Making one simple change could completely remove the stress of hybrid working.

Could it be that simple? Perhaps not, but I believe this one practice can certainly go a long way towards making people’s lives far less stressful as they embark on a hybrid style of work, the sort of work — a multitude of surveys have told us — people actually want.

What Is Causing Stress in Hybrid Work?

Susan Caminiti of CNBC outlined some of the causes of hybrid stress:

  1. More than 80% of human resources executives say that hybrid work is proving to be exhausting for employees, according to a TinyPulse survey report.
  2. Workers said hybrid is more emotionally draining than fully remote and more taxing than full time, office-based work.
  3. Companies can help ease the stress by not dictating a hybrid schedule, but rather let employees and managers work it out together.

To expand on the first point: during the early stages of the pandemic and enforced working from home (WFH), the biggest contributor to technology exhaustion is thought to be over-use of synchronous activities, like meetings and calls. While our benchmarking research indicates this is likely only affecting a small proportion of staff overall, we anticipate they are more likely the leaders within the organization. However, more nuanced reporting is now emerging that suggests the lack of autonomy in the choice of hybrid working patterns is the main culprit for digital stress.

Sara Perry, an associate professor of management at Baylor University and a specialist in employee stress and remote work, suggests a lot of the tension related to hybrid work can be tied to a lack of autonomy or employee choice. Perry said research shows that workers want flexibility and the opportunity to work in the way that suits them best.

Danielle Abril wrote the following for the Washington Post: “Experts say workers will get more out of their hybrid setups if they sync their in-office days with their collaborators and separate the tasks they do based on the location from which they’re working.”

This last point is consistent with the third point in Caminiti's CNBC article, but goes on to suggest the resolution involves syncing your “in and out of office” time with your most frequent collaborators. This is the essence of the simple practice change I describe below.

Related Article: Always On, Too Many Meetings: Is This the Future of Hybrid?

Learning Opportunities

Your Closest Collaborators Should Dictate Your Hybrid Working Schedules

The above sounds fairly obvious, and many organizations would claim to already be working this way. However, our recent Microsoft 365 benchmarking study suggests this is far from the status quo. Because we analyze Microsoft 365 interactions of every active Microsoft 365 account rather than relying on survey samples, we can be confident what we're seeing is the true status of digital working habits.

We analyzed the Microsoft 365 interactions of more than 100,000 staff from over 3,700 identified groups/teams and 18 organizations for a full six-month period to the end of March 2022. At the time, these organizations were either still fully remote working or beginning a transition to hybrid work. All organizations had formally adopted Microsoft Teams, but somewhat surprisingly, the level of adoption was limited to the telephony features of meetings, calls and chat — in other words, the Skype for Business functionality that Microsoft Teams superseded. We found more than 70% of active staff had not posted a single channel message (or Yammer message for that matter) over a period of six months. This dramatic under-utilization of digital teams channels means a majority of staff are not benefiting from core value opportunities in Microsoft Teams (i.e., using Teams as a hub, using the asynchronous channels discussions as an alternative to synchronous calls and meetings).

In 2020 and 2021 we conducted detailed benchmarking studies of digital teams formed within Microsoft Teams. We were able to publish many case studies on high-performing digital teams, yet also reported on the preference for the use of synchronous telephony functions only at that time. As we now move more seriously into hybrid ways of working, this biasing toward telephony-only use will have even more dire consequences. Without the use of asynchronous channels of communications (other than email), technical exhaustion will escalate to impact an even larger proportion of staff. If additional stress is caused by management insisting on staff returning to the office, without due consideration to their work context, the great resignation is bound to continue at pace.

Related Article: The Speed of Work Today: More, Faster, Now

So What Is the Simple Practice to Solve Hybrid Working Stress?

  1. Analyze your organization chart to identify those group/teams at the base of the hierarchy. These group/team structures should ideally have fewer than 10 members.
  2. Create a Microsoft digital Team for each group with a default channel structure. As we are using the organizational hierarchy, all members should now be a member of at least one digital team.
  3. Provide each group/team with the autonomy to negotiate an agreed hybrid working scheme for the group (i.e. how the office is to be used. Use Microsoft Teams for the negotiation). Leadership should promote and then monitor the creation of these plans.
  4. Ensure that training and coaching support is available for staff who have never operated with Microsoft Teams channels. Provide generous access to “best practice examples,” ideally from within your organization.
  5. Monitor how the use of asynchronous channels grow, synchronous meeting and calls fall, technical stress reduces and a culture of increased employee engagement proliferates.

You likely already have some high performing teams who are adroitly using asynchronous communication modes to balance out their hybrid team interactions. As others join the ranks of high performing teams, be sure to give them plenty of recognition for others to follow.

Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care

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