If you’ve reflected lately about what hybrid working means for you and your workplace, then my guess is you’re not alone.
As more businesses move toward hybrid working, there are at least five areas where you can improve your game: from where you work and when you work, to how you commute and travel, and even how you recharge afterwards. Coming up with a plan today could make navigating this new landscape easier for you, your colleagues, your customers and your families.
The dawn of hybrid working
In 2020, the transition from a traditional to virtual working model was instant and uniform. The office was closed literally overnight. Instead, we were asked to make immediate headspace for an unknown but unavoidable option: virtual working. This was a no questions asked and just do it moment.
After two years of changing return-to-office dates, today, we are instead seeing the transition to a hybrid working model: a flexible work model that supports a blend of in-office, remote and on-the-go workers. And while this transition is fluid, it has its own challenges such as having a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated workers and substantial differences between the IT environment at home and in the office. The truth is, people have worked remotely and fully virtually long enough to cement new ways of working, which we either love or hate.
A well-functioning hybrid working model should balance the needs of the business, your team’s most effective ways of working and your individual and family situation. These varying needs have seen companies pioneering their own approaches to hybrid work.
Know where you work best
High-level hybrid working policies are easy to understand, and invariably will set limits on the share of the work week that can be spent working remotely. However, the real challenge is figuring out how to realize it in a way that supports you and both your colleagues.
Take my situation, for example. My work falls into two big buckets: synchronous work where I collaborate with colleagues and customers, and asynchronous with more productivity-related work. While the synchronous portion benefits greatly from in-person collaborations in an office, personally I feel I have a better set-up at home for the asynchronous part and fully virtual meetings.
My agenda consists of strategic/creative and project/review-oriented meetings. The strategic/creative work has suffered the most during the pandemic and needs attention with thoughtful collaborative sessions. After two years of practice, the project/review sessions work well in a virtual set-up.
But how does this affect work relationships? For me, maintaining existing work relationships has worked OK, but building relationships with new team members needs attention. Job changes during the pandemic have forced us to be creative with virtual coffees, but there is more to do.
Most workers view hybrid working as taking place in two locations: an office and a home. However, I expect to see more remote work options where secondary work locations grow in importance such as remote work in a different office, a secondary residence, or any part of the world.
My hypothesis for a baseline plan for the fall is to spend one or two days weekly at the office, focused on synchronous sessions and relationship building, while actively pursuing creative uninterrupted work sessions in secondary locations for a few days up to a week per quarter.
Know when to work…and when not to
The boundaries between on- and off-hours got blurred in the virtual world. For many, this reality was further accentuated if they found themselves working in a global organization that never really stops.
On the upside, the pandemic gave us more flexibility. Suddenly, we reallocated time used for office lunch breaks, commuting and business travel to productive work. Yet on the downside, what was once a hard stop at the end of the day quickly became very soft. To manage the new complex environment, many found ways to work more hours to deal with challenging tasks. As a result, the output per individual increased. The total amount of hours I spent on work-related tasks has increased during the pandemic, perhaps as much as my travel has decreased.
For me, this added another challenge to an already complex schedule. Collaborations with colleagues residing in a continent further east must happen in the morning. Support to customer-facing teams needs to be allocated evenly across all time zones. These two realities and a personal commitment to daily exercise routines make my days very front end heavy. The second challenge is that my asynchronous work tends to be back end heavy, with time for strategic/creative thinking allocated at the end of the day, which is not optimal.
To manage this, I have set up firm off-limits hours in the morning and strive to combine physical exercise with strategic creative/thinking early in the day when my mind is fresh and works best. I also aspire to block out a week per quarter for strategic/creative work that requires long sequences of uninterrupted time.
Design your own commute
Pre-pandemic work commutes were eating into valuable time at both ends of the day. During the pandemic, commutes went from miles to feet with a virtual work-from-home model. With the move to hybrid working, work commutes are coming back…but will they ever be the same again?
Since you’re likely to have already turned your commuting time into productive time during the pandemic, you probably don’t want to see it go back into a black hole of wasted time. Fortunately, you don’t have to. Today, the combination of fewer commutes into the office, together with new scheduling realities that allow you to avoid rush hour when you do commute, the days of sitting in daily traffic tailbacks or cramming into the metro, twice a day, all workdays in a week, are surely becoming memories of a bygone era.
When it comes to planning my own commute, my base plan is to take eastbound conference calls from home and commute into the office after the morning rush. I aim to return after scheduled meetings in the afternoons and conduct asynchronous work at home to avoid the early evening rush hour. I find the avoidance of peak travel times lowers my commuting stress and – somewhat surprisingly – my ‘micro commute’ in the afternoon refreshes me, pumping me up for the last few hours of work
Get ready for business travel to be rescheduled
The work situation for road warriors shifted dramatically during the pandemic. In my case I was grounded for 805 days, meaning I had to find creative ways to work with zero travel. Previously, work travel was fairly common, especially in the United States; a global leader in business travel spending. According to the US Travel Association, prior to the pandemic the US spent $306 billion per annum on business travel, split between general business travel and meetings/events.
In the hybrid working model, optimal travel might be somewhere in between in-person (100 percent travel) and the virtual (0 percent) world, at half my pre-pandemic business travel levels. But how will I achieve this?
My hypothesis for how business travel could change in a new hybrid working model is:
- travel to build new relationships should bounce back and might even increase short term
- travel associated with event for customers and employees should bounce back to fill the zoom-fatigue gap short-term and even medium- to long-term depending on how well we pivot to meaningful hybrid events
- travel where you travel to events as an audience should decline to make room for customer-facing travel
- customer-facing travel settles in on a reduced level
- travel associated with internal meetings focused on relationship/team building, on a overall lower level.
I envision my own travel to increase short-term focused on relationship building. Travel centered around meeting customers and partners at their premises or at events with extensive networking opportunities. In the longer term, relationship building and cross-company collaborations will remain central to capturing the potential for customer-led innovation.
Reload and recharge
An evident struggle in the virtual-only world was how to reload and recharge. When locked down in a home office without travel options, we got stuck in the same environment for a long stretch.
Office workers struggled with using their vacation time in 2020, and many vacation plans in 2021 were limited to national vacations and travel. So far in 2022, we have seen the travel industry struggling to rehire fast enough to meet the rapidly surging demand.
Vacation cultures vary substantially between different markets, from monthly shutdowns in Europe to family weeks around major US holidays, such as the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most businesses are seasonal, and planning can unlock time for recharging and reloading. Finding your seasonal business dips during the year gives you an opportunity for structured vacation planning.
After a challenging and intense summer in 2021, I ran out of steam in the fall and ended up with most of my time off during the last six weeks of the year. This year I have pushed to even it out more over the year, with half of my vacation in one sequence. Breaks play a central role in a hybrid office model and will bring us back better if we invest the time to get this part of the job done well too!
Let’s keep the conversation going
Thank you for reading to the end. I hope you have found inspiration to formulate a hybrid office plan that serves you, your teams, and your business well over the next 12 months.