Six tips on how to get the most out of hybrid working.
Up until now, most of us have only ever experienced the two extremes of working arrangements: either working full-time from the office (before the pandemic), or working full-time from home (during the pandemic). Now, while we’re emerging from the pandemic, many companies are adopting a hybrid strategy and will allow their employees to work partly from home, and partly from satellite offices/head offices/coworking spaces. As someone who might be new to hybrid or flexible working, what do you need to know and how should you approach it?
Take charge of your routine
Our first tip to you might sound a bit trite, but shouldn’t be dismissed: embrace the freedom that hybrid working offers. When people have more control over their routines and their environment, they tend to thrive, according to a recent article in The Harvard Business Review. Whether it is that you've always wanted to switch between working areas depending on the work you do, of that you've always wanted to take half an hour to meditate in the afternoon, or if it's as simple as needing to be home to receive an important parcel; being able to take control of your routine gives you a feeling of autonomy and is an important factor in obtaining true work-life balance.
However, a word of caution: taking control of your routine does not mean that you should discard all structure. To a large extent, you will still have to accommodate the work schedules of others. If you are a night owl, for example, you will have to respect the fact that not everyone will appreciate an e-mail at eleven o'clock at night.
Go to the Office at least twice a week (it doesn’t have to be for the full day)
Every person is different. The beauty of hybrid working is that it is more humane and can accommodate different people’s needs. Some of us are more introverted and prefer to mostly work on our own, others simply find that they get their best work done when they aren’t surrounded by the hustle and bustle of other people. We’re all in different life stages too. Young parents might want to work from home entirely.
However, two recent articles in Forbes and the Harvard Business Review point out that those who work from home all the time, tend to become somewhat forgotten by their colleagues. And while you might argue that it’s something you can live with, this has serious implications for things such as leading a team, or getting a raise or a promotion down the line. Not to mention that working from home all the time means that you miss out on valuable - often casual - learning moments in and around the office. Our advice: show your face around the office a couple of times during the week, even if you just go in for a few hours at a time.
Know that certain projects will require more office time, others less
For a lot of high stakes projects to be successful, you have to spend time with people in the same place. Don’t just take it from us. Marty Cagan, leading expert of Product Management and Innovation (founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group), says that while it might seem old fashioned, and while we have incredible technologies to connect us, nothing can quite measure up to what you can achieve while working alongside someone in the same physical space.
In Cagan’s own words:
“Co-location means that team members literally sit right next to one another [...] close enough to easily see each other’s computer screens. I know this sounds a bit old school, and the tools for remote collaboration are getting better all the time, but the best companies have learned the value of sitting together as a team…. [T]here is a special dynamic that occurs when the team sits together, eats lunch together, and builds personal relationships with each other.” (p. 36, Inspired, How to create tech products customers love).
A recent Guardian article that goes into detail about the importance of informal, unplanned interactions and rituals in the workplace, confirms the above. We pick up a lot of implicit and explicit signals and information from others when we work together in the same place: something which we simply cannot do when working remotely. Think about some of the meetings you have attended in person. Do you recall looking over at your colleague for affirmation or for confirmation about something that has been said in the meeting room? Can you recall seeing subtle signs of your manager’s reluctance or perhaps satisfaction about something said in that room? Or think of those times when you overheard your colleagues discuss something and got “information you didn’t know you needed” or when you simply felt the buzz of the office give you energy. These are all cues that we miss when we aren’t in the same room with each other.
Shop around until you find your space, then rotate
If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that allows you to work in a wide variety of satellite offices, take the time to find the venue that has the right feeling for you. This might be because of the place’s aesthetic, or simply because you have found that a certain type of person works at this particular location (for example, you might discover that some coworking spaces or offices attract more entrepreneurs than others; or that more techy people conglomerate in one space as opposed to another). Whatever the reason for your choice, it’s important to find a place that works for you. If your company’s flexibility does not stretch across multiple offices, simply seek out an office or a desk that speaks the most to you.
That being said, try to not always go to the same desk/office/location. Above, we have seen how important it is to be at the office at least some days/moments a week in order to ‘tap in’ - so to speak - to the rhythm of incidental information exchanges and the subtle feedback and insight you get from being around your colleagues. In addition to this, studies have shown that the more overlap there is between different coworkers/colleagues/building inhabitants, the more collaboration takes place, and the more successful joint projects are launched. It’s for this reason that “when banks such as JPMorgan started to bring some people back in[to the office] – initially at 50% capacity – they spent a huge amount of time devising systems to “rotate” people; the trick seemed not to be bringing in entire teams, but people from different groups. This was the best way to get that all-important incidental information exchange when the office was half-full.” (The Guardian, The empty office: what we lose when we work from home).
Find your community
If you are someone like me who likes to be by yourself most of the time and get your best work done at home, you might fall into the trap of thinking you need to work from home all the time. However, we need to be careful of not slowly descending into isolation. While it might seem like effort to go out and face others, human interaction is extremely important to keep us anxiety-free and our relationships strong. A recent Harvard Business review article about why people thrive in coworking spaces revealed that connection and a sense of being part of a community is extremely important for human wellbeing.
Our advice: try to connect with colleagues in person at least once a week. In addition, seek out quiet workspaces/places within the office that allow you to retreat for brief periods of time throughout the day, if this is what you need. Not all office-working has to be highly social. An alternative is to go to a communal (office) space where you know you’re going to be relatively anonymous.
To quote the above-mentioned Harvard Business review article again: “Importantly [in coworking spaces], however, socializing isn’t compulsory or forced. Members can choose when and how to interact with others. They are more likely to enjoy discussions over coffee in the café because they went to the café for that purpose – and when they want to be left alone elsewhere in the building, they are. And while our research found that some people interact with fellow coworkers much less than others, they still felt a strong sense of identity with the community. We believe this comes from coworkers knowing there is the potential for interactions when they desire or need them.”
Thus, not all office-working has to be highly social. But it is important to feel you belong to a group of people, and for that reason we recommend that you seek out more social environments to work in every once in a while.
When at an impasse, change the scenery.
Are you stuck on a tedious piece of work and can’t seem to get through it? Or are you looking for a creative solution to something that’s bothering you? The solution could be as simple as changing the physical place you usually work.
People are creatures of habit and we like the comfort that comes with familiar places. But every once in a while, it can be helpful to change your literal and figurative perspective. So why not sit on the other side of the office, or in a different working nook? Better yet, why not visit another co-working space? The change in perspective can literally result in more creativity, or lift you out of a mental slump.
While the above advice is aimed at you as an employee (or at freelancers), remember that responsible employers and managers* should also assume some of the burden of making sure that hybrid working is carried out in a way that benefits employees. For example, workplaces that make use of workspace management software will remove some of the burden from employees from having to work out amongst themselves who is working where when, and help them to find their colleagues without having to individually ask everyone where they are. In addition, incorporating this kind of software can help limit how many people can book at one location at a time, thus ensuring that health and safety measures are being respected as we emerge from the pandemic.
- *In the next blog we will focus on what building owners and employees can do to facilitate hybrid working in their buildings and workspaces.