The past year has created a tremendous shift in the way the majority of businesses in the world operate. Remote work has become the main way for organizations worldwide to continue forward with their business. People that previously worked in a specific location, like in an office, could now transition to working remotely from the safety of their homes. From being the prerogative of flexible tech companies, remote work became the reality of everyone, including large corporations from conservative industries, such as banks and government organizations.
As the supply of vaccines increases and more people become vaccinated, organizations are thinking ahead to what future workspaces will look like. But now we know things that weren’t clear before 2020. The last year served as a test case, which showed that it’s possible to conduct business with a large segment of the workforce doing so remotely. Moreover, companies were able to significantly cut down on the costs of maintaining extremely expensive offices in city centers during the pandemic. Finally, a large share of employees prefers to work remotely at least part of the time and sees this as a competitive advantage for their employer.
So, no matter how much we would like to forget the madness of 2020, there’s no going back to the pre-COVID times. Most companies will never be able to completely return to the office. As they’re working on their return-to-office plan, there’s one notion that we’re hearing more and more often: the hybrid work model. And unlike the past year, now we have enough time to prepare for it.
The continuum of remote to office work models has a lot of grades in between: remote first, workplace flexibility, flextime, office-optional, hours of presence, etc. Basically, the hybrid-work model represents any combination of splitting employees’ time between working in the office and from home (or in another location).
Liam Martin, the co-founder of Time Doctor, defines hybrid work as “a single department or a percentage of the company that works remotely and a certain percentage of the company that works in an office.”
He leads a team of employees in more than 40 countries.
Hybrid work aims to combine the best parts of working from home and working in an office to shape the new normal. It gives employees the flexibility they desire and solves the problem of isolation in remote work.
One of the challenges with remote work is its limited amount of human connection with creative tasks, like brainstorming. You may be able to chat virtually or get on a video call, but you miss out on social cues. There’s something powerful about having team members tackling an issue or problem in person. Opportunities for aha moments can arise face to face, which a video chat can’t replace. There’s also a stronger sense of camaraderie—the idea that you belong to something larger than yourself.
Apple, IBM, and Cisco are just a few organizations that have recently switched to the hybrid work model. Even a giant from the conservative financial industry, HSBC Bank, has announced it’ll be going hybrid across the whole organization, including the executive team. For them, such a shift went hand in hand with switching to a flexible workspace without assigned tables to foster social interaction in the new office.
In an interview with People, Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted how working together in person fuels innovation: “My gut says that, for us, it’s still very important to physically be in touch with one another because collaboration isn’t always a planned activity.” He added, “Innovation isn’t always a planned activity.”
Cook also praised remote work during the conversation: “We have realized and learned that there are some things that are perfectly great to do virtually across Zoom or WebEx, whatever, or FaceTime, whatever you might have. So I think it’ll be, I’ll call it a hybrid environment [for] a little bit.”
One of the fastest ways to get ahead is to learn from others. Specifically, learn from those who have already accomplished what you want to do.
Joshua Waitzkin, a learning expert, talks about being prepared in his book The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance. “The road to success is not easy or else everyone would be the greatest at what they do—we need to be psychologically prepared to face the unavoidable challenges along our way, and when it comes down to it, the only way to learn how to swim is by getting in the water.”
Hybrid work models will empower specific work trends that companies should be ready for.
Culture becomes more important
The founder of Buffer, Joel Gascoigne, touches on a struggle with remote workers: “When you just have a few people remote, they can easily feel like second-class citizens without full access to information.” With hybrid work models, it’s vital for the company leaders to equalize employee experience and make all work opportunities accessible to everyone. Not only should the flexibility of hybrid work be accessible to all job functions in the company, but people working remotely should also have the same access to information and social interactions as office employees.
This can be solved by using a set of the right communication tools and rules. For instance, some companies have a rule of running a meeting over Zoom instead of broadcasting an in-person office meeting—even if there’s only one remote employee on the call. This gives remote employees the feeling that they’re equal team members. You may also have an internal wiki that any employee can explore. Then you may use asynchronous tools, like a project management app, along with a team chat.
A good company culture gives employees a strong feeling of belonging and a shared vision of the future. People want to be a part of something bigger—it motivates them and makes them stay longer in companies when the employers’ competition is growing. Corporate culture is a big notion that comprises the values, communication style, the way conflicts are handled, etc. In many companies, this was built spontaneously, but the switch to hybrid makes it indispensable to re-think these rules and make them clear in order to maintain high team productivity.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos advocates for a relentless focus on long-term success. He suggests being stubborn on vision and flexible on details. This is a great principle to have behind building your company’s culture—your team needs to be very clear about where they want to get to, but use various tactics to get there.
