The Covid-19 pandemic shifted the way work in many industries gets done. It showed that many jobs could be done remotely or at least partially remotely. Work from home came to the mainstream. But while remote work sounds great as one avoids the dreaded daily commute, it has problems on its own. This applies double when the team is mixed, and some come to the office while other work remotely. So how do you keep yourself and your team sane when working from home or having a hybrid work model? There are a couple of practices you should consider.
1. Be clear on top priorities and expected outcomes
Frameworks like OKR (objectives and key results) can work well for you as they make it easier for everyone to understand what truly matters. Therefore it is easier to say no to things that don’t. Saying no is very important in an always-on culture where the work can easily overwhelm your non-work-related activities.
2. Set clear boundaries of what is and is not acceptable when it comes to the hours you work
You should have a conversation with your boss, peers, and team to clarify that no one expects 24×7 availability. You should agree on what is expected from each individual, and when exceptions are required, be very honest about it and make sure exceptions don’t become the new norm. Once you commit to specific availability, stick to it the same way you stick to it if you were in the office. Learn to switch off technology when your day’s work is done. Respect the boundaries of others and demand they respect yours.
3. Be inclusive and mindful of remote workers
Don’t allow collaboration to focus on and favor the co-located, ignoring the remote workers. It is easy to forget about those who are not in the office, leading to two classes of employees. Introducing more asynchronous ways of working can somewhat mitigate this danger.
4. When making the place of work flexible, don’t forget the flexible time
The pandemic showed that you need to adjust the schedule a bit to use the advantage of working from home. Don’t force the nine-to-five mentality you may have in the office to those working remotely. Not to mention complications coming from being a global team operating across time zones. Encourage the teams to find a couple of hours a day overlap and leave the rest of the schedule on individual employees.
Researchers at Brigham Young University analyzed data from more than 24,000 IBM employees for the point at which employees reported interference of work with their private life. For office workers, this point was at 38 hours a week. Those who telecommuted to work were able to balance their work and family life better. In fact, they worked 19 hours a week longer before experiencing a conflict between work and personal life. The reason is flexibility. Those working from home were able to better accommodate their non-work-related duties. This advantage would evaporate if they were required to perform a standard nine to five schedule.
5. Don’t forget that we are all individuals
When setting up the hybrid work policies, don’t try to be too prescriptive. You need to provide enough flexibility so people can adjust it to their personal needs. Invite your employees to participate in creating the policies so they truly work for everyone.
6. Relationships are important
The key to a strong culture is trust. The key to trust is strong relationships. Ensure that your work environment provides enough moments to connect not just at the professional level but also on the social level for everyone. Don’t rely on virtual contact only. People need to meet in the real world. Focus on building social capital and culture by being more proactive. You can’t rely on ad-hoc interactions anymore to share the company values and build social connections.
7. Be remote first
Don’t try to take your current policies and just fit the word remote in front of them. The new hybrid world requires you to rethink how work gets done. What worked in the office may not work for those being remote. The same applies to going from remote to hybrid. To use the best of both worlds, you need to reimagine the whole work experience, not just rename it.
8. Don’t allow performance reviews to disadvantage those who are working remotely
It is too easy to reward those who you see every day in the office regardless of whether they deliver better output than those at home. In the hybrid world, it is even more important than ever to make sure you focus on the outcomes of one’s work, not how many hours one spends in the office.
9. Make sure any communication is received the way it was intended
When you communicate to the team, your message may be perceived differently by those in the office and those working remotely. Always double-check that people understood what you intended. Only because you sent an email or had a virtual all-hands meeting doesn’t mean that you communicated and people heard you.
10. Asynchronous communication requires documentation
Since lots of communication can be asynchronous, learn to make notes of the meetings and then publish them for those who need to know. This is especially helpful if there are many people interested in a particular topic but not necessarily required for the decision-making. You can then keep the meetings smaller but let all the stakeholders know the outcome by posting the notes.
11. Get technology in place that will bridge the physical and virtual space
Regardless of whether the employee works in the office or from home, they need to have the same experience, and everyone needs to be heard. Be mindful that not everyone has good technology and working conditions at home.
12. Combat digital exhaustion
Do it by finding a way to balance real-time, synchronous, and asynchronous collaboration. Make sure breaks and recharge periods are encouraged and respected. Consider establishing no-meetings days.
13. Take breaks
Microsoft’s Human Factors Lab examined how humans interact with technology, specifically when it comes to online meetings. The results are telling. People need a break between meetings for the brain to reset its stress level so it doesn’t build up. Back-to-back meetings decrease our ability to focus and be engaged. Even a short break will re-energize us. Not to mention that transition between adjacent meetings can be a significant source of stress as we need to quickly finalize the current meeting so we don’t miss the beginning of the next one, and we need to switch contexts rapidly. Even a five or ten minutes break between meetings can solve that problem.
Putting it all together
Hybrid work is challenging as it requires extra thought and effort to make sure everyone feels included and engaged regardless of their role or location. You need to be very intentional in the way you communicate and interact with others. Frequent and transparent communication is more important than ever before.
What is your take on the topic? What do you expect from your manager when you work remotely? What are the things important to have a sustainable hybrid workplace? Do you think working remotely requires less or more management and leadership effort?
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