Return to F2F Work or Hybrid Work?
After a period of remote work, many teams around the world are returning to face-to-face (F2F) work or switching to hybrid models to support future work efforts. This significant change can come with an adjustment period, but you can help your team make this a seamless transition with the right leadership skills and mindset.
Traditional Work Formats vs. COVID and Remote Work
COVID-19 caused a dramatic change in work settings worldwide. In various countries and contexts, anyone who didn’t need to be physically at work to do their job transitioned to remote work almost overnight. This was a considerable change. Leadership styles, work hours, patterns of interaction among employees and with managers, online etiquette, work/life balance, etc., had to be adapted to a new work environment, where the boundaries between work and personal life were blurred and not easily determined. We all incorporated different work practices from this relatively new environment, but not without bumps. Now, after many employees and leadership teams have gotten used to remote work, companies are transitioning to time back in the office where meetings, discussions, and tasks can be completed F2F. This is another significant change. In this blog post, we will reflect on relevant aspects related to this return to F2F work.
Return to F2F Work Trends
As more people transition back into F2F work, some trends are becoming apparent. Several companies have already started the transition, enabling you to learn from their information and adapt your leadership practices to find a better course of action.
Common Issues to Consider:
Difficulty Adjusting—F2F work can feel like a strain after our employees have gotten used to working from home. Besides the time spent getting ready for work and commuting, the interaction with colleagues at work also poses doubts and fear to many. COVID-19 is not over, and employees still worry about several aspects, including vaccine status, the use of masks, the number of people in F2F meetings, and other factors. Additionally, they will not be able to manage work and their private lives in the same way as when they were working from home.
Social Disparities—The way that we communicated during remote work periods fundamentally changed. Now, we need to (re)learn how to interact in F2F environments, where employees still need to take precautions given the existing pandemic reality.
Mask Mandate Confusion—Offices worldwide have adopted their own mask and vaccination policies, which can be difficult to discuss with employees.
Hybrid-Working Models: Embracing Flexibility
Despite the challenges in establishing the boundaries between work and private life, many employees have discovered more advantages than disadvantages in working from home, such as (1) being more productive and straight-forward in meetings, (2) focusing on the tasks being done rather than on the number of hours spent in the office, (3) not wasting time commuting to work, (4) being able to do housework during breaks, and (5) being closer to family members, including kids, are some of the frequent advantages identified by many employees who transitioned to the home office environment. Therefore, returning to the F2F reality can be challenging and, in some instances, may cause many to resign. We frequently hear employees openly expressing their preferences for a hybrid-working reality.
Many companies have announced plans to embrace the hybrid-working model. Some of the reasons indicated in a recent HBR article are: businesses believe productivity can be leveraged as many employees will most probably be available 24/7; employees, Millennials, in particular, are threatening to quit if they are not allowed at least hybrid-working models; and finally, the assumption that once employees are allowed flexible work formats, they automatically experience more harmony in their work-life balance.
Despite all the discussion related to what hybrid work means, this is an important avenue to help employees adjust while transitioning back to F2F work environments. Companies need to consider when being in the office will create real value. The opportunity to see, interact and collaborate with colleagues F2F is beneficial in specific contexts and for certain purposes. Still, companies need to understand when the gains will outweigh the losses and strike a balance between home-office and F2F work whenever possible. Providing a hybrid option, where employees spend some time in the office and some time at home, can be beneficial for easing them back into the office. Flexibility is one of the most critical leadership skills to embrace, and right now, it can have a significant impact.
Tips on How to Lead in Hybrid-Working Models
Leading in Hybrid-Working models is a new challenge that is being embraced and overcome by leaders around the world. Let’s explore tips to help you successfully guide your team in this environment.
Actively communicate with your team and bring them into the discussion on how to maximize the hybrid-work environment. You can do that in informal one-on-one conversations, quick online surveys, group chats, etc.
Be supportive and understanding of employees and their concerns. Encourage them to share their thoughts and anxieties with you.
Be optimistic about this change and reinforce the value of F2F collaboration and peer learning.
Articulate your priorities and invest even more in communicating your plans regarding what is to be accomplished F2F and when working remotely. Remember that F2F work needs to be perceived as relevant. Be explicit about your expectations.
Make time spent during F2F work productive and engaging. Reinforce the company culture, engage with new hires and draw their attention to the expected collaboration and interaction patterns at the organization, reinforce the sense that you share a common mission.
Coach, support, recognize their efforts and hold your employees accountable for what is expected from them in the different contexts.
How is your organization dealing with the return to F2F work? What other best practices would you like to share with our readers? Leader Essentials Group can work with your management team and help them devise a plan to navigate the current challenges of hybrid-work environments better. For more information, email email@example.com.
Vera Alves is the Chief Consulting Officer at Leader Essentials Group, with extensive experience in leadership development and business management. With over 12 years of experience as a C-suite executive, Vera is highly skilled in the areas of leadership, strategic planning, operations management, organizational behavior, and change management. She possesses highly developed communication, training, and linguistic skills reflective of a very strong and charismatic leadership style.
________________________________________________________________________  Grenny, J. & Cullimore, D. (2021). How to Have Those Difficult Return-to-Office Conversations. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from How to Have Those Difficult Return-to-Office Conversations (hbr.org), 01/02/2022.  Kossek, E. E., Gettings, P., & Misra, K. (2021). The future of flexibility at work. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from The Future of Flexibility at Work (hbr.org), 01/04/2021. Markman, A. (2021). Why You May Actually Want to Go Back to the Office. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from Why You May Actually Want to Go Back to the Office (hbr.org), 01/25/2022.