How to Do Hybrid Remote Work Right

Your approach to hybrid remote work might be all wrong. Here’s how to avoid the common stumbling blocks.

by Ettie Berneking

Oct 01 2022 at 8 a.m.

Woman working from home.
Photo courtesy Shutterstock

Now that remote work is here to stay, companies are navigating some common pitfalls. To see what stumbling blocks companies are running into with remote work, we turned to Jason DeBode, associate professor, and Kanu Priya, assistant professor at Missouri State University’s Department of Management. They’ve both consulted with companies that have shifted teams to remote work, so we took their advice and went to look for real-world examples at American National, which adopted a hybrid remote work model after COVID. We spoke with Lisa Jones, HR manager of total rewards, and Sally Nesmith, director of associate underwriting, to see if DeBode and Priya’s advice played out in the real world.


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Stumbling Block: Company policies were created when your team was in the office full-time.

Advice: Look for practices and policies that could make remote work difficult, such as requiring physical signatures on documents. Once you move to a hybrid work model, policies like this will frustrate everyone, so you need to keep an eye out for these. A good way to know what policies or common practices won’t work well remotely is to simply ask your team. They likely have good insight into what daily tasks will become difficult if they’re working remotely.

Stumbling Block: Not everyone enjoys working remotely.

Advice: Ask your team if they want to work remotely. Plenty of people prefer coming into an office, so before you tell everyone they’re going remote, ask them if they want to make that change.

Stumbling Block: Remote workers can start to feel isolated from the team.

Advice: Encourage managers to schedule more one-on-one time with team members. This will help managers develop relationships with team members. It can be a bigger requirement of managers’ time, but it helps keep camaraderie alive in the “office.” Also, be sure to allow time in the one-on-ones to talk about personal matters. Dedicate the first few minutes of each one-on-one to chat about your lives. This can also be helpful in larger team meetings. Sally at American National has a monthly team meeting and starts it off by asking This or That. “It’s an ice breaker where you have to choose this or that… like waffles or pancakes or Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel,” she says. “It leads to bizarre conversations, but we really get to know each other.”

Stumbling Block: Effective collaboration can be difficult when your team is remote.

Advice: Test out ways of collaborating to see what works best for your team. There’s a big social component when you’re in the office, so once a company moves to remote work, they should find platforms that help teams connect. Virtual team meetings might work, but more direct messaging like Slack might be a better fit if your team needs to connect regularly throughout the day. Lisa at American National puts everyone’s ideas on a virtual green board during team meetings. “Surprisingly, my team is more open to sharing ideas virtually,” she says. “I think it’s because they can’t see their team members' body language or facial expressions when they make a suggestion.” Sally’s team does better when they can randomly toss out questions to ask for advice throughout the day, so they use direct messaging platforms.

Stumbling Block: Team members might participate less when they’re on a virtual meeting.

Advice: Follow up with folks who aren’t participating. Because not everyone feels comfortable contributing through virtual meetings, managers will need to look for team members who might need encouragement. Just be careful. Forcing a team member to contribute virtually might cause them to become really unhappy with their role. Talk with them separately to learn why they’re not contributing and if there’s another way for them to share feedback and participate. This is something Sally at American National has had to work through several times. “I’ll follow up with them to learn why they’re not participating,” she says. “I’m never mad. It’s just a chance for me to learn why they're holding back and how I can better support them.”

Stumbling Block: The traditional 9–5 is hard to maintain when your team is remote.

Advice: Be flexible, but set clear expectations of when your team needs to be online and available because flexibility is one reason employees like remote work. At American National, Lisa says her team has flexible hours, but she asks that they let her know where they are if they’re away from their computer during the workday. “That way, if someone needs to get in touch with you, I can let them know when you’ll be back online,” she says.

Stumbling Block: When employees can work any hour of the day, they often feel like they have to work longer hours, which leads to burnout.

Advice: Be on the lookout for burnout. Jason at Missouri State says people often assume it’s easier to manage your work/life balance when you work remote. “But we see the opposite. We’ve seen that working from home can actually increase burnout. To avoid this, management should set clear expectations about responding to emails late at night, what hours are included in a typical work day and how an employee can let their manager know they’re taking a break.” If Lisa sees her team at American National responding to emails late at night, she’ll often reach out to them to make sure they know they’re not expected to be on call.

Stumbling Block: It can be difficult for an employer to trust that their team is working when they’re remote.

Advice: Trust your team. Jason and Kanu at Missouri State say they’ve seen horror stories of companies installing big brother software to watch their team. “That sends a message that your manager/company doesn’t trust your employees,” Jason says. To avoid this pitfall, Lisa at American National starts off each relationship with her team members from a place of full trust. “If you don’t perform or meet expectations, that trust will erode,” she says. “And yes, it’s harder to know what your team is working on when you can’t just pop by their desk, but I still want to start things off with trust.”

Stumbling Block: Communication can break down when you don’t see your team each day.

Advice: Check in with your team frequently. This way, your employees can keep you updated if they need something, and you can catch a potential issue or concern before it becomes a problem. Kanu at Missouri State compares these check-ins to the “mid afternoon walk down the hallway to say hello” to each person if you were in-person. At American National, Lisa uses these check-ins to talk through a project. “It gives me a chance to check in and look for signs that they’re struggling,” she says. “It also shows my team that I care and am there to support them.”

Stumbling Block: Transitioning to remote work isn’t easy, and team members can get frustrated if policies and expectations aren’t clear.

Advice: Be flexible and patient and ask for your team’s feedback. Most companies can’t flip a switch and know how to work in this hybrid world, so know there might be some stumbling blocks. You need to be okay with that. This was even true at American National when the company switched to a hybrid remote work model. “It’s not an easy transition,” Lisa says. “That’s why it’s important to make sure senior and mid-level leadership is on the same page with expectations ahead of time. The logistics need to be discussed and worked through before you start moving to remote work.”

About American National


American National is the brand name for a group of insurance companies that offer a wide range of policies for customers who need to find peace of mind. Policies cover everything from home and auto to life, health and property. The company also believes taking care of business starts with taking care of its employees, which is why it offers a comprehensive benefits program that supports all associate’s efforts and encourages a healthy work-life balance.