In the space of two years most offices went from 100% in-person work to 100% remote, but now many offices exist in some middle ground between the two. With hybrid work being a fairly new model to most workplaces, there’s still some ambiguity around how to best work with this new mixed set-up. Hassan Osman manages virtual teams for a living at Cisco System, and in his new book Hybrid Work Management, he shares his expertise with working in more flexible environments.
“To make an equitable hybrid work plan, you’ll need to go beyond a one-size fits all solution and consider all the various exceptions that inevitably come up, since everyone’s situation is different.”
There’s a lot of work that needs to happen before you can create a hybrid work strategy. You’ll need to consider the requirements of each job (roles, projects, tasks, customer needs) and the requirements of each employee (flexibility, fairness, inclusion, work-life balance). It’s a good idea to survey everyone to learn what their individual needs might look like.
To make an equitable hybrid work plan, you’ll need to go beyond a one-size fits all solution and consider all the various exceptions that inevitably come up, since everyone’s situation is different. Osman’s book only takes about an hour to read, but a large portion is devoted to this analysis and it goes very far in-depth into various considerations you’ll want to keep in mind.
Optimizing Your Plans
You may need to rethink some tasks and workflows, but it can also be a great time to reassess how things are currently working. You don’t want to adapt an inefficient process to a hybrid work environment or you’ll just end up replicating its flaws.
You’ll need to plan for both in-person and remote aspects of work. What work can your team best do in the office versus remotely? It’s a good idea to try to maximize the benefits of the team being together in the office—prioritizing in-person meetings and collaborative activities.
Remote work is best utilized to accomplish focused individual work. You may even want to consider a meeting-free remote day once a week. Similarly, it’s a good idea to batch all your meetings that require face-to-face interaction in the same day or two. If you’re not optimizing your schedule in this way, you’re missing out on one of the biggest benefits of a hybrid model and might as well be 100% remote.
Managing a Hybrid Team
One of the biggest concerns for a hybrid team, is inadvertently creating a two-tier system between employees who are more in-person and those who are more often remote. Ideally, you the want the employee experience to be as similar as possible among all employees.
Osman’s suggestion is creating a remote-first culture. This means, when developing new processes, defaulting to remote as the norm and building out from there. This requires all meetings to be held online, with everyone on camera.
An easy way to make remote workers feel more included in in-person meetings is to implement a buddy system, where an in-person worker and a remote worker instant message, to ensure the remote employee isn’t missing anything important that’s happening in the room and to help advocate for the remote worker if they’re having trouble contributing to the conversation.
Something managers should keep in mind is the propinquity effect—the tendency to have an increased fondness for people you spend more time with. It’s good to be aware of this, so that it isn’t biasing your assessments between employees. Similarly, managers who are on-site tend to have more information about what the other in-person workers are doing. To compensate for this, Osman recommends frequent check-ins to both stay on top of what remote employees are doing and to make sure that they feel as supported as their colleagues.
Building an effective hybrid work model for your team is a huge undertaking that’ll entail constant revision and improvement. There are many other aspects deserving careful thought and attention—Osman’s book and his appearance on the Coaching for Leaders podcast points to many other areas you can focus on. Some of this may feel a little like reinventing the wheel, but a successful hybrid team needs the same thing as any team using any model—a good leader. And if you’ve read this far, they’ve got that and that’s a great start.