Companies are beginning to announce their return-to-office policies, and it looks like most companies are headed towards some sort of hybrid model to accommodate employees’ demands for a more flexible work environment.
As we get closer to the return-to-office and soft opening dates, managers are starting to plan for a hybrid work environment that may look quite different from both this past year and pre-pandemic norms. They may be wondering:
Whether or not your workplace has decided on an official policy, or left it up to managers to decide on a team-by-team basis, take some time to think about the changes that may affect your team in the coming months.
Share this pros and cons list with your team to kick off some discussion, and take a look at what other companies are doing. Don’t feel like you have to wait for a decision — start to familiarize yourself with the common challenges of hybrid work, and take this opportunity to come up with a tentative plan for what your hybrid team might look like, and how you’ll work together effectively.
First, a quick reminder of what these five models of hybrid work look like:
Fully remote - Remote-first, no formal offices.
Default Digital - Remote-first, full flexibility. Drop in co-working spaces in certain locations. No requirement of location. Individuals may be remote or in the office on no fixed schedule
Static Hybrid - Individuals will make a choice of being based in the office or remote permanently.
Synchronized Hybrid - Teams, or companies, work from the office on the same days. e.g. Tuesday to Thursday in the office.
Dynamic Hybrid - Associated with an office, but work from home available on a non-deterministic schedule.
Here’s a look at pros and cons of different hybrid models, and some considerations you may want to think about for your team.
For each model, we’ve also aggregated some of the most important things to take into consideration.
Managers, think about what you want to address before your team is fully hybrid. Some issues on hybrid teams can be addressed more reactively, while others are easier to tackle upfront before default norms are established.
Take this opportunity to make a plan for your hybrid team.
Companies such as Automattic that have been fully distributed for years have relied heavily on regular meetups to align on strategy, build team connection, and have some face-to-face time.
For companies that are going the fully distributed route, take some of the office budget and redirect it to travel, lodging, and other expenses for regular offsites. Plan well in advance!
Default digital sounds good, but can be hard to really lean into being a remote-first team (where remote employees feel equally involved in decisions, conversations, and meetings).
If a spontaneous brainstorming session erupts at a whiteboard, will someone be comfortable speaking up and requesting a session be scheduled at a time when remote co-workers can join?
Will someone enforce the one-on-video, all-on-video rule on the team, or stay quiet while the team falls back to the easier path of chatting around a conference table?
Will someone plan for social time that’s inclusive of remote workers?
For companies planning to go default digital, and have offices or collaboration spaces, take the time to set up some guiding principles around how you want to operate to keep your workplace truly defaulted to digital.
Rely heavily on async tools like Range, Loom, and Mural that let people work when it works for them. And keep an eye out for any signs of remote and office-less employees feeling excluded from conversations. If you have people who are sometimes in-office and sometimes not, ask them what information and conversations they’ve noticed missing out on when working remotely.
This model is predictable in that people are mostly working from consistent locations. This does introduce some complexity in that individuals all need to learn how best to work with other individuals and teams. If DevOps works remotely all over the world, engineers need to learn how to interface with that team.
Similar to default digital, for meetings with a mix of co-located and remote folks, companies will need to have some established practices to create an equal playing field for remote employees.
How will you ensure that remote employees have the same access to executives, career opportunities, and promotions?
Consider establishing some guiding principles, and having a space where individuals can share how they work, such as Employee Handbooks.
Some companies are having the entire company work in-office the same days, say Tuesday-Thursday. This can be a useful structure for having days for in-person collaboration, and days for focused WFH work. Unfortunately, there is also minimal cost savings in office space, as you still need to accommodate all employees.
For companies that are having different teams come in on different days, watch out for silos. Collaboration inside of teams may stay strong, but you’ll have to find some ways to create connective tissue between teams that have non-overlapping office days.
Also, consider how cross-team meetings will work — will someone have to commute in for an hour-long meeting on their WFH day, or will the meeting have adequate tools and facilitation to support a remote participant? Consider trying out Range’s meeting tool to make it easy to facilitate inclusive, efficient, and engaging meetings.
This is how many high-trust companies were operating pre-pandemic. People had desks in-office, but might work from home some days, or work from elsewhere while visiting family.
Make sure you’re clear — especially with new hires — what the expectations are. Avoid hiring someone who thinks they can come in when they want, only to find that everyone comes in 5 days a week, and the culture is not remote-friendly.
For companies going the dynamic hybrid route, also consider the counterintuitive move of opening up additional offices to tap into more talent pools and accommodate people’s desires to live somewhere that’s not the SF Bay Area.
This is a critical time for leaders to think strategically about how to address some of the above considerations.
Assess your hybrid work stack — what gaps do you need to fill? What tools and principles do you need to get in place now, and what can you wait a few months for?
At Range, we’ve built tools to support hybrid teams working better together, including:
Other considerations or challenges you’re anticipating as you plan for a hybrid team structure? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add them in.