Since 2020, organizations have had to examine how they manage hybrid and remote working alongside full-time on-site work. Data from Gallup indicates that, while in 2020 only 40% of employees in remote-capable jobs had hybrid or remote options, this figure increased to 81% in 2022.

Additionally, companies must understand that the shifts between remote and hybrid work are bidirectional and dynamic. According to research by Microsoft, 57% of remote workers would consider a shift to hybrid work in the coming year so that they can spend more time in the office with their co-workers. At the same time, 52% of hybrid workers would consider a shift toward working fully remote.

It appears that the only constant in people’s work modes is flexibility. This dynamic environment will, therefore, require a high degree of agility as managers and leaders address needs across a range of work scenarios.

Interestingly, there may be a significant perception gap between leaders and employees regarding how this has affected productivity. According to another report by Microsoft, 87% of employees think they’re as or more productive working in a remote or hybrid setting. On the other hand, only 12% of leaders are confident in the productivity of their teams.

This may partially explain why so many leaders are considering bringing remote workers back to the physical office. Regardless of which perspective is correct, there’s a clear misalignment between leaders’ perceptions and priorities compared to what their team members perceive and expect.

For training professionals, this implies that when managing hybrid and remote workers, leaders may need more help in developing new mindsets and ways of leading hybrid workers. During a recent webinar by The Myers-Briggs Company, 84% of poll respondents said leaders need more training to adequately manage a hybrid/remote workforce.

However, it also implies that workers are in need of training that addresses the needs of dynamic teams in which employees are frequently switching between remote, hybrid and in-person environments.

This provides an opportunity and a challenge: creating training that not only improves the ability of workers to maintain productivity while managing to transition between remote and in-person working environments (and vice versa), but also bridges the performance perception gap that exists between teams and leaders. This requires, among other things, a heavy focus on social capital and relationship building.

The Critical Role of Relationship Building

As a result of a dispersed workforce, work relationships have deteriorated. Harvard Business Review found that about one-half of remote workers feel that they don’t have thriving relationships with their teammates. Furthermore, consider that remote workers, compared to hybrid workers and those working full-time in person, are less connected with their teammates.

From a neurobiological perspective, humans are designed to interact and synchronize with each other mentally, physically and emotionally. However, this synchronization doesn’t occur to the same extent when people interact online.

Helping both leaders and team members form strong social connections is the key to more engaging work relationships. As many companies transition employees between remote and in-person environments, it is critical that we integrate an emphasis on social networking and engagement in our training.

When organizing face-to-face meetings, be sure to provide participants with sufficient opportunities to connect and relate with their team members. In hybrid in-person/virtual sessions, we also need to pay extra attention to remote participants, who often feel like outsiders. Also, we must take into account that employees hired since the pandemic may feel disconnected and generally have weaker relationships with their direct teams.

As we create training programs, we need to build psychologically safe environments for employees to relate to each other and connect.

Tips for Hybrid and Virtual Training

Each hybrid scenario presents its own set of unique challenges when it comes to delivering training and keeping it engaging and impactful. For example, participants must work harder to remain mentally present during virtual training. To help them avoid becoming distracted:

  • Structure workshops to give adequate breaks, but be sure to let participants know how long you’ll need their attention before each section. Knowing how long they need to focus and commit themselves to that Zoom screen will help them muster the correct amount of discipline to stay tuned in.
  • Consider shorter training time periods and more frequent breaks to combat Zoom fatigue.
  • Give them activities that get them away from the screen. Self-guided learning activities can break up the day and, once again, help avoid fatigue.
  • In a hybrid setting, consider your psychological bias toward participants physically in the room, and make sure you engage both on-site and remote participants equally. Also, creating a buddy system between a remote and an on-site worker may be a good idea to make participants feel more included.

Tips for Face-to-face Training

It can admittedly feel a little overwhelming going back to face-to-face training after so long behind a screen. We’ve become accustomed to the benefits of virtual delivery, such as the ability to keep notes in front of us but hidden from participants, and the flexibility it brings to our work-life balance.

Here are some tips when it comes to jumping back into face-to-face training that will help the team feel more included:

  • Take more time to prepare than you might have in the past. We might be more likely to get caught off guard by things that might have been second nature before the switch to virtual training. Make sure you feel confident presenting and facilitating and be prepared to rely less on your notes.
  • Factor in extra time for breakout sessions, as it will take participants additional time to form groups than in virtual sessions, as it may require participants to physically move.
  • Remember you won’t have participant names on the screen like with Zoom, so make the extra effort to memorize names before the start of the session.
  • Use the room’s energy to your advantage by encouraging engagement between participants.

In conclusion, companies are facing turbulent times as workers begin returning to the office (and as others more aggressively pursue remote work opportunities). No one knows for certain what the outcome will be; however, it is clear that companies that pay attention to the needs of employees, while helping leaders manage more effectively in these situations, will be positioned to avoid some of the pitfalls of this dynamic work environment.

Training provides a unique opportunity to empower both leaders and employees to adjust to this new world of work. But, of course, training itself also requires continuous adaptation in this ever-changing work environment.