Remember 2019? Back when we used to drag ourselves to our offices every day, fuel ourselves with coffee and somehow get through the week?
Well, for many people, all of that is a distant memory.
Now, we know this doesn't apply to everyone. Essential workers out there — we see you and know the endless hours you've put in on-site while many of us were able to work from the comfort and safety of our homes. We also know some people have bosses who believe physical presence is a must for company culture.
But we also know that during the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of people who never dreamed that they could do their jobs from anywhere but their office discovered that, actually, they can! And now, in survey after survey, employees have made it clear: They don't want to be back in the office full time. For many of those who are back in the office full time, one survey shows a steep decline in work-life balance and overall satisfaction, along with a jump in stress and anxiety.
Enter hybrid work. The pandemic completely upended the notion of going to work and left in its place a patchwork of work-from-home and hybrid options.
So for all of you who can keep a hybrid work schedule, we have some tips on how to make it work. These tips are geared toward ordinary workers, but bosses and managers, there may be something in here for you too.
Don't expect all things to be equal. Hybrid work is all about customization
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that each person has their own experience. For some who live alone, working from home has been lonely and isolating, while others continue to bask in solitude. When schools went virtual, parents with kids struggled daily to find a quiet place to work but also got to enjoy mornings and evenings without the rushed commutes. Some people crave the energy that office life can bring, while others never want to step foot in their cubicle ever again.
That's all good, says Lorrissa Horton, a general manager with Cisco's Webex, who has spent years working a hybrid schedule and led a team of 2,000 remote employees in the pandemic.
Horton says that in this new era of work, the focus for workers and their employers has been on figuring out what works best for each person.
- As you wade into setting up a hybrid work schedule, first ask yourself: "What do I need in my environment to work best?"
"Everyone," Horton says, "has been much more open with their personal requests or desires for what makes their life work the best."
- Then, ask for what you need. There might never be a better time for it.
Professor Tsedal Neeley of Harvard Business School is the author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere. She noticed a rise in empathy levels from the time she began writing the book several years ago to when the book was published in March 2021.
"I was delighted, for the first time in my career, to see the empathy that people had and the willingness to make accommodations," she says. The way she sees it is that workers have proved they can be productive at home and have earned the right to ask for flexibility.
Be prepared to negotiate. Try seeing it from your boss's perspective
If you have a boss who's reluctant or even unwilling to allow for hybrid work, take a moment to try to see where your boss may be coming from. It could help you make a stronger case.
Neeley has consulted with a lot of bosses over the years. Here are some of the things she says they may be worried about:
- Losing control and access to seeing what people are up to
- Losing the connection to company culture
- Maintaining equity
- Achieving work goals
Some of the tips we're discussing might alleviate those concerns. But you may still need to lay out your case.
- Start with what you appreciate about your job and your company — what makes you excited to go to work. "I think it's important that they know you're coming from a place of 'I want to find a compromise that works because I care about the work I'm doing,' " Horton says.
- Be specific about why you're looking for flexibility. Is it the rush-hour commute that leaves you exhausted from the moment you step into the office? Do you feel unsafe in the office because of concerns about the virus? Come from a place of openness, Horton says.
Of course, it's not always going to work. If you end up being one of the few people working a hybrid schedule in your office, you may risk getting left out or left behind. And not everyone will be able to negotiate the hybrid setup they want. For people who find themselves in such situations, it may be time to move on. Fortunately, Horton points out, there are now more remote job opportunities where your physical location is no longer a limitation.
Connect with your colleagues early and often
Remember back in the office, when you'd have those spontaneous conversations — the off-the-cuff gut checks, the quick chats in the lunch line? It is possible to bring some of that back in a hybrid setting, but you have to be intentional about it and make use of the digital tools at your disposal.
Many messaging apps have a feature that allows you to update your status. Horton looks at that feature as the digital equivalent of standing up in your office and glancing around to see who's available for a quick brainstorm or a vent session. In the pandemic, many offices tried to schedule meetings to make up for the lack of face time in the office, but that led to meeting overload. Sometimes you just need five minutes for a completely fresh set of eyes on something, Horton says, and we should strive to replicate those quick check-ins online.
Being in touch with your co-workers beyond the deliverables and deadlines can also help restore a sense of camaraderie. Horton says that this can be especially key for younger employees and people of marginalized identities.
"A lot of people work on their networks within the office to provide that ally support," she says. Reduced time in the office might hinder that, so being intentional about reaching out is all the more important.
Frequent check-ins between bosses and their direct reports should also be emphasized, says Neeley. Don't wait for your six-month review to have a conversation about whether you have the resources, the training and the recognition you need to thrive in your job.
"The onus is both on managers and employees to make sure that [check-ins] happen so that people know what's going on," says Neeley.
Create identical workspaces at home and the office
Let's face it: A lot of us spend a lot of our time at our computers. And to make that bearable, we've made adjustments. You might have an ergonomic keyboard, two monitors or a standing desk.
If you're splitting your time between your home and the office, you should try to make your home setup just as good as your office one (or vice versa), and most importantly, make sure everything works properly so you don't spend frustrating hours every day trying to troubleshoot IT problems.
Of course, replicating your office setup at home will cost money. If you run into resistance trying to expense items, consider asking if there's something extra in the office that you might bring home. Horton also says it's worth pointing out to your company how much they might be saving by not having everyone in the office all the time. Some companies shed real estate in the pandemic, while others cut way back on travel. There may be extra funds available.
Ultimately, Horton says, your company wants you to be productive, so having the tools to do your job well should be a priority.
Build trust by getting to know your colleagues
Building trust in the workplace is important in any kind of setting but especially so when people are out of sight for long stretches. Neeley says there are different paths to building trust, but it starts with being reliable.
"Show up when you need to, virtual or not, on time," Neeley says. "Demonstrate your competence ... through your words, through your actions."
Trust also evolves as people get to know one another better. Horton found that getting a window into each other's lives was a silver lining of the pandemic. It led to healthy conversations about what people are trying to balance, she says.
"Over the last year, we all became more human," Horton says. "We all probably saw each other's lives and homes much more deeply than we ever had before. Don't lose that even when we go back into the office."
Bring your whole self to work, Horton urges, not just your professional self.
The podcast portion of this story was produced by Janet W. Lee, with engineering support from Patrick Murray and James Willetts.
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