What Nobody Saw Coming About Hybrid or Remote Work Arrangements: Office Politics

One thing nobody saw coming when it came to companies’ remote and hybrid work arrangements — the fragility of office relationships or what can simply be called office politics. Research shows that it is actually harder to resolve disputes virtually. 

Think about how you’re going to resolve disputes via conference call. The result: Hybrid or remote work can obscure office problems. 

Hybrid work arrangements create fundamental imbalances across employee experiences. Individuals working on-site access greater resources and visibility, frequently translating to unfair advantages in recognition, promotions, and career advancement over remote staff. These consistent inequities breed exclusion, rather than occasional disadvantages that impact all.

A global mobility manager saw the division among employees with different work arrangements. Over time, a faction felt marginalized from discussions and meetings centering the on-site days of the other subgroup. This persistent exclusion escalated tensions and conflicts—reflecting classic symptoms of toxic cultures—ultimately catalyzing turnover within the team.

The core focus areas:

  • Fundamental imbalance/inequity between office and remote staff
  • Consistent, rather than occasional, feelings of exclusion tied to schedule splits
  • Unintended demographic alignment driving divides
  • Escalation into toxicity symptoms (exclusion, conflict, disrespect, turnover

Clearly, the notion that employees universally prefer hybrid work arrangements obscures deep divides emerging within many companies. While hybrid policies often benefit individual workers through greater flexibility and autonomy, they frequently come at the cost of overall company culture, collaboration, and mission alignment.

These tensions manifest most clearly in divisions between roles. As research on media companies reveals, production teams working closely together on creative projects have largely returned on-site, craving in-person collaboration. Senior managers also tend to favor more time in the workplace to spearhead collective strategic efforts.

However, other individuals in non-creative or leadership functions express a strong preference for remote or hybrid schedules optimized for their personal wellbeing over organizational cohesion. When such divisions harden over time, with some groups rarely intersecting face-to-face, a workforce can fragment.

Arm’s-length relationships between production and corporate functions in modern conglomerates weaken bonds. And hybrid policies widening the gap may further dissolve the passions connecting everyone under the same banner.

Employers and global mobility specialists should look into this matter, because if left unaddressed, such divides can severely hamper leadership’s ability to drive change across an entire organization. And they signal the loss of the energy and inspiration flowing when all parts of a company are working in service of the same creative purpose.

The reality is most companies remain conflicted, dynamic, and searching for policies that balance individual and collective needs. Navigating these tensions will determine whether hybrids truly unites or divides modern workforces.

A divided America faces deep disagreements on issues like COVID policies, remote work preferences, and confidence in societal institutions. Global mobility managers struggle with guiding teams facing sensitive divides. 

These evidence-based actions can keep teams engaged and unified:

Reset around a shared purpose

First, reset around a shared purpose. The pandemic allows teams to redefine their mission – their “true north.” Unite people around solving real problems that improve lives, connecting daily work to greater organizational goals. Remind teams of past successes making a difference.

Lean into individual development

Second, lean into individual development. Ensure everyone has a plan for meaningful growth aligned to personal and organizational goals – whether mastering current roles, gaining new skills, or trying stretch assignments. Be honest about uncertainties but frame changes as learning opportunities. Re-dream what employees want out of life and work.

Honor interpersonal bonds

Third, honor interpersonal bonds. Despite boundaries, the outside world intrudes on work. Rather than pull back, managers should lean in to deepen relationships and engagement through listening and coaching. Provide neutral ground for people to share what they can’t say elsewhere.

Foster continuous dialogue

The landscape of hybrid work constantly shifts, making toxicity a fluid challenge. To effectively navigate this, a perpetual process is crucial, centered on ongoing conversations. Global mobility managers should have regular check-ins within hybrid teams or organizations, providing a platform for individuals to voice concerns or identify toxic experiences

It is crucial to establish a foundation of psychological safety to encourage candid sharing, emphasizing these discussions as more than perfunctory exercises.

Swift intervention

To disrupt this cycle, proactive monitoring of toxic behaviors is essential, coupled with prompt intervention. Facilitate discussinos among involved parties swiftly and aim for collaborative, mutually agreeable solutions to mitigate toxicity.

Additionally, use recognition to promote accountability to standards amid distractions. Celebrate those exemplifying values and excellence. Notice people transcending divides through great work benefiting customers and teams.

Staying unified during adversity means rallying around shared goals, developing people focused on their brighter futures, and strengthening trusting relationships.