Caught-in-the-middle Managers: How to Make Hybrid Office Work for Employees

The post-pandemic hybrid office set-up has its fair share of critics and supporters. An increasing number of employees have loudly claimed it as their preference, while executive management remains torn in accommodating them or ordering them back to on-site work. In the middle of this is, aptly enough, the middle manager who is trying to balance both worlds while ensuring that productivity and team morale do not just suffer, but in fact prosper.

BBC gave a clear illustration of why middle managers who are trying to bridge the extreme sides of the corporate structure are downright miserable. First of all, in trying to please all, they end up pleasing none. 

Second, they have been given the mandate by their higher-ups to make hybrid work fulfilling as well. Unfortunately, this is uncharted territory with no proven guidebook in place; as a result, they make a lot of mistakes in figuring out what will succeed and what will fail. Finally, despite the demands being made on them by their own bosses, they often feel unsupported, lacking both resources, encouragement, and friendly pep talk. 

As a result, many of them experience depression and a sense of being drowned by their current work arrangements. In one survey, 43 percent of the middle managers interviewed admitted to burnout and that they were already looking for new jobs. 

Because the hybrid office set-up is here to stay, middle managers must find ways to navigate this tide of change while remaining on top of their respective situations. Here are a few tips on how they can master and surmount this particular challenge, instead of letting it overcome them.

Your HR colleague would be the best executive to approach for support, sympathy, and more than a listening ear. If executive management is too busy to hear you out, HR would be more than willing to. 

Ask support from human resources

The last thing they want is for middle managers to resign—which would affect the work process and probably demoralize the other employees as well. Human resources can also help middle managers with the weak links in the work process that can be repaired. They can also recommend processes and procedures that can reduce stress and increase motivation. Interaction between HR and middle management should be frequent with constant feedback being given by both sides. 

Get a coach or a mentor

A senior colleague can provide the middle manager the boost they need to lead effectively. They can point out the middle manager’s strengths and points for improvement. They can also help them develop strategic leadership skills that can help them execute their tasks and lead their teams efficiently and confidently.

Connect with your superiors and higher-ups

HR can be a powerful ally, and a coach provides sharp training that can help middle managers deal with the workload. But at the end of the day, when a middle manager asks for a decision, it will be the executive management that will make the necessary judgment call that can determine the course of the work flow or the outcome of the project. 

Fight every instinct to compartmentalize yourself and detach. Reach out to your direct report, build the bridge, and re-open lines of communication. Show them the challenges they are facing, the solutions you are offering, and how these can impact the organization. Keep them in the loop at all times. 

One of these days, you will need their buy-in once you start discussing scenarios like the all-too-real disadvantages of remote work or the investment in digital infrastructure that can make remote work more collaborative, more productive, and less stressful. 

Managing people remotely is challenging because one needs to determine how a person is thinking — and that is not easy if most work is done remotely. With remote work, outcome or work output takes more importance than serendipitous moments discovered in lull times of the day. This can only be cultivated in person where establishing trust is also easier.