As the working world emerges post-COVID, we are probably facing at least a year of hybrid working. For some companies, transitioning back to the office will take months and we will be working out how to balance working from home versus booking time in the office. For other companies, they are closing down much of their office space to make hybrid working (or indeed remote working) permanent.What worries me is the image of a whole lot of managers sitting in meetings now working out the policy for how they want their employees to work, and that’s a mistake.
Hybrid working patterns can’t be decided at a company level — they have to be decided team by team.
Sure, HR and the leadership team need to decide how to keep teams safe and empower them to work well together in potentially uncertain times — and for that reason guidelines and advice will be welcome. But it’s not up to them to tell teams how to do hybrid working with a blanket, company-wide policy. What teams really need is the permission and tools to work out how they want to work well together, team by team.
We’ve seen that we can trust people to work from home — let’s now trust them to work out the best patterns of work that suit them, the team members and the type of work each team does.
Here are 7 principles for teams to keep in mind as they begin hybrid working:
- Keep experimenting: Hybrid working isn’t about creating one permanent set of rules for the whole company — every team should decide between them how they best want to work well together in a hybrid environment. This means that you, the team members of each team, should give each other the permission to experiment and try out new ways of working until you find a pattern that works for you. When new team members join or when a new project starts you might need to change how you work again, so keep in mind that you’ll be constantly aware of what’s right for your team and give each other the permission to suggest improvements as things change.
- Value live time: When you are meeting face-to-face, make sure you prioritise your time and attention for that meeting by having a reason to be in the same room as each other. Don’t waste live time with one person presenting a long slide deck — that’s the kind of thing that can be done online. Live time should be discussing debating and creating ideas, where everyone in the room has a contribution to make and a reason to be there.
- Make it personal: Hybrid working only works when people trust each other, so make an effort to get to know each other well and develop your relationships by understanding each other as people, beyond work. You will need to create space and time for downtime together with your team — for example have lunch together once a week without an agenda, or share hobbies and interests with each other once a month (in person or online).
- People not PowerPoint: When you meet each other online, make sure videos are on so you can fully connect and see each other’s faces and body language. This means prioritising people not PowerPoint — every time there is a discussion, come off slide share and make sure you’re seeing each other face-to-face and talking to each other, not to slides.
- Book in development time. Hybrid working makes it harder for younger or new members of the team to learn from the other people in the team by overhearing them. If you are new in a team, make sure to ask for shadowing time, buddy time or development time with managers and leaders to overhear them in some of their meetings and learn from the conversations that more experienced people are having.
- Fast feedback: It’s easy for misunderstandings to happen when we are working mostly remotely. Make sure to give and receive fast feedback, in the moment. If someone seems upset, or if you didn’t get what you were expecting from them, immediately pick up the phone and clarify, positively and constructively. Don’t let things fester or worry, and definitely don’t do it all by email. Make sure you’re giving each other permission to check-in.
- Over-communicate: Find ways to make communicating with each other as easy as possible. Make sure you’re picking up the phone, talking or leaving voicemails, discussing what you’re concerned about, asking people for help or explaining how you feel. The more you can communicate with each other the stronger your relationships will be in your team, and the more trust you will develop with each other, which will make your work better.
The world will keep changing, there will be new opportunities, and new crises to deal with. The best teams in the world will be those who keep improving the way they work, optimising their use of time and energy, and making the most of the diverse talents in the team. We will not define hybrid working once nor permanently, and we certainly won’t define it for the whole company in one policy.
Hybrid working means giving teams the tools and permission to experiment with the best way to work, and continually optimise how they work together better.