A great, green philosopher once said, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
If you know the source of that quote (Yoda from Star Wars), then congratulations: you are a nerd like me.
For everyone else, it’s less of a classic movie quote and more a summary of how we’ve all had to approach the world over the past 18 months.
Never have words born from a work of fiction and a green puppet felt more real than those today.
Since March of 2020, we’ve had to adjust to being less social and more willing to keep our family and friends at arm’s length. We’ve opted for take-out and delivery more than our preferred choice to dine-in. We’ve grown satisfied with watching big-time, first-run movies on considerably smaller screens or massive sporting events with little to no fanfare.
But most of all, we’ve had to figure out how to do our jobs outside of the office. And now, as things sort of start to return to normal, we’re having to learn how to work in a hybrid environment, working partially from home and partially in the office.
The hybrid era has begun
How dramatic was the change in people shifting to remote work?
In 2019, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey of commuting and home-based workers, less than 6% of the American workforce performed their duties from home.
Another survey that same year, this one conducted by the Bureau of Labor, put the work from home number closer to 25% – one in every four workers working from home.
Between the two reports, it’s probably a safe bet that a good portion of employees working from home before the pandemic were doing so on a hybrid schedule.
Fast forward to the end of 2020, and that number jumped to 42%. Almost half of all workers were performing all or the majority of their job functions from home or in an office-home hybrid situation.
And according to Salary.com’s 2021 Remote Work & Compensation Pulse Survey, 44% of employees seek a hybrid work model post-pandemic. The same report reflected that more than half of all employers – 51% – are on board with the hybrid work idea.
Currently, it remains a mixed bag as far as companies mandating a return to the office. Some are very much in favor of returning to their normal operations. Others are showing a bit more uncertainty as to their plans to return.
The bottom line is that for a large number of people, a hybrid work environment is the new norm. And just like working exclusively from home required certain skills to succeed, so does working in a hybrid environment.
What does it mean to work in a hybrid environment?
A quick note about the definition of a hybrid work environment.
A hybrid work model carries several definitions, and knowing which one your employer might adopt and the one you’re most comfortable working in is critical to your long-term success.
At its most basic, the hybrid model means an organization’s workforce splits their time between working remotely (home, coworking space, coffee shop) and working from an office. Schedules will vary between companies, but the most common practice is two days working remotely, three days commuting to the office.
The arrangement that is catching on adds another layer to the basic setup. Instead of all employees working the same home-office schedule, a segment of employees will work exclusively from home, others will work solely in the office, and others will split time between both.
It’s the ultimate concession in workplace flexibility when an employer considers where and when they will generate the most effort and value from their employees.
But to ensure the hybrid experiment becomes permanent, the burden falls to the employee to ensure they adapt to a dual office environment.
How to work effectively in a hybrid environment
Working from home can prove a huge benefit to your productivity and your sanity.
For starters, there’s zero commute. Regardless of whether you must traverse 5 or 25 miles to and from work, the time you save not having to fight traffic is perhaps the best endorsement for working from home.
There’s the shortened morning routine, more time to exercise or attend to your mental health, and less chit-chat and downtime from repeated distractions and interruptions common in an office setting.
Plus, a vast majority of employees find themselves far more productive when working in the solitude of their own homes.
Even if you work from home one or two days a week, those extra benefits can serve to make you a better employee and a happier person. As noted in Findstack, 77% of remote workers say they’re more productive when working from home and 75% say they have a better work-life balance.
The downside, unfortunately, is a lack of consistency in your schedule. There’s also the sense of potentially missing out on something important on days when you’re working from home and not with your peers.
To that last point, the need and want to be amongst our coworkers is genuine. You exchange ideas, build momentum, regroup after losses, and celebrate your triumphs together.
There’s a genuine closeness and camaraderie that develops with coworkers all working towards the same goal.
So how does one set themselves up not just to succeed but also to thrive in a hybrid work environment? To capture the best of both situations and maximize the time spent working from home and in the office?
The primary challenge of hybrid work is that it requires an entirely different approach and outlook in accomplishing your job. You can’t simply wait until everyone’s schedules align. You could be waiting for two, or three, or four weeks for the perfect opportunity.
Instead, expect and prepare yourself that things will be different. For example:
Some firms may employ the hybrid method to trim costs, such as the need for less office space and fewer dedicated workspaces. Once you begin your split schedule, you may no longer have a permanent desk and chair at the office. You may even share it with someone who’s in the office on days you work from home.
You should expect that many of your most important meetings might occur over Zoom instead of across a conference table.
The same can be said for major contract signings, vendor meetings, or accepting bids and proposals. In many respects, you’ll need to grow accustomed to conducting business via text, email, and phone far more than you ever did prior.
Also, spontaneous team-building moments such as weekly team lunch outings or after-work happy hours may prove a thing of the past. Instead, you may need to look for alternative methods of team building, like virtual game sessions, remote wine tastings, virtual cooking classes, etc.
