navigating the hybrid workplace

It looks like I am going to be one of those hybrid workers, in the office 2-3 days per week.  COVID19 has taught organisations and employees that the daily grind of office working isn't getting the best from us. With a mixed home/office working week, the so-called 'hybrid' model becoming the schedule of choice for office-based employees.

There is plenty of information for leaders and managers on hybrid working, this from HBR is a useful summary, but little for us employees on how to navigate hybrid working.  Here is how my thinking is going.

1. my employer gets a vote

There are going to be boundaries on this, and my employer is going to have some.  Depending on the type of organisation you work in the amount of flexibility is going to differ.  This probably isn't the time to go flexing the boundaries as we return from our current situation - now probably isn't the time to ask if I can go and work from southern Italy for 6 months (perhaps next year).

2. the paradox of choice

We are now going to have some choice in where we work. Previous to the COVID19 pandemic I worked away from the office 1 day per week, joining millions of others making the office on a Friday rather deserted.  Now I get to choose, now I might somehow get this wrong!  Everyone is going to be different and will work in different ways.  The benefits of a zero-minutes commute from the breakfast table to the work laptop need to be balanced with the need to interact with others.  I have missed the direct interactions with people in our organisation, an engineer by background, my meetings usually have lots of whiteboard drawings, post-it notes and flip chart paper.  Almost impossible to get that online, even with video calling.

I am going to work on the basis that there is no wrong, only different.  Everyone is different and had varying experiences of operating through lockdowns.  My choice will not be the same as others, I am however going to look at how others are managing hybrid working with interest.  Let's give ourselves a break here and learn as we go. 

3. fixed vs flexible scheduling

Trying to imagine how I will split my time has been difficult.  Hybrid working is aimed at being flexible, the aim is to be in the best place for the work we need to do.  Do I fix my time on a regular schedule, or be totally fluid with my planning each week? My current plan looks something like this:

  • One fixed day per week.  Probably on a day my most important regular meeting happens, this maximises the time with my peers and the team I work with. I will make it clear in my online calendar which day this is.  It also enables others to book time into my diary for face-to-face meetings.  I plan to do these on a single day - noting that some people might be on a different schedule.    This leads me to...

  • One other day in the office, flexibly placed. Aimed to coincide with the most popular office day for those I wish to meet face-to-face.

  • One day assumed at home.  Let's be honest, Friday in the office is rather a quiet affair and it is really handy knowing you can book in the plumber, builder etc in without having to rearrange the whole week.  The likelihood of being called into the office is almost zero, so Friday is assumed to be a WFH day.  

  • Flex the other days.  I expect that some weeks will be more in the office, some more at home.  Maintaining flex in the diary ensures I can react to requests.  I am hoping that having an open mind on a few days each week will help the transition to a hybrid way of working, balancing the structured and unstructured time.

4. meeting overload

My first thoughts on my 'in office' day imagined a full day of catch-ups and meetings, probably leading to an overdose of caffeine.  Anyone who has lived the experience of back-to-back meetings, with a full 'Skypemare' of a schedule being a regular COVID19 occurrence, will know how that feels.  Some time to process emails, actions and be able to have those vital ad-hoc conversations is going to be key on those days. Just an hour or two I think to start, see how it goes.

5. revise and review

Hybrid working is new, and with everyone approaching it differently it makes sense that we take on board our learning and plan accordingly.  I have got two things in mind:

  1. During my weekly review a forward scan of my diary for two weeks to see if my current assumed schedule works, and what might be best for my 'flex' days.
  2. A monthly 'stop and think'.  Mainly to take on board how the previous month has gone, take on board any new thinking and feedback from peers and leaders so I can adjust my assumptions.  Planning on discussing with my line manager how it is working and what changes may be required, all in the spirit of....

6. experimentation

Let's all agree that the first 12 months is going to be a big, complex experiment.  We are going to make some hypotheses, try some things out, refine our thinking and help others find their way. If we want to go to the office 5 days per week that's fine, only come in for certain meetings, that is fine too.

7. ps - employees get a vote too!

Remember, if you have got staff your planning has just got a bit more complex, just remember number 6 above and everything will be fine.