Asynchronous communication is key
Asynchronous communication is a proven tool for effective teams, regardless of if they’re remote or not. In this style of communication, the exchange of information happens when it’s convenient for both sides. A team member can leave a written, audio, or video message, and the second person replies with a time gap. While asynchronous communication is particularly efficient for working across multiple time zones, studies have shown that it allows team members to be more productive, cut down meeting times, and focus more deeply on their work without interruption.
David Heinemeier Hansson, an evangelist for remote work, talks about the power of writing: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to run a company through meetings as the primary and first mode of communication. I think it is far better to run your company, whether it’s remote or not, with writing as your first mode of communication.”
When you choose to work asynchronously, you give employees time to do meaningful work. The computer science professor, Cal Newport, has named this deep work. Newport tapped into the wisdom of the author Winifred Gallagher to help explain the concept in his book Deep Work: “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.”
By collaborating asynchronously, you empower members of your team to communicate when they’re at their best. You can ask a team member a question, knowing that they’ll get back to you without the expectation of an instant response. Asynchronous communication maximizes the time that a team member can spend focused on doing work that has an impact.
So, when should you switch to asynchronous communication?
According to Natalie Nagele, CEO of Wildbit, “If a conversation or discussion is running too long, let’s move it to real-time...because what we are doing with real-time meetings is we are actually optimizing for focus work.”
In other words, prioritize asynchronous communication. Then tap into communicating synchronously as needed to work through any challenges or problems swiftly.
More contractors and independent workers
The flexibility of hybrid work applies to companies’ hiring models as well. More people are starting working outside of the standard 40-hour week, preferring part-time work or being a contractor for several employers. Companies also get the advantage of hiring candidates from a larger pool that includes other cities and, sometimes, even other countries.
If you decide to hire internationally or hire location-independent specialists (that spend several months per year in different countries), this implies legal and tax issues for your overseas employees. Employment of record companies provide you with full compliance by hiring employees on behalf of their local entities in various countries.
When you transition to a hybrid work model, your team will likely split their time between home and your organization’s office. The question of fairness may arise. The best way to answer this question is to kick off a team discussion to consider different perspectives. In doing so, you’ll allow members of your team to share how they feel and avoid feelings of resentment. Look for patterns and insights to guide your decision.
A sense of control can impact an employee’s performance in a positive way. Three researchers (Edward Deci, Richard Ryan, and Paul Baard) conducted a 2004 study on employees at a bank in the United States. They discovered that job satisfaction was positively correlated with managers who provided autonomy support. Specifically, the bosses maintained support in these ways:
- Considering an employee’s point of view
- Sharing meaningful feedback
- Providing a say in what to do and how to do it
- Nudging employees to take on new projects
The results were surprising. Employees shared they were more satisfied with their jobs thanks to having a level of autonomy. Working remotely offers a sense of autonomy. For instance, a team member who works from home can choose a distinct spot to work from. Although small, this has a profound impact on hybrid work.
Hybrid work matters because it will offer even more autonomy. Suman Gopalan, chief HR officer at Freshworks, shares her findings from studies that compared in office and remote work.
- Creation of a common culture
- Faster decision making
- Team collaboration
- Overall performance
- Job satisfaction
She found that in office work had an edge for creating a common culture and faster decision making. Team collaboration and innovation were about the same. Remote work took the lead for overall performance. Job satisfaction wasn’t conclusive and varied based on the number of days that someone worked remotely per week.
Professional chefs have a saying called mise en place. This French phrase translates to “putting in place.” Mise en place means gathering and preparing the ingredients that you need to make a delicious dish. This system works because you have prepped ahead of time and have what you need in front of you. Remember that hybrid work is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to create your mise en place for hybrid work where you take the ingredients (the best parts of remote and in-office work) to create a winning workplace for your team.
Lance Robbins, an international remote work consultant, shares the insight that “the most common hybrid policy rollout mistakes that I see companies make fall into three categories: messaging, templatizing, or discrimination.”
Let’s say you’re building your dream home. Before you can install a roof, you need a structure. And before you can set up the structure, you need a strong foundation to build on. Starting with a solid foundation that covers the basics will set you up for success.
When transitioning to hybrid, the leadership needs to start with informing the workforce about the mutual benefits of this transition. Then, they need to build actionable templates for the team management built on the remote work best practices. Finally, they need to ensure an equally accessible hybrid workplace for all team members.
A panel on hybrid work recently hosted on Running Remote was an insightful discussion with experts represented organizations of varying sizes, ranging from small teams, where everyone knows each other by their first name, to thousands of employees.
Here are three things that the panelists agreed on beginning with:
1) Be clear about which roles require being in the office and which can be done remotely.
2) Document systems and processes.
3) Create opportunities for building human connection.
The takeaway is to be deliberate in building a playbook for moving your team’s work forward, even in uncertain times.
As former Navy SEAL commander, Mark Divine, writes in his book Unbeatable Mind, “Great teams strive to standardize routine tasks like those above (the list applies to any type of training, not just physical skill training) so that time is not wasted reinventing the push up every time someone new comes on the team.”