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Part 2

Hybrid Workplace Challenges and Predictions

Companies will focus on employee wellness, collaboration, and creativity by making mental health wellness conversations the norm

Workplace burnout is just one employee wellness issue to pay attention to in the world of remote work. The psychological issues of isolation, being overwhelmed, loneliness, and not being able to turn off their work at the end of the day are very real potential dangers to your employees mental and emotional health. Employees who aren’t healthy also have a hard time operating at peak levels.

One in five Americans has a diagnosable mental illness (including anxiety and depression), and the Center for Prevention and Health reports that mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers between $79 billion and $105 billion annually.

Larger companies are taking action by increasing investments in corporate wellness programs. The total budget for well-being programs averaged $6 million in 2021, an increase from a $4.9 million average budget as reported in 2020, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.

Wellbeing programs can include mindfulness and meditation classes or practice opportunities, yoga classes, free or low-cost counseling services, and even time off, if needed. Equip your leaders to notice signs of mental health challenges.

Open dialogue and support is a key factor in combating the psychological impact of remote work. A May 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) showed one in five employees reported that their employer has offered additional mental health services since the start of the pandemic. This is a 35% decrease from 2020.

According to the survey, the number of employees who say they can talk openly about mental health with supervisors dropped almost 10% in one year, (from 62% in 2020 to 56% in 2021). The ability to provide a genuine and non-judgmental ear, then referring employees to proper resources, is necessary practice for remote work leadership.

Companies will develop remote-only perks and benefits to maintain inclusiveness and involvement

Another challenge of the hybrid workplace is giving all employees the same opportunities for evaluation, growth, and promotion when some are in the office and others are not.

Employees who don’t have regular interaction with their team — especially their leaders — may start to feel isolated or left behind.

Be careful that with the rise of remote work, one group of employees isn’t receiving more attention than others.

In the future, we see more companies taking a page out of HubSpot’s playbook regarding potential feelings of disparity. In their transition from a “remote-ish” model to a hybrid remote office model, the CRM software company proactively developed “location-agnostic” perks and benefits that aren’t tied to the office even before implementing the hybrid remote model. Outlining clear guidelines as to what each workplace option looks like, how you can expect your work to look day-to-day, and how you can interact with your team and others in the company is essential to breaking down any fractions that may dare to even start growing.

Our culture is not tied to locations.. It’s rooted in our values, our amazing people, and our mission of helping millions of organizations grow better.
– Katie Burke, HubSpot Chief People Officer

Attitudes will change about the value of remote work by viewing remote as an office location

There is an unfounded but prevalent mindset that viability correlates to productivity.

Gallup shares a prime example of this mindset failing in a report on the perception of remote worker isolation.

In 2009, IBM reported that 40% of its 386,000-employee workforce, spread across 173 countries, worked remotely. In 2017, the company brought thousands back in-office to help combat 20 consecutive quarters of reported losses. The mentality was that employees needed to physically interact and collaborate in the same place, while cutting down on feelings of isolation, in order for creativity to blossom and results to grow. That mentality didn’t work out, and IBM stock continued to drop following that move from remote work.

More recently, “The Washington Post” chief executive Cathy Merrill sparked a day-long protest by her employees after she wrote an op-ed sharing the opinion that employees who choose to work from home are easier to “let go” due to being less valuable.

Employees took the sentiments Merrill expressed as veiled threats at their jobs, though she said her intention was to share concerns about remote work causing erosion of company culture.

One way to adjust your perspective is to view “remote” as a location. You can even designate groups of employees this way in your employee directory and space management software to ensure no one is overlooked.

Nikki Greenberg, the Founder of Real Estate of the Future and Women in PropTech, joined the iOFFICE Workplace Innovators Podcast in a 2021 episode focused on the idea of returning to work. As a digital nomad who relocated for what was supposed to be a brief time to Australia from New York City, Greenberg spoke on the changing mindset of workspace being tailored to the individual.

You can’t put a changed person in an unchanged environment. With everybody working remotely for more than a year, our habits have changed, our lifestyles have changed. To go from that extreme to something else, it’s not working for a lot of people.
– Nikki Greenberg, Founder of Real Estate of the Future and Women in PropTech

Remote work managers need to realize that the expectations of remote workers are different from those of in-office workers. Remote workers want to build meaningful connections, but that doesn’t have to happen in the same physical space. Strong remote work managers will find ways to use technology and intentional communication to recreate the connectivity found in the in-office experience.

Workplaces will become more like neighborhoods

In the same Workplace Innovators Podcast, Nikki Greenberg discussed her new initiative regarding repurposing space in a post-pandemic world, AnyPlace WorkPlace. She shared her strong passion and push for innovating real estate for the future so that there is no underutilized space.

I don’t think that a space should ever be vacant, it should always be vibrant.
– Nikki Greenberg, Founder of Real Estate of the Future and Women in PropTech

If our homes can morph from not only where we eat and sleep and live, but also our workspace, our yoga studio, our schools, and other purposes they took on during the pandemic, other spaces that are vacant can be reborn, too. This mindset is emerging in the development of office neighborhoods.

Office neighborhoods act as a home base to give employees a sense of place and community while still allowing them to access different work settings. Each neighborhood is constructed to meet the needs of the community it serves while also reinforcing the overall goals of the company. Creating a strong office neighborhood is about more than just creating a beautiful space.

An effective office neighborhood needs more than powerful WiFi, access to various types of conference rooms and workspaces, and mail services.

While the term “neighborhood” feels expansive, you don’t have to have a large real estate portfolio to achieve this same result. It can be as simple as smart-sizing down the space in your building for office-type areas and adding in a small business like a coffee shop or café.

From Burnout to Bliss: New Rules for Creating Workplace Happiness

How to recognize employee burnout and what you can do about it