“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”–Thomas Edison
Today’s business managers might be forgiven if they think this phase of the pandemic should be called the “hurry up and wait.” In March 2020, knowledge workers fled their office buildings to work from home. A year later, many of those folks had to start making plans to return to the office because COVID was supposed to be over by summer.
And now here we are in the Fall of 2021, with the Delta variant, vaccine controversies, and major companies like Apple and Amazon pushing back their return to office start dates. It’s enough to make a manager question their career path.
Whether you believe that remote work will permanently transform modern business practices or fade away with COVID, many managers are dealing with some version of a remote or hybrid team dynamic right now.
Winston Churchill once said that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” And if you’re a manager with a hybrid team, you have the opportunity to make the most of the hand you’ve been dealt. But only if you’re intentional about it. Here are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself if you want to get the most out of your hybrid team.
But First, a Definition
Hybrid work comes in all shapes and sizes. This article assumes that all of your direct reports work from home some of the time and in the office at other times. Hybrid teams with two dedicated worker tracks–some work remotely 100 percent of the time while the rest return to the office–have specific issues that we’ll discuss in a future article.
It’s Only the Best of Both Worlds If You Treat them Like Different Worlds
Ask Yourself: Do my team’s in-office days look measurably different from their work from home days?
It makes no sense to bring people into an office so they can sit in front of a computer and not talk to each other. Instead, prioritize work that takes more planning and intention if done remotely. Going to lunch with a cross-functional colleague or grabbing coffee with your direct reports probably doesn’t feel like work. But those in-person interactions help your coworkers see you as a human being. They help your team to “hear” your voice and add in the context of your personality to the emails and text messages you send. They’re better able to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Everyone is busy. We make decisions every day about when to open someone’s email or answer a phone call. That lunch could make the difference between Claudia from Sales saying to herself, “Why don’t I answer Artin’s email before I stop for the night? It will only take a few minutes,” and “Eh, I’ll answer Artin’s email Monday. I was just about to stop work for the night.” It’s a lot harder for Claudia to say no if she feels that Artin respects her as a person.
A Successful Hybrid Team Flips the Office
Ask yourself: Could this entire in-office workday have been an email?
I’m not suggesting that you should turn in-office time into an eight-hour brunch session. Or pack in back-to-back meetings that could have been an email. Instead, take a page from education called flipping the classroom.
According to the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching, “flipping the classroom means that students gain first exposure to new material outside of class…and then use class time to do the harder work…of assimilating that knowledge…in class, where they have the support of their peers and instructor.”
In a flipped hybrid office, employees would devote home office time for head-down work, low stakes/routine collaboration, and research. Office time would prioritize trust-building, brainstorming, creating buy-in, and resolving conflict. All of these activities benefit from a period of solitary preparation.
Only you can decide the extent to which your team can flip the office. There will always be people who need to complete head-down work in the office for various reasons. Additionally, managers work within the context and constraints of their company culture. But taking the time to optimize your hybrid team’s time inside and outside a traditional office is well worth the effort. You will find that they are more effective and productive, no matter where they do their work.
What’s That Douglas up To?
Well. I didn’t think my break from the blog would be a month long. How are you doing? I hope you’re well. Shortly after my last post, I went to see my grandpa in California, and it did me a world of good. I haven’t been back home since December of 2019. I hugged my mother. We spent the first night on her back patio drinking rum and juice and talking about music and painting. I met my 14 month-old grand-nephew.
And most of all, I listened to my grandpa tell stories. We talked about his time as a demolition expert for the army. We talked about how he met my step-grandma. I learned the one true way to make carnitas even though I am a vegetarian and there were entirely too many pig feet involved. And the first thing I did when I got back to Canada was to start telling those stories to my children, while my grandpa is still alive, when we sat down to dinner.
In more writerly news, I had a story published on The Syndrome Mag, called An Open Letter to the Man Looking for Love On LinkedIn. It’s a comedy piece dedicated to the men who think it’s cool to proposition professional women on LinkedIn. I’m thinking of just sending a URL to the piece any time that happens to me going forward.
I also launched a Latinx literary audio mag called (super creatively) LatinX Audio Lit Mag. We (and by that, I mean I) publish fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction from people who are part of the Latinx diaspora. I’ve been blown away by the beautiful submissions I’ve received. You can find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, Google, and Radio Publica. Have a listen if you’re so inclined.