martine Haas, professor of management, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and director of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Data show that diversity improves business results. But remote and hybrid work creates diversity barriers, hurting productivity, recruiting and retention. The top barriers are:

Remote work requires much technology. However, diverse and neurodiverse people may have experienced less technology in school. So they may struggle during remote interviews, even when their neighborhood has Wi-Fi. And the disadvantaged homeless simply can’t do remote work. So this deficit will reduce their chances of getting and excelling in remote jobs.

Inclusion is more difficult. Even under the traditional work model, diverse employees often don’t experience inclusion and belonging. And with fewer face-to-face interactions, diverse remote workers will likely perceive that they fit in even less.

Fewer promotions. Diverse employees are already promoted at a slower rate. And a decreased level of exposure to executives may create a two-track situation, with all remote employees experiencing fewer raises and promotions.

A trust deficit leads to micromanaging. Unconscious biases cause many managers to have less trust in diverse employees. And with less human contact, the even higher trust deficit will cause untrained managers to micromanage remote diverse employees and to offer them fewer high-risk/high-reward opportunities.

Less development. Diverse employees have less work experience. They need more formal training, mentoring and job shadowing to catch up. Remote work reduces these high-quality development opportunities.

Isolated disabled workers. Many disabled people have to work 100% remotely. Having almost no human contact will limit their relationship-building with teammates and customers.

—John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University

Inflexible Workplaces

Hybrid work doesn’t need to have just two options, enabling focused work at home and maximizing human communication in the office. The great experiment in workplace design over the last three years broke many taboos about where to work and how to work. These experiments in flexibility should be continued.

For instance, hybrid work could include “pods,” groups of employees in geographic proximity to each other who work in co-location spaces, avoiding the big commute but connecting and maintaining relationships. Pods could also be grouped by function, with technology or sales workers, for instance, meeting to work off site but maintaining the corporate ethos.

A flexible workspace environment has secondary benefits, helping to retain and excite the workforce and win the battle for talent.

—Robert Plant, chairman, department of business technology, Miami Herbert Business School, University of Miami

Unclear Performance Expectations

For the past several years, employers have been in a reactive, rush mode to make remote work possible. Now employers are bracing for permanent hybrid work and crafting strategies to make it more effective and efficient. One of the biggest barriers: performance management.

Even before the pandemic, performance management was a pain point. Layer on hybrid work, and performance management is poised to go from bad to worse.

Why? Employees working remotely often feel they aren’t trusted to get their work done and don’t have clarity on performance expectations. And because we no longer see each other in the office every day, gone are many “in the moment” opportunities to provide performance feedback, see what employees are working on, and collaborate and innovative.

The key to successfully creating a culture of performance acceleration in a hybrid environment is intentionality around expectations. This starts at the organizational level: clearly articulating performance expectations across the business, cascading expectations down to teams and individual employees, and then providing adequate support so employees can meet expectations.

Frankly, unclear goals and poor communication were a big part of the performance-management problem even before the hybrid surge. Perhaps hybrid environments will force improvements that should have been happening all along.

—Melissa Jezior, CEO, Eagle Hill Consulting

Unclear Cultural Norms

The biggest barrier to making hybrid work more efficient is a lack of clearly defined cultural norms and expectations. Few organizations have been intentional about the type of culture they want to create with hybrid work, leaving employees uncertain about how to interact in this new world. To address this, organizations should be explicit about previously unwritten rules, as it’s more difficult to inculcate a corporate culture in a hybrid environment.

At our organization, we’ve tried to address the inherent awkwardness and potential pitfalls of partially returning to the office by explicitly adopting new norms of behavior, setting expectations among staff for the culture we want to create. Some of our newly adopted norms of behavior are modern and different, and so need to be clearly stated—such as being a good neighbor during virtual calls in an open space or giving colleagues transition time between calls by scheduling 25- or 50-minute meetings. Other, longtime norms (respecting off-hours, for instance) are worth reiterating in our new work landscape—especially when some employees are coming to the office for the first time.

—Kerry Healey, president, Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream

Meeting Imbalance

Equalizing the space for everyone in meetings, whether in person or remote, is a critical challenge that needs a solution. In-office technology is decent, but it’s simply not adequate for making meetings an equitable experience for everyone when the meeting is hybrid. Zoom rooms created equity with every person in one box on the screen, but in a hybrid environment, team members on Zoom cannot hear the joke made by an in-person attendee, or pick up on mood or body-language cues when there’s one camera projecting a roomful of people.

—Lauri Putt Needleman, senior vice president, people and talent, Pie Insurance

New technologies like 5G and the Internet of Things that improve connectivity for videoconferencing tools and augmented reality will be key for leaders looking to enhance collaboration between office and remote employees. But beyond high-quality video and sound, we expect the hybrid work leaders of tomorrow to adopt a next generation of meeting and collaboration platforms that connect teams more seamlessly across workplace channels. By combining videoconference screens and software, digital walls, holograms, projections and other immersive meeting technology, leaders can create an immersive experience that bridges the gap between the physical and the digital. These new platforms can also enable virtual-reality meetings that re-create the in-person experience, complete with opportunities for side conversations.

—Neil Murray, CEO, Work Dynamics, JLL


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