As companies and individuals get ready to make a return to the office (at least in some capacity) following vaccinations, it’s a good idea to think about how ideas concerning work and the workplace are changing, and what the expectations are going forward.
In this post I’ll be discussing the changing work environment and the growth of “hybrid teams”. A lot has already changed in the past year, and it’s unlikely that things will go completely back to the way they were before. Many workers have gotten used to working at home and the benefits it provides, and there are also a lot of fears, or rather mixed feelings, about returning fully to the office.
Many people want to work remotely…
Some recent surveys have shown that as many as 80% of remote workers in the U.S. enjoyed the experience, with many saying they are more productive (40% according to McKinsey). What’s more, it seems like the majority of remote workers want to continue working remotely, at least for part of the week.
This has to do with a lot of factors, most likely. These include things like being able to spend more time with family, having a bit more flexibility in scheduling, and not having to go through punishing commutes every day. Added to this was the feeling of safety from not having to go outside that remote work afforded.
…But not all the time
But the benefits of remote work is not the full story. There’s also the fact that most remote workers don’t want to work remotely full-time; most want to work remotely only part of the time (1~4 days a week). This complicates the narrative a bit. The answer to the question, “Is the future of work remote or in the office?” is simply “Yes”.
Anyone who has been working from home since the pandemic started can probably understand the reasons why most workers don’t want to work from home all the time. It can be lonely, it can make you feel disconnected, and getting in touch with people for collaborative projects can be quite difficult.
It’s likely that most people are feeling a bit of Zoom fatigue at this point. When the remote boom first started, many people were excited at the new opportunities that video-conferencing offered. Certainly, the growth and normalization of video-conferencing tools have revolutionized the way people think about work and meetings, and will continue to make communication easier, especially for those who conduct business over long distances or internationally. The heyday of the long-distance business trip may be over since it’s far cheaper and less time-consuming to do a Zoom call.
However, there are limits to how much people are ready to turn their work lives over to tech, at least at this point in time. It’s not just the ease of conducting meetings or brainstorming sessions in-person that people miss, but also the informal interactions and social connection with coworkers.
Many of us need to feel like we are a part of something greater than us–part of the team. Working in isolation can lead to anxiety or feelings of inadequacy when stretched out for a long period of time. Team unity is also important for organizations and companies, as well. The basis for many functioning teams is a common sense of purpose, and a common bond among team members that trust each other.
Towards a hybrid workplace future
If the future work is a hybrid model, where workers work partly in the office and partly remote, then the real revolution in work is not the increasing use of technology per se, but rather flexibility. This means that workers will have more options in terms of how they choose to work and greater control over their work-life balance.
Employers may also be able to be more flexible in terms of who they hire. Teams don’t necessarily have to be in the same area all the time anymore, which means that employees who live a bit farther away can still be effective members of the team.
Finally, there’s a lot of opportunities when it comes to reimagining the office or workplace itself. With hybrid teams, the office doesn’t have to be a place where everyone works everyday. While predictions that offices will become completely unnecessary are a little premature, it’s easy to imagine a world where offices become scaled down. Instead of being used to house everyone’s individual workspaces, they become more like communal spaces for collaboration, meetings, and getting regular interaction with coworkers.
Things to consider
Thus, the rise of hybridity is exciting in terms of how it will affect individual workers, teams, work lives and workspaces. But there are a few things to be aware of before diving in.
1) Maintain team unity
Team unity is harder to achieve when team members are all over the place, or have different schedules. We saw this during the shift to remote work as well.
For hybrid teams, it will be even more important to keep together while apart–not an easy tightrope to walk. But it is necessary because team members may feel isolation or burnout if they don’t feel like they’re being included or valued.
That’s why it’s a good idea to pay attention and reach out to each other. Try to notice when people are feeling low, and make sure to give team members feedback in real time as much as possible. Encourage team members to work together and collaborate, whether online or in-person, and use the office as a space that is open for team members to meet, laugh, and feel safe when they need it.
2) Be flexible with expectations
Here’s another tight-rope to traverse: keeping expectations for performance while allowing for flexibility in scheduling and location of work. Again, not so easy.
Of course, this is going to take a lot of trust on both ends. Workers need to know that their employers trust them, and that if they need to, they can take some time for themselves. Employers, on the other hand, need to know that their workers aren’t shirking off, and that they can depend on them to get the work done.
DIscussing what’s expected and sharing concerns openly beforehand is a good way to start. That way, both sides can talk about what they want and expect from the other. But most likely, hybrid teams are going to have to experiment and try things out a lot. That may worry some people, but unfortunately we’re in uncharted territory, which means a lot of details will be resolved in the day-to-day actions and negotiations that teams will end up having to make.
3) Keep it fun
However, this can also be a great opportunity to rethink and reimagine. In other words: have fun with it!. While it is stressful to deal with hybridity and flexibility, having a good attitude about it and sharing that attitude with your team can have powerful effects.
Creating a space for teams to laugh is, as always, really important. Mixing informal hangouts, Zoom parties (sometimes), and in-person social events is also a right step, and emphasizes the hybridity that your team wants to practice in the workplace.
Team building will also be beneficial in this regard. Getting everyone together to challenge each other and have fun will help keep everyone’s motivation up, as well as allow your team to stay unified and on the same page. You can also plan events in which part of the team is in the office and part of the team is calling in remotely. Again, this will reinforce the hybrid nature of your team and get everyone more used to working that way.
Hybridity and flexibility are gaining traction as a result of the experiences that many people had while working remotely. This new model is the direction that work is headed. In general it has the potential to create some really great outcomes, if you embrace the flexibility that comes with it and make it your own.
Each team is different, and so each team has to create its own ways of adopting this new style of working. However, you are not alone in embarking on this new path. Invite Japan is here to help you from–from consulting on how to maintain team unity, to planning events that will help your hybrid team. We have a number of activities and programs that are a perfect fit for this moment, as well as the capability to help create the right activity for your team’s needs.