In the last 18 months, we have all seen that people can work from home productively, and that flexibility is likely to remain in some form as we emerge from the pandemic. In a recent study (Times Future of Work 7th December 2020), 70 percent of global organizations said some proportion of their workforce will be allowed to work remotely full time in the future normal, with 61 percent planning to empower employees to choose their own mix of working from home and working from the office. Some 25 percent of companies plan to allow employees to choose to work from home full time.
I’m a massive fan of remote and hybrid working, mainly because I have a team of 30 people who work together from seven countries around the world, and I would not have access to their talent without allowing them to work from anywhere. However, we have learned a lot of lessons about how to do it well, (and how not to), because, for all the upsides, there are, of course, downsides, too.
Hybrid working means a degree of flexibility in how we show up for work, and when and where. And with flexibility comes blurred boundaries and unclear expectations. In my team, we have deliberately agreed on what is and isn’t acceptable in our working culture, so we all have clear expectations for each other. Don’t be tempted to “see how things naturally settle” into hybrid working—every team needs to deliberately and consciously define what hybrid working means for them.
All of us have been under enormous pressure to adapt and survive through a crisis, but we need to be careful not to bring our crisis habits into our new normal. Most of us have had back-to-back meetings five days a week, and the time we’ve saved from commuting has been given back to yet more (badly run) meetings and (too many unnecessary) e-mails. We are filling up our working day and leaving no time for the development of others, relationship building, or learning from each other. Without the distractions of the commute, the downtime between meetings, the watercooler conversations, we have become all work and no play.
Unless we change how we work, remote working will make our team performance worse, will make our jobs less enjoyable, and will severely disadvantage the newer and younger members of our teams.
7 Ways to Transition to Hybrid Work
- Over-communicate: Leaders and managers need to communicate with teams much more than before when hybrid working. That could mean inviting the company for a weekly online Q&A with the boss, sending out a weekly newsletter, sharing awards and celebrations, or simply picking up the phone more often to speak with each individual on the team. In times of uncertainty, the more you can communicate with each other, the stronger your relationships will be, the more trust you will develop, and the better the teams will feel.
- Keep experimenting: Hybrid working isn’t about creating one permanent set of rules for the whole company—every team should decide between them how they best want to work well together in a hybrid environment. This means giving people permission to experiment and try out new ways of working until they find a pattern that works for them. When new team members join or when a new project starts, they might need to change how they work again, so keep the options open for improvement.
- Value live time: When people are meeting face-to-face, make sure people prioritize their time and attention for that meeting by having a reason to be in the same room as each other. Don’t waste live time with one person presenting a long slide deck—that’s the kind of thing that can be done online or even pre-recorded. Live time should be discussing, debating, and creating ideas, where everyone in the room has a contribution to make and a reason to be there.
- Schedule downtime: Hybrid working only works when people trust each other, so put in the unstructured teambuilding time to develop your relationships with each other as people, beyond work. You will need to create space and time for downtime together with your team—for example, have lunch together once a week without an agenda (remotely or in-person), or share hobbies and interests with each other once a month. Especially when we are working in different locations and online, this relationship building is essential—and should be booked into the day job, not just for after hours.
- Think people, not PowerPoint: When people meet each other online, make sure videos are on so they can fully connect and see each other’s faces and body language. This means prioritizing people, not PowerPoint—every time there is a discussion, come off slide share and make sure they are seeing each other face-to-face and talking to each other, not to slides.
- Build in development and shadowing time. Hybrid working makes it harder for younger or new members of the team to learn from the other people in the team by osmosis. Make sure to schedule for shadowing and development time for new team members, or assign them buddies from their management and leadership group, so they have the chance to overhear meetings and learn from the conversations that more experienced people are having.
- Foster a fast-feedback culture: It’s easy for misunderstandings to happen when we are working remotely. Encourage people to give and receive fast feedback, at the moment. If someone seems upset, or if a person didn’t get what they were expecting from someone, create a culture of being able to immediately pick up the phone and clarify, positively and constructively. Make sure teams don’t let things fester or worry, and definitely make sure they don’t only communicate by e-mail. Give your teams permission to check in with each other, especially when the tone seems off.
We will not define hybrid work once nor permanently, and we certainly won’t define it for the whole company in one policy. We’ve seen we can trust people to work from home—let’s now trust them to work out the best patterns of work that suit them, the team members, and the type of work each team does. Hybrid working means giving teams the tools and permission to experiment with the best way to work, and continually enable them to optimize how they work together better.