The COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the way many companies did business, either temporarily or permanently. 2020 saw a record 42% of the workforce working from home, and as life begins to return to normal, work-from-home is likely to stick around. One survey found that 55% of employees prefer working remotely at least part of the time, while a vast majority of company leaders believe that employees should be in the office a few days per week. As a result, many companies will adopt a hybrid workplace where employees split their time between working in the office and working from home.
While a hybrid workplace seems to be the best of both worlds — employees get their wish to work from home, while companies get their wish to have people in the office — it comes with its own set of issues. There are several safety concerns companies will have to address in a hybrid workplace, specifically regarding employees’ psychological safety and their company’s cybersecurity.
What Does Hybrid Working Mean for Psychological Safety?
There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on people’s psychological health. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 4 in 10 individuals reported symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic, compared to just 1 in 10 before the pandemic.
While the availability of vaccines and the return to some semblance of normalcy may seem like a light at the end of the tunnel, it’s also true that whatever comes next may have its own psychological side effects.
Sources of anxiety with a hybrid workplace could include:
- Fear for one’s physical health and safety.
- Lack of work-life boundaries.
- Struggles finding childcare.
- Interruption to routines after more than a year of remote work.
How to Protect Psychological Safety In a Hybrid Work Environment
As companies transition to hybrid workplaces, it’s the responsibility of both the individuals and the organization itself to protect the psychological safety and well-being of employees. Here are few steps that can be taken to protect everyone’s safety:
Set Clear Boundaries
As an employee, a hybrid workplace makes it increasingly important to set clear boundaries for yourself. One struggle that many employees have had during the pandemic is being able to disconnect from work. Since they’ve been working from home, they may feel they’re constantly at work and have a more difficult time setting work-life boundaries, such as turning off the computer at the end of the workday.
Unfortunately, a hybrid workplace also creates fuzzy boundaries. Employees should be careful and set strict work hours to avoid working once their workday has ended. Additionally, when you’re at home because you’ve taken a sick day or vacation day, permit yourself to avoid working.
Companies can also help by respecting the boundaries that employees set for themselves, including not contacting employees during non-work hours or while they’re on PTO. Just because someone can work from home doesn’t mean they should be expected to be available at all times.
Set the Tone at the Top
The best way to enact meaningful and positive change in the workplace is to set the tone from the top. First, company leaders should open a dialogue about how hybrid work is expected to look and what will be expected of employees.
Leaders should also set the tone by supporting their colleagues. Don’t pressure people to return to the office before they’re ready, and don’t allow other employees to either. As a leader, you can maintain a transparent dialogue by being open about your own hybrid work struggles and inviting employees to share theirs.
Implement Mental Health Training
A huge step that companies can take to protect their employee’s psychological safety is to implement mental health training for workers. Not only should employees be trained to manage their own mental health in a hybrid workplace, but leaders should be trained to recognize signs that an employee may be struggling.
Allow for Flexibility
Whether people return to work in a full-time or hybrid capacity, individuals and companies should continue to allow flexibility. People will transition out of the pandemic at different times. For example, parents with children at home may still face COVID-19 worries since children under 16 aren’t currently eligible to be vaccinated.
It’s also important to remember that different individuals will have different comfort levels with returning to work. For some employees, being in a public workplace while we’re still in the midst of a pandemic may be a source of anxiety all on its own, and managers should be respectful of those fears and anxieties.
What Does Hybrid Working Mean for Cybersecurity?
In addition to the psychological safety concerns that face employees and companies, it’s also essential to consider the cybersecurity risks. Since the start of the pandemic, the FBI has reported a 400% increase in cybersecurity complaints. Unfortunately, these threats aren’t likely to go away in a hybrid workplace.
Cybersecurity concerns during work-from-home or hybrid work include:
- Exposure to unencrypted wifi networks.
- Employees working in multiple locations.
- Use of both personal and corporate technology for work purposes.
- Vulnerability of virtual desktop infrastructures.
How to Protect Cybersecurity in a Hybrid Work Environment
If your company will be implementing a hybrid workplace or has already done so, there are several steps you can take to maintain your organization’s cybersecurity.
Audit Your Current Cybersecurity
One of the most critical steps to take is an audit of your current security protocols to determine if they’re adequate. You can do this internally through your IT department or hire an outside firm to audit your company’s cybersecurity.
Use a Business VPN
A business virtual private network creates a more secure online experience by encrypting your employees’ internet connections and masking their IP addresses, locations and online activity.
Require Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a popular security measure where employees can’t log in to their work computers or company system until they verify their identity through other means, such as fingerprint, facial recognition or a verification code. This added layer of security ensures that if an employee’s password is compromised, the entire system isn’t.
Set Security Standards
For any security protocols to be entirely effective, it’s important to communicate clearly with employees so that they know what’s expected of them. Set standards as to whether employees can access company systems on personal devices, log onto work computers on public wifi networks and more.
The Bottom Line
The past year has been filled with uncertainty as we made our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. And as things begin to return to normal, hybrid workplaces create even more uncertainty for companies and employees alike. By prioritizing psychological safety and cybersecurity, organizations can create a safe, secure and positive work environment.