As hybrid work remains beyond the pandemic and continues to reshape the contours of what we define as “work”, a lot of growing pains and unresolved issues still remain. Here, we go through how a more organized hybrid model can help.
Hybrid work has now been around for a while, and different companies and teams have adopted different practices when it comes to this new style of work. So the term can encompass a variety of meanings and actions.
This experimentation has in turn led to more information about what practices are best, and which ones should be left behind. In order for teams to gain the most from hybrid work environments, which do offer a lot of positive benefits when it comes to flexibility and worker productivity, they should be more conscious of where some of the pitfalls are.
In our last blog post, we outlined the state of hybrid and remote work, and the benefits that they have borne out for both workers and teams. But there’s still a long way to go in perfecting these newer work forms, and ensuring that they meet workers’ and teams’ needs.
We also introduced the concept of “organized hybrid” as a model to use to move forward. Organized hybrid means taking these particular needs into account, viewing the team from a larger perspective, and making sure that everyone is on the same page with whatever system is implemented.
So in this blog post we will go through what organized hybrid actually means more deeply, and how it can help solve some of the mistakes that are currently plaguing hybrid work.
Organized Hybrid: Trust and Intentionality
The keywords here are trust and intentionality. Workers need to have trust in the system that is established in order to have buy-in, while managers need to have trust in their workers and in their ability to have agency over their workflows and schedules.
Intentionality, meanwhile, means that teams need to decide together not only what they want to do when it comes to implementing hybrid and remote work regiment, but why. Teams need to ask what purpose their hybrid structure serves, and how it relates to their goals and objectives.
This intentionality helps keep teams on track and on the same page. And it tethers whatever you do with hybrid to actual purposes and meanings, rather than just being something you slap on at the last minute or because other people are doing it.
Everything you do as a team should have intentionality behind it. But especially when it comes to major changes in work environments and cultures, teams need to have a reason for making them. Otherwise, there won’t be the same consistency and ability to hold together.
Both trust and intentionality work together and make each other stronger. The more trust your team has, the easier it will be to make intentional decisions. And the more intentional decisions are, the more trust will be engendered, since the team will see that decisions have meaning behind them.
Organized hybrid is really just based on this contractual principle. Teams come together and come up with goals and what they want to achieve as a result of their hybrid model, both as individual team members and as a group. Then they set to work implementing a structure that accomplishes them.
Doing this will avoid a lot of the mistakes that we will mention now.
Common mistakes teams make when it comes to hybrid work
The following are some of the most common mistakes regarding hybrid work. Most of these mistakes occur precisely because teams have not thought intentionally about how they want to implement hybrid work regimes and/or because they haven’t created a strong foundation of trust on the team.
It’s important to recognize that these “mistakes” may not be anyone’s fault necessarily. They don’t mean that your team is failing or that there is something inherently wrong. Rather, a lot of these mistakes occur from simple lack of awareness or not paying attention to how a hybrid actually works.
Because hybrid work is so new, there’s still a lot of experimentation that can occur. Use this as a team. Be aware of these mistakes and how to avoid them, and experiment with different ways of solving them. This will help your team stay flexible and united, which is crucial for hybrid styles of work to succeed.
1. Letting remote and in-person work blend together
One common mistake that often gets overlooked is letting remote and in-person work blend together. Basically, what often happens with hybrid regimes is that remote workers are expected to follow in-person demands, like keeping to a fixed schedule, constantly being monitored and the expectation that you will always be available.
Meanwhile, in-person workers may also feel as if they were working remotely. This is the so-called “zombie office effect” where workers have to participate in online meetings all day while in the office, or even end up working in an empty office when no one else is there. Thus, it can feel as if these two forms of work are being blended together.
The reason this may be bad is that both remote and in-person work have their own unique benefits. When blended, these benefits can become muted (such as the benefits of having flexibility while at home). More than that, this blending can be frustrating for workers and lead to confusion about what the point of it all actually is.
What to do instead:
Use the principles of organized hybrid and try to keep remote and in-person work as separate as possible. If someone is working remotely, let them be flexible and have agency over their own workflows. If someone is in the office, assume that they are there to get in-person work done, most likely around other people that are working on the same project.
