Having spent the summer working at the corporate office 3 days a week, and working from the home office 2 days per week, I learned that making the transition from primarily remote work to Hybrid work is mentally tough. I felt out of sorts, like I wasn’t sure where I should be working. I spent time thinking about where I work and which one I preferred. It was like something new was taking up space and energy in my brain. My home office had been my default working location for about 15 months. And while the life routine varied as the kids went from remote school, to summer, to hybrid in-person/remote school, and back to summer, my work routine was stable. In-office days were planned in advance, and home office days were the default.
Knowing some smart person must have figured this out, I turned to all my favorite business sources only to find surface-level advice: have a dedicated space that is same in both spaces, set boundaries, take breaks, communicate health safety protocols, make people feel welcome & included. REALLY? That’s it? Not what I needed.
Through conversations with fellow knowledge workers, trial and error, I can tell you what works. And today, I’ll share five tactics that DO NOT work.
1) Attending meetings in-person when the conversation is happening online.
Early on in hybrid world, there was an unwritten norm that when a meeting room was included in the meeting invite, you should be in the room, and only the ill or out-of-town folks would be online. My team had a recommendation to present at large meeting, so we all showed up to the fancy video-equipped conference room. After the meeting began, we realized that the bulk of the attendees were online via voice only, and the audio was echoing something awful. It was the first time I felt at a disadvantage by being in-person. Looking back, the solve was easy — we should have excused ourselves from the audio/video catastrophe and each grabbed a quiet corner of the building to finish the presentation individually via our laptops. Instead, we sat at the table presenting to the nearly empty room, and struggled to be heard by the screen full of face photos.
2) Doing video calls from your cubicle if your cube neighbors are also there.
As much as we like to think of our cubicles as a private offices, they aren’t. It’s like having an argument with your spouse in a tent. You might feel alone, but everyone there heard everything. And while most video calls aren’t so private that it’s a problem to be overheard, a staff meeting can quickly turn confidential, or check-in turn emotional. Besides the content of the conversation, it’s also hard to get something done listening to one half of a colleague’s conversation just a few feet away. The solve for both these issues is easy, book a conference room. As part of my weekly planning routine for the in-office days, I assess whether I’m going to be on a call where I’m likely to be talking for 5 minutes or more, or if the content may be confidential, and then book space as needed. Does that require more work? Yes. But having the meeting location dilemma solved ahead of time frees me to focus on my work instead of logistics around how and where I work.
3) Waiting until morning to decide where you need to work.
For all the Myers-Briggs fans, a J type would never let this happen. Those of us who love to plan our work, and work our plans would have our week all laid out ahead of time. The problem occurs when life happens. Your in-person meeting gets cancelled and you commute into work only to sit on video calls all day. Or a new in-person meeting pops up mid-week . As much as I wanted to have a “set-it and forget-it” schedule, I found myself stressed out as I’d sit down to work in my home office and see that an beneficial in-person event popped up. One such morning, I may have even rushed out the door in a pair of slippers and was SO thankful for pair of pumps I left under my desk. The solve? The pre-shutdown calendar review. Now everyday at 4pm, I review my schedule for the following day to ensure I’m planning to be in the right place for me to be most effective – whether that’s at home or in-person. It’s 30 seconds, and it’s a game changer!
4) Scheduling yourself all day with video calls.
The back-to-back meeting dilemma existed long before the pandemic. And while some leaders are kind enough to end meetings early, or you proactively schedule travel time for yourself between meeting, the world of video calls meant transitions were as easy as clicking END and JOIN. Now our calendars lay open to all and filled by all. We see a free slot between the busy bars, we grab it. Making time for productive heads down “real” work is incredibly important. However, it’s equally important to maximizing your in-person time when working in a hybrid environment.
In office days are our chance to be present with other people, to build relationships, establish rapport, and make an impression. Companies that require time in the office are doing so because they believe there’s a tangible benefit to physically working together. I realized that if I sat at my desk, or in a conference room on video calls all day when I was in the office, I was wasting my commute. I needed to be intentional about my in-office time and block time for human interaction, the same way I’d block heads-down time or check-in time with colleagues while working from home. How? Aside from planned in-person meetings, I gave myself time to swing by someone’s cube, scheduled a walk with someone, even made my lunch in the kitchen instead of my desk, and talk to the other people who pop in.
Doing this felt like slowing down, and was frustrating at first. It felt like I wasn’t accomplishing as much when I was at the office vs. at home. And then I realized that this informal connecting was an investment – in myself, my team, and my organization. I needed to let go of guilt I felt for not making it through my inbox, or finishing the report early. Besides, the deep work is better done at home anyway.
5) Attending a meeting remotely when the VIPS are in-person.
This one seems obvious, but I saw it happen on a few different occasions. If the decision makers are in the room, and you aren’t the primary presenter, you will likely be overlooked or forgotten. It is the equivalent to sitting along the wall instead of taking a seat at the tablet. If your role in the meeting is to listen, that’s fine, dial in. However, if you’re planning to participate in the discussion happening in the room, and want your contribution to be truly heard, you have to be at the table – physically!
I hope these learnings help you feel more prepared if you will be headed into this hybrid world of working. If you have any suggestions of strategies or tactics working for you, let me know!