Everyone’s Feeling Stressed, and Here’s Why

July can be a great time to reflect on how far we’ve come and the progress we’ve made during the first six months of the year. For this Communique, I’m reporting on trends I’m seeing in terms when it comes to how well (or not) organizations are making the move to a remote/hybrid world.

Spoiler alert: While many organizations have made the move relatively smoothly, many more either remain in limbo, or have backed away from plans that carried a risk of driving away employees and prospective hires.

Return to Office is not exactly going as planned

  • Many RTO plans that once seemed like “sure bets” are now seen as “light suggestions”
  • Some employees who have been told to return to the office have refused, perhaps because they feel confident they won’t be fired in a tight labor market
  • Employees who are returning to the office are seeing little of the much-hyped “collaboration and connection,” since many colleagues have chosen different days to come in
  • For many, the work they’re doing from the office is the same work they could have been doing from home, except with more interruptions
  • Some office buildings feel like veritable ghost towns, with services like cafeterias and fitness centers shut down and workspace cut back dramatically. The offices many are returning to are nothing like the offices they left in March 2020

People are stressed when they’re not sure where (and when) they’ll be working over the long-term

  • Many organizations are positioning their current state (whatever that may be) as an “experiment,” leaving the longer-term future ambiguous
  •  Prospective hires are backing away from companies that can’t give a straight answer, and current employees are seeking companies willing to commit to a hybrid/remote model
  •  Employees whose companies are still on the fence are forced to guess how best to make plans for “whole life” things like drop-offs and pick-ups, pet care, fitness regimens, social outings, meal planning, hobbies and social activities
  • Senior leaders wrestle with issues such as the risk of losing top talent if hybrid/remote is off the table, how much office space they need to retain, how (or if) they need to rewrite job descriptions and qualifications, and where to find talent to replace those heading for the exits

Being scrupulously “fair” when it comes to moving to a new work model is harder than it seemed

  • Some organizations have modeled their RTO policies after other companies, without thinking through whether they make sense for their unique situations
  • RTO policies are often seen as unfair, especially when the rationale is unclear
  • Employees who feel coerced into returning to work question whether their employers trust them, which in turn may cause them to distrust their employers
  • Those who must now commute resent having to absorb expenses that remote employees do not
  • Some organizations are weighing whether to adjust salaries based on work location
  • Many organizations are using this time of transformation to rethink other areas where leveling the playing field will be important, including recruiting and hiring, performance reviews, career advancement and promotion opportunities, visibility with senior leaders, access to information, and learning opportunities.

Virtual/hybrid teams are struggling to determine the best ways (and times) to collaborate and communicate

  •  Relatively few teams have created (or revamped) communication and collaboration principles relevant for working in a virtual/hybrid world
  • Accessing needed information and actively engaging all participants in hybrid meetings are two of the issues teams struggle with most often
  • Many teams are reluctant to move away from email as the primary communication channel, in part because they can’t agree on how (or if) to use available asynchronous tools
  • When it comes to establishing core working hours, many teams are having trouble synchronizing schedules to ensure that work gets done
  • Onboarding new hires successfully requires extraordinary coordination to ensure that colleagues, managers, mentors, trainers and other important guides and allies are onsite when it matters most

Despite the ambiguity and confusion underlying many RTO plans and policies, many organizations have made a fairly seamless transition to a permanently virtual/hybrid world, thanks to thoughtful planning and policies that reflect the interests of both their employees and their organizations overall. Many people I know are genuinely happy to be back in the office, especially on days their colleagues and managers are there, too.

Making the transition to a permanent hybrid model is a huge move, and it’s natural that it feels messy. The key is to identify, acknowledge and address the “messiness” that’s causing the most stress, anxiety, and disenfranchisement ASAP as you create more definitive plans for the future.


Articles from Guided Insights

Maintaining True Equity in a Virtual/Hybrid World – Guided Insights 

Creating a Level Playing Field Across Your Hybrid-Remote Team – Guided Insights 

20 Questions to Help Hybrid Teams Reduce Anxiety, Start Off Strong in 2022 – Guided Insights 

When There’s No Going Back, Decide How to Move Forward – Guided Insights

Related Workshops from Guided Insights

Virtual Leadership – Guided Insights 

Virtual Meetings – Guided Insights

Facilitation Skills Training – Delivered Live, Remotely – Guided Insights

“Hybrid” Meeting Facilitation Services – Guided Insights

External Links

What is asynchronous communication? Plus, how to implement it (twist.com)

In the Hybrid Era, On-Sites Are the New Off-Sites (hbr.org)

Making the Hybrid Workplace Fair (hbr.org)

How to reduce turnover risk when returning to the office – Boston Business Journal (bizjournals.com)

Wondering how I can help?

Let’s schedule a 30-minute meeting so we can explore how to work together to address your most pressing challenges.

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