The work world seems to be settling into an uneasy truce between workers who want to remain full-time, work-from-home (WFH) employees, and the managers who want them to return to their cubicles and desks. As a compromise, hybrid work— with staff members splitting time between the home office and the traditional office — is taking its place. Like all compromises, neither party is getting exactly what they want, however many companies are settling into a hybrid role that seems to be acceptable to both management and employees.

“Throughout the pandemic, most corporations indicated that they were preparing for a hybrid work model, and the EY data suggests that is where many have ended up today,” Deborah Kong said in an article for CNBC. “The survey found that 80 per cent of leaders are confident in their current hybrid work strategy.”

But this isn’t a question of winners and losers, it’s a look at the risks and rewards of this new face of work, with a peek at how AI is fitting into the picture.

The Forgotten Few

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic made WFH an everyday occurrence for many, some people worked remotely. Regardless of the limited number of employees toiling away in a home office or coffee shop, there are special concerns. As Velsoft’s course Managing the Virtual Workplace points out, managers need to ensure their remote employees always feel that they are valued members of the team. With a distributed workforce, there’s a real risk of “out of sight, out of mind.” Good managers who provide effective leadership take extra steps to make certain that the entire team feels included by doing things such as reaching out frequently to ask how employees are doing and if there’s anything they need.

Having workers who feel isolated from the team is still a risk, but is a lesser concern today because WFH or hybrid work is common. Now that a very large segment of the workforce has experience with working remotely, it’s become second nature to remember to keep in touch with at-home workers because most of us have worked from home and understand that it’s a good practice to have virtual contact with colleagues.

With completely virtual businesses, this risk of worker isolation is nil because everyone is remote. In these companies, virtual meetings, chats, and calls are built into their organizational culture.

Another major risk is productivity. Some workers need close supervision to do what’s required. When they’re not in an office setting, their attention can wander and output declines. That can be addressed by a good manager keeping in touch, which says to the worker that they’re still part of the team and they’re expected to pull their weight.

Here’s another concern with WFH or hybrid working: Younger, less-experienced employees are expected to be in the office more often, to get experience and learn, but if their older, experienced colleagues are WFH or hybrid workers, then the options for the new employees to learn from their colleagues, or be mentored by them, are reduced.

“A strong case for in-office days is that less experienced workers are able to learn more quickly. But if their likely mentors are working from home more often, that poses a problem. So, there’s this tension between the accessibility of experienced colleagues, versus their expectation of greater flexibility,” Tim Oldman, founder and CEO of Leesman, said to the BBC.

Workers who don’t thrive on their own might benefit from a hybrid work routine. They can be supervised and encouraged while in the office and given tasks for home that will ensure they are productive there as well.

What are the rewards?

Let’s look at expense first. Companies that have fewer employees in the office can see savings in their operating budget. These businesses can perhaps move into smaller quarters and save money on things such as rent and office supplies. Supplying coffee, printer paper, pens, and staples can add up over time and although savings in this area might seem miniscule, in the long run it will help with the bottom line.

From an employee morale standpoint, some workers thrive on their own and experience a greater work-life balance than onsite workers. Without the distractions, workplace stress, and interruptions of a busy office, they’re productive, focused, and industrious. They receive the rewards of not having a commute and sometimes can even set their own hours.

Another major reward that remote workers enjoy is the trust they feel placed in them by management. It goes a long way toward boosting an employee’s morale when they believe they are treated with respect and seen as a mature, productive adult. The power of employee autonomy shouldn’t be overlooked.

Being Second Guessed

Feeling like a trusted team player is much better than the frustration and resentment that can result from constantly having a boss looking over your shoulder. As Carol Dunn points out in her blog post How Your Micromanaging is Hurting You and Your Business: “The lack of autonomy causes them to lose the desire to do any work beyond the bare minimum. And, there’s no incentive to improve their skills. When employees don’t have to think for themselves, they don’t develop critical thinking skills. All of this squashes their creative spirit and demolishes innovation, which in turn stalls progress.”

This is a danger of micromanagement with an onsite workforce, and it can have an even more pronounced effect on remote workers. When WFH and hybrid professionals are micromanaged, they can shift from independent and valued team members who enjoy a sense of confidence that comes through managerial trust, to demotivated workers. It’s a situation of “Why should I knock myself out doing my best when it won’t be good enough for you anyway?” They become disengaged and output falters in quality, quantity, or both.

Eventually, many of these workers may leave for other jobs. It hurts a company to lose experienced workers. There’s the cost of recruiting new employees and training them, and the decrease in quality or productivity as the new staff member gets settled into their new role. That’s one of the main results of micromanaging and it’s a problem for on-site workers, WFH employees, and hybrid staff members alike.

It appears that hybrid work is here to stay with a sort of uneasy truce between managers who want their offices filled all the time and workers who prefer the comforts of home. Learn more with Velsoft’s Managing the Virtual Workplace course.

“Evidence on productivity shows that hybrid is likely optimal for the typical office worker. Still, we do expect work-from-home workdays to tick down a bit further,” said Preston Caldwell, Chief U.S. Economist at Morningstar, in an article by Yan Barcelo.