Keeping them separate will also help you and your team to understand what the benefits are for each type of work. You may come to realize that it isn’t effective to have in-person workers go to the office just to have online meetings, or that it’s ok to let remote workers go off on their own to do some intense “hard work”.
2. Not having an organized schedule
Another mistake when implementing a hybrid work regime is not having an organized schedule. Many teams have put in place hybrid work systems in a hodgepodge way, which often means making workers come into the office a certain number of days of the week, but not organizing when workers do so.
While hybrid has come to mean “flexibility”, there still needs to be some organizing principle at work. This goes back to what we said about organized hybrids and the need for intentionality. Without understanding what hybrid is meant to achieve, teams will have a hard time introducing any sort of organized framework.
What to do instead:
Put the “organized” in “organized hybrid” by coming up with clear goals, ground rules, and a schedule. Determine when people should be expected to come into the office and for what purposes, and when they can be left to do remote work. Also, make sure that a schedule is available for everyone to see. Knowing when workers are in the office versus at home will help everyone adjust expectations accordingly and see where they are needed.
3. Forcing team members to come in when the rest of their team isn’t there
One specific problem that results from not having an organized schedule is that you get situations where team members go to the office to find that none of their other team members are there.
This is happening more than people care for, and it is caused by teams not understanding what work at the office is meant for. The central purpose of the office in the age of hybrid is for collaboration, specifically with members of your team on projects that you are working together on.
Absent this type of collaborative work, it might be better in the end to have team members just stay home. After all, what hybrid has made people realize is that “culture” is not the same as “being in the office”. In other words, simply being in the office isn’t as important as what kind of work gets done there.
What to do instead:
When creating your schedules for team members (see above), take an organized hybrid approach by looking at the needs of each sub-team (that is, each project within the team and the team members who are working on it). If a team needs to work or brainstorm together, let them have the office on a particular day. Also give each team the agency to meet in-person when they see fit.
Basically, organize your hybrid structure so that it allows teams to work more effectively together.
4. Not knowing why you’re implementing the system you want to implement
As we said before, intentionality is everything when it comes to making massive changes like the ones involved in creating a hybrid structure. But many teams and companies did rush into hybrid work styles, simply because other people were doing it, or because they thought it would be a good bridge to transitioning back to 100% in-person.
But what this ended up doing was creating a lot of confusion and unnecessary frustration. Workers felt unsure about why any of this was happening, or what they were actually expected to do. And it made for a less stable environment, as policies continued to be changed and amended.
What to do instead:
As always: communicate, communicate, communicate! Be clear to your team members about the goals of hybrids and what they are supposed to achieve. And have team members interact with these ideas: leave some room for discussion and debate about what your team’s needs are. Figure out together what you want and you want to achieve and the hybrid road ahead will become much more clear, and much more supported.
5. Not trusting employees
We said last time that most employees feel that they are more productive while working from home. The flip side to this is that 85% of managers don’t think that their workers are actually being productive while working from home.
This gap explains a lot of the back-and-forth debate that’s been happening over hybrid and remote work. It is why a lot of policies have shifted and changed mid-way, why workers are often left puzzled over the reason for these policy changes, and why there have been so many attempts to monitor remote workers as much as possible.
It also reveals that the underlying issues of hybrid systems aren’t their actual effectiveness, but rather how much trust is behind it. It seems quite clear that what needs to change is managers and how they assess workers’ productivity (as we explained, most data suggests that productivity has a positive correlation with working from home).
What to do instead:
Establish more trust on your team, primarily through redefining your goals and rationale for hybrid work, but also through communicating more with team members and learning to manage remotely in different ways. It’s not the case that managing means looking over everyone’s shoulders anymore. It may mean something more like taking the bird’s-eye-view and making sure that everyone has the face time with their coworkers that they need, or seeing when trust is lagging and organizing team building activities to counteract it.
In organized hybrid models, the manager may also change to being primarily just that–an organizer. One who looks at schedules, listens to what’s going on with certain teams and team members, and ensures that the overall workflow of the team is on track.
But the main mode of managers now needs to be one of building trust rather than micromanaging. It is true that overall trust can sometimes diminish as a result of remote work and hybridisation, since workers are more dispersed. Which means that it’s even more important to be aware of trust issue on teams and have someone there who is responsible for keeping it strong (or at least alerting the team to possible weak points).