As we start to leave the worst part of the pandemic behind us, the conversation in organisations and teams has shifted from ‘How do we do remote work?’ to ‘How do we make hybrid work a success?’
Working in a hybrid team involves more than learning how to run hybrid meetings. Hybrid work is built on the foundations of remote work and, as such, we need to understand the nature of collaboration and how the online space can elevate it. We need to challenge our assumptions about what team activities can be done when and where, and view the office as simply one more tool for collaboration and socialisation.
The three types of hybrid work
There is not just one way of doing hybrid work, just like there’s not one way of doing office work or remote work. For some organisations, it’s vital that people choose where they want to work from; for others, working in the office at some point will be a requirement. Dropbox, for example, now forbids solo activities from taking part in their ‘Dropbox Studios‘ (collaborative spaces provided by the company). Taking a slightly different approach, Tata Consulting Services has committed to only 25% of its employees needing to work from the office, for 25% of the time, by 2025.
The first step in going hybrid is to define the term. Consider these three versions of ‘hybrid’.
People can work from anywhere. The use of office premises is optional, as is working from home or local co-working spaces. There is no mandatory time in the office.
The office is available for all to use and there is a commitment to work there some of the time. However, most collaboration practises take place online (through online meetings or asynchronous communication) and being unable to work from the office barely disrupts the day-to-day.
3. Trusted WFH
People are expected to work from office premises, but are free to work remotely one day a week, or every now and then, to get some focused time. (This is going back to how many organisations operated prior to the pandemic, the only difference is that now no-one will likely question your productivity when working from home.)
Which is best?
While going ‘remote-first’ is an attractive and viable option for new businesses, for many UK-based organisations it would require a wide shift in their culture and operational practises. On the flip side, adopting the ‘trusted WFH’ option can result in an organisation being viewed as old-fashioned by potential and current talent who now expect employers to trust them to craft their flexible schedules.
Being ‘remote-ready’ is a viable option for organisations that weren’t set up to be fully remote, and where employees still value and expect their employers to provide a physical space to work in.
As well as providing flexibility and choice, the remote-ready option can also help organisations adapt to the unexpected. Any time there’s a period of dangerous bad weather, or a team member moves to a nearby town and wants to reduce their time in the office, or a new strain of Covid-19 forces a city into lockdown, our communication infrastructure is such that we can easily adapt to reducing the use of the office dramatically.
Making the most out of a hybrid workplace requires individuals and teams to understand how they work best, when they work best and where they work best from.
Opting for remote-ready hybrid work
Thinking of hybrid teamwork as a subset of remote work can help us be ‘remote-ready’. The office loses its status as the main place of work and becomes one more collaboration tool.
In a remote-ready environment:
- There is limited flexibility in where people work from, but there’s a choice for people and teams of how to use the office
- People are as present in the online space as in the office space, to avoid ‘presenteeism’ in either medium
- There is a balance of synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (non real-time) conversations
- Ad-hoc meetings tend to take place online, while planned long meetings (+1hr) often happen in person
- Team members occasionally use the office for co-working sessions
- In-person social events like coffees, lunch and learns, and after work gatherings take place near the office
We’re not there yet…
Making the most out of a hybrid workplace requires individuals and teams to understand how they work best, when they work best and where they work best from. It’s also an opportunity to look at your team’s workflow and communication habits.
If you are reading this at the time of writing, remember that the pandemic is not yet fully behind us. Your people’s needs for connection and flexibility might change with time (for example, people might crave socialising in person for now, but once the ‘lockdown hangover’ is over, they might prefer to come less into the office). Bear this in mind as you plan your hybrid set-up.
At the same time, have a good look at your current tasks and activities and scrap those that aren’t necessary. Most teams are still in emergency mode and this isn’t sustainable. Look out for any practises that add no value, or are duplicating value, and refine.
Also consider the following steps:
Double down on your networking efforts in the organisation as an individual. If you find it easier to do this in the office, plan time here. If your organisation has an internal social network and you find it easier to start conversations online, schedule time in your calendar to do so.
Don’t drop your asynchronous practises just because you start working together in the office. For example, during the ‘forced work from home’ period, some teams created online spaces to catch up at the end of the week, sharing thoughts and achievements asynchronously. These updates are just as valid in a hybrid set up – even more so as you focus on keeping a cohesive team culture.
If you are in an L&D role, when designing your learning activities and programmes, consider mixing online sessions, in-person gatherings and asynchronous conversations. Think of community building as your main focus and design for connection as much as for upskilling. e.g. Can you break down that one-day workshop into four online modules, and prepare a good set of points for people to discuss asynchronously in between sessions?
Lastly, don’t assume people work better here or there. Ask or, better still, give them the choice. I’ve heard of people who prefer to take their meetings online (because they get straight to the point), and people who prefer to work surrounded by office noise. In fact, as Microsoft workforce data reveals ‘There’s no one-size-fits-all approach: some employees cite work-life balance, focus time, and meetings as reasons to go into the office. Others see those as reasons to stay home.’
A word on company culture
Culture is ‘the way things are done around here‘, and this extends to the online space. Many companies that were collocated pre-covid are now worried that they won’t be able to sustain their culture online.
To continue being true to your company values, you need to identify how those values can guide the desired behaviours in the hybrid space. Make sure they guide everything you do, including your hiring practises, onboarding processes, decision making, performance reviews and development programmes – and that they remain relevant regardless of location.
As more and more organisations offer a hybrid workplace, being clear on what hybrid means for your people has become crucial to attracting the right newcomers and retaining your valued talent. Going hybrid doesn’t mean meeting half way between office-based and remote. It’s acknowledging that the work you do and the people you work with have diverse needs, and that going back to your pre-pandemic ways of working is not an option.
Interested in this topic? Read ‘Why inclusive working, not hybrid working, should become the new norm.’