In the months since companies began planning their post-pandemic work models, a key concept that has emerged is ‘hybrid’ – a structure combining remote work and in-office days. The hybrid model allows employees to retain the flexibility they’ve experienced working from home, and still have the kind of in-office contact with colleagues that strengthens teams and collaboration.
Workers in many nations are now starting to head back into office and beginning to trial this new way of working. The hybrid pattern will be unfamiliar for employees and employers alike, and some workers may wonder how to best allocate their tasks, so that their time in each work environment is used to maximum advantage.
Experts suggest choosing which work to do where, being communicative with managers and maximising in-person interactions can play a crucial role in making a success of a hybrid workweek.
Optimal office days
Even though hybrid set-ups will differ – some people will work a fixed number of days in the office, some will have specific pre-selected days during which whole teams are in together, some may be allowed to set their own schedules flexibly – there will be commonalities. For many, an early challenge may be working out how to move seamlessly between home and work offices.
“Early evidence that we’ve collected suggests that people are experiencing some kind of culture shock when they’re getting back into the office,” says Tsedal Neeley, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “They’re also entering spaces that don’t have the same kind of technology that they’ve now set up at their homes.”
At home, you'll experience fewer disruptions, so prioritise tasks you need to focus on (Credit: Getty)
Neeley suggests recreating aspects of your work-from-home environment in the office to make the switch feel less jarring, including the lighting around your desk, your camera or microphone setup, your seating arrangement and even the accessibility of digital tools such as Zoom, Slack and other company-specific applications. Closely matching the layouts of each work environment will lead to more efficiency throughout the workday, says Neeley, and a more streamlined transition between the two spaces.
Once the desk is sorted, workers should take stock of their tasks and decide which are better suited to the home or office environment. Planning ahead is key here, especially if the hybrid arrangement is consistent and workers know in advance which days they’ll be in the office.
Asynchronous tasks – which can be completed from start to finish without input from others, such as responding to direct emails or putting together a solo presentation – should be done at home, where you’re able to have large blocks of uninterrupted time. Projects that require focused writing, data entry or asynchronous email communication between colleagues in separate time zones can all be achieved effectively from home. Certain kinds of meetings may be suited for at-home days as well, ideally ones that are closed-ended, and seek to address an issue without the need for a lengthy follow up, such as brief check-ins with a small group of managers or colleagues about an upcoming agenda for the week.
Synchronous tasks, on the other hand, should be saved for in-office days. These are assignments that require collaboration, conversation, brainstorming or group creativity with many interdependent parts, says Paul Tesluk, dean and professor of organisational psychology at the University at Buffalo School of Management, New York. Workers can be just as creative working remotely as in-person, he says, but connecting with colleagues over video has proven to be more draining. People are slower to process non-verbal cues when using video technology, which can lead to anxiety and fatigue that gets in the way of fruitful collaboration.
Of course, workers all have different preferences and favoured working styles. Some feel they do their best work in silence and isolation, while others thrive in a bustling office environment. That means each worker will need to establish their own pattern – and assign tasks to in-office or home days on the basis that works best for them.
Connecting with colleagues
Making a success of hybrid is not just about choosing your tasks, however; developing and maintaining relationships with colleagues is also important.
Reaffirming social bonds with colleagues will help you both in the office and when you're working virtually (Credit: Getty)
Workers, at least early on, should prioritise spending time, both formal and informal, with colleagues to re-establish a baseline of social familiarity. Doing so helps to shore up important personal connections – the kind of trust “that comes from high quality working relationships that has been harder to be able to build and develop when working remotely”, says Tesluk.
Touching base with people in the office, whether for coffee, lunch or across a workspace, can in turn smooth working relationships on virtual days. If your team plans to be in the office every Monday, it’s important to join them.
This holds true especially for younger employees or newer hires brought on board during Covid-19, who have spent limited time with colleagues in the office. While these workers may choose some form of hybrid schedule, it will be useful at first to get to know the working patterns of managers and mentors so they can learn as much as possible. Even if it means fewer days working from home at the beginning, making connections in person can be one of the most effective ways to establish a place in a team or company.
Proving your productivity?
As new working models have emerged, there’s been debate about whether remote workers will find themselves side-lined in terms of promotions, because if they’re not in the office, their contribution may be less obvious. As a result, on their in-office days, workers may feel the need to prove to managers that they are being productive.
Approach your more limited in-office time intelligently, plan your days and maintain a steady line of communication with colleagues
According to Neeley, in a perfect world the stable or in many cases increased levels of productivity we’ve shown during the pandemic would erase the need for any overcompensation. “What Covid has taught us, and what remote work has surely defined for people, is that this notion of ‘butts in seats’ to demonstrate productivity or performance is not fruitful.
“Employees should assume that they’re trusted and not have these paranoias, because the world has changed, the way we appraise people has completely changed,” says Neeley. Instead, adds Tesluk, we should preserve our energy for taking full advantage of moments of in-office collaboration, and let the quality of the work itself do the talking.
But given we know that managers can be seduced by presenteeism, whether consciously or subconsciously, making a moderate effort to signal your productivity and communicate your contribution to your boss can be a good idea. That means it’s vital to create a regular channel of communication with your boss, particularly during the transition to hybrid, to ensure new working patterns are remaining effective.
Each company’s method of returning to in-office will fall on a spectrum and it will take time to adapt, regardless of your role or workplace experience. The key, says Neeley, is to approach your more limited in-office time intelligently, plan your days and maintain a steady line of communication with colleagues and managers.
“People want work-life flexibility, people have earned trust through productive performance and this is kind of the new way of thinking about work,” she says. “It’s not just about command and control, it’s about empowerment and trust.”