You might need to grow more self-sufficient. No longer can you call IT or HR over to look at and assist you in resolving a technical issue or employee concern. When problems do arise, you may even be required to troubleshoot them yourself first, before calling anyone else.
Ultimately, hybrid workspaces are often more efficient and less sociable.
Improved productivity is always a lofty goal. And those employees that succeed will recognize that their office environment may look and feel completely different to achieve it.
As for the social part, just because hybrid schedules don’t always align shouldn’t keep you from scheduling regular time with your team and peers away from the office.
Expand your skillset
Working from home over the previous year forced many people to become a lot more self-sufficient.
We learned how to garden and bake bread. Lots and lots of bread. We tapped into our inner carpenter and made home improvements large and small. We learned how to fix the plumbing with some braver souls learning how to repair electrical issues.
The point being, we expanded our skills. And whether we wanted to or not, we became proficient in projects and tasks that we typically contract out to others.
The same is true when transitioning to a hybrid work model. The skillset is considerably different when having to bounce back and forth between an in-person workspace and one that’s predominantly digital.
A few areas to expand your hybrid working prowess include:
- Find the best technology for your situation. Zoom might not actually be the best video conferencing tool for you. You might find that the features offered by Around meet your needs more effectively, or that Google Meet better fits your budget. You may also want to invest in a wireless headset for better sound, a ring light, and noise reduction software like Krisp.
- Discover the platforms best for small group meetings or digital brainstorming or those that will enhance your internal messaging or communication. For example, platforms like Whimsical and FigJam make collaborative design easier, and screen-recording software Vmaker makes it simple to quickly record and send videos to your coworkers.
- Work to enhance your communication skills. No only those you use face to face, but how to craft your message and express your thoughts and ideas across multiple channels and platforms.
- Establish methods for getting others involved. Particularly when you’re attempting to build a team or promote unity across channels, look for best practices in breaking the ice, inducing collaboration, and encouraging feedback.
Beyond just learning the skills, seek out non-traditional ways to employ them regularly. Volunteer with training new employees. Or create knowledge base documents. Anything to aid individuals and help them thrive in their transition to the hybrid model.
Make the most of your office days
However many days your hybrid schedule requires you to be in the office – one, two, three, or four – make each of those days count.
Prior to the pandemic, many of us took for granted the luxury of our peers and coworkers, and supervisors always being together in the same place at the same time.
With a hybrid model, that’s not always possible. Depending on how your organization schedules its teams, you may only cross paths with certain individuals once or twice a week. In some cases, it could be even less frequent.
As such, plan ahead and fill your days with tasks and interactions that prove most beneficial in person. A few examples may include:
- A one on one with your boss
- Project meeting with multiple team members
- Face to face time with specific departments (such as IT, HR, or Accounting)
- Direct engagement with those working directly for you
- Visits, contract talks, or project updates with vendors
Also, if you are in charge of a team, focus the schedule to ensure regular, in-person collaboration. And not just to move projects forward but to further team unity. Make it a point to physically be present for celebrating team wins or milestones, employee birthdays or special occasions, or simply a day when everyone is present, without the need to connect over Zoom.
Establish a permanent home office space
Finally, don’t neglect your at-home office when transitioning to a hybrid work model. In a recent survey by Joblist, 53% of respondents said it was difficult to keep work and non-work life separate. This was partially attributed to all the surrounding distractions, like watching movies, playing video games, or surfing social media. The way you set up your home office has a direct impact on your productivity.
One of the most challenging things to achieve with hybrid work is consistency. It can be disorienting jumping back and forth between an office space equipped with everything you need to succeed and a home office that serves as a poor imitation of the genuine article.
Ensure you don’t miss a beat by investing some time and money into making your home office as close to the real thing as possible.
First, identify an area in your home that is quiet and comfortable, and free from distractions. Even if you can’t recreate the space exactly as it would be in the office, you should attempt to mimic the vibe and sense of the working environment.
That said, whatever you can mirror, do so. Does your “official” company office have a two-screen setup? Set up two screens at home. Do you have a printer at work? If yes, then you probably need one at home. Is your real office stocked with a comfy chair to sit in and a decent-sized desk to work on? Your at-home office should have something similar as well.
The goal is to keep your environment consistent, so your work remains consistent.
It was easy to adopt the “wherever you can find a spot to work in your house” edict during the pandemic. However, as a full-time hybrid employee, your at-home space should be on par with the real thing.
The reality is that working part-time from home and part-time from the office can prove an all-time challenge.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Figure out the schedule that works best for you, and make the most of it when you’re in the office. At the same time, create the ideal home office that promotes consistency and keeps you balanced and on track.
Most importantly, embrace change. If there’s at least one constant in the business world, it’s that it’s always on the move. The better you can move with it, the more success you’re sure to find.