Blog | 06.28.2021

How to optimize your return to the office for hybrid work

As you plan your return to the office, focus on these factors to maximize productivity and collaboration, while facilitating a sustainable work-life balance.

As organizations begin implementing various models of hybrid working, employees need improved strategies to navigate this change. The always-on nature of our interconnected world led to blurred lines between our work and personal life while working from home. Hybrid work will require better management of our time and space. As we return to the office, how can we organize this shift and our time in these various spaces to get the most out of each day?

Adjusting to hybrid work

Many organizations are planning their phased return to the office in accordance with local guidelines. With this, 87% of leaders globally expect to allow more flexibility in where, when, and how their employees work. Similarly, the vast majority of knowledge workers support hybrid working arrangements in the post-pandemic world. They’ve become comfortable working remotely during the pandemic, with many finding it easier to balance their work and home lives.

However, while 9 in 10 organizations say they’re planning to embrace hybrid working, only 1 in 10 have communicated any kind of policy or intended implementation. So, how can you get the most out of your return to the office, and figure out what mix of working from home and the office is right for you?

Finding the right balance

Few things are as frustrating as going into the office and realizing that it was unnecessary, and you could have carried out the work as easily from home. As you return to the office, track your time for a few weeks to figure out which tasks rely on proximity to your colleagues, and are best performed in the office, compared to those that require focus. When thinking about the office, consider the place, time and task-based aspects of your work.

Place: There are often certain types of spaces that better facilitate the type of work we’re doing. These might be distraction-free spaces for focus, whether at home or in the office, and collaboration spaces. But as we shift to hybrid, we should also start considering informal collaboration and the value of sharing a lunch with someone, or working in a hot-desking environment. Conversely, working from home with an outdoor walk to substitute your commute, or finding a facility with a whiteboard to concept new processes or ideas, might support some of your best thinking on certain tasks.

Time: For some people, going into the office once a week will be enough to maintain the social connections and collaborate based on the nature of their work. Other teams might prefer to implement quarterly offsites for learning, social and culture building. More established team members or parents might choose to go in less, as they can collaborate easily via virtual platforms or require the flexibility to balance parental responsibilities. By contrast, newer hires or younger team members may prefer to be in the office more frequently. Consider the type of work you’re doing in relation to when you are most productive, and the spaces or people you need to get that work done. Establishing the ideal frequency of your in-office days will help you maximize your productivity.

Tasks: Evaluate the types of tasks you are trying to accomplish and how much interdependence they have. To do this, consider what work requires collaboration, on an axis of formal collaboration in meetings to informal or unstructured collaboration, where there is value in a shared workspace. Some of these tasks might be suited to asynchronous communication, whereas others have greater value from synchronous communication. These can help structure what place you choose to work. Alternatively, certain work benefits from focus. For some, home is a better place for this, while others might need to come into the office for a dedicated, distraction-free environment.

It takes planning to make hybrid work, work

Schedules and boundaries need to be actively managed and coordinated, both at work and at home. At work, one strategy is to coordinate and align office days with key team members to maximize the use of spaces and tools not available at home. This includes areas such as video conferencing spaces or huddle rooms with whiteboards.

At home, creating a schedule of family activities can help to map out where everyone needs to be and when. It is crucial to evaluate which settings are best-suited for the different kinds of work you do. The better you can identify the activities suited to office and home working, the better you can coordinate schedules and thrive in the hybrid future.

New ways of working require experimentation

Once deployed, it is important for teams to give each other ample room for trial and error in hybrid working systems. Of course, the tricky home-office balance will be easier for some than others, but clear communication and purposeful coordination can help get the best out of both spaces. Teams that make systematic efforts to maintain an empathetic mindset towards the varying responsibilities of their colleagues will be better able to strike a productive balance that allows them to get their work done, and pursue the activities that give their lives meaning.