Will Hybrid Office Challenges Ease in 2023?

Organizations are still struggling to find the remote-work sweet spot. One (potentially risky) suggestion: Let individual teams make the call. 

As we prepare to enter year four (!) of life through COVID-19, it’s become clear we’ll be spending a good part of 2023 continuing to talk about bringing people back into the office—and whether that means keeping people at arm’s length.

A recent survey of Canadian workers suggests that the sweet spot for remote work is one day per week in the office. But an article by the authors of the study notes that each worker is facing a balancing act. Those working fully remote, or who can come into the office at their leisure, the authors write, “tended to report lower stress levels, higher levels of trust in their employers, and better job performance.” The downside, though, is “lower levels of connection to their colleagues.”

Adding to the challenge is the fact that employees have bristled at hard-line dictates about returning to the office. Amid this struggle, workplace consultant Gleb Tsipursky has an intriguing, if risky suggestion: Take a team-based approach.

Team leads know best what their teams need.

Workplace consultant Gleb Tsipursky

In a recent article for Forbes, Tsipursky proposes that idea as a way around decisions that might be read as uncomfortable at best and dictatorial at worst, and also offers a bulwark against disconnection that manifests as lower productivity, “quiet quitting,” or quitting, period. “The best approach for the future of work is a flexible team-led approach, where team leads make the call on work arrangements,” he wrote. “Team leads know best what their teams need.”

There are a few things to like about this idea. For one, it relieves some of the pressure on middle managers, who’ve been asked to implement a lot of management ideas through the pandemic while lacking much in the way of autonomy or training; a team approach gives them the ability to conduct their own assessments. It also acknowledges that not all teams are created equal when it comes to in-person workplace needs. Association marketing departments that are brainstorming ideas for upcoming meetings can benefit from getting together. Staffers fielding registration and membership requests and tech helpdesk calls? Perhaps not so much.

There are some inherent risks to the idea as well. It can help establish (or perpetuate) silos. It can make different departments competitive with each other, and more difficult to manage across teams. It can fail if middle managers don’t get trained on this kind of management—much as they have with other leadership roles—potentially making them the scapegoat if targets aren’t met and retention sags. In which case, top leaders might stand accused of fobbing off a problem instead of mindfully delegating through it.

In truth, any kind of hybrid environment, no matter who’s in charge of it, will involve some kind of training and acclimation piece. But Tsipursky is right to point out that part of that process should involve a conversation about what people come into the office for, and what kinds of skills are useful in the office. He points to evidence that engagement increases when in-person training is focused on “face-to-face experiences for in-depth training around soft skills, such as effective in-person communication, conflict mediation and resolution, and ethical persuasion.”

Two years after we started talking about hybrid workplaces in earnest, there’s still plenty of debate about how to go about it. But resolving it in the next year will involve focusing more deeply on the question of what kinds of work need to be done, and where it can best be accomplished.

(fotostorm/iStock/Getty Images)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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