When evaluating return to office and hybrid work model plans, some HR departments could be making a critical mistake applying an office schedule that is most convenient for the executive team to the whole organization. It is clearly easier to keep tabs on employees when they are in the office on the same days each week, but that doesn’t necessarily optimize outputs for different departments or functions.
How we work should inform the who, what, where, when of our work – rather than vice versa.
There has been a lot of focus over the past two years on where we work: remote, in-office, or a hybrid work model. What has gone less examined, at least in my news feeds, is HOW we work. How does the location we are in, the people we are surrounded by, and the type of tasks we are completing, affect how we work and the output we are creating? How we work should inform the who, what, where, when of our work – rather than vice versa.
When examining how I work, I have fought desperately throughout my career to move away from the urgent and towards the non-urgent but important. This is the ‘blue ocean’ strategy within your organization, even within your own day. I encourage this practice with my employees because it’s the place where you are most likely to begin to build their ‘own agenda’ based on your understanding of the company’s needs. In my experience, it’s where I get the deepest, least distracted work done.
As an organization, how can you ensure you are implementing policies which will allow your employees to do the same within a flexible work-anywhere model, or hybrid work model?
Build accountability through trust and communication
Many large and traditional employers are threatened by the idea of work-anywhere policies. How will I know if my employees are actually working? The root issue here isn’t about the work environment, but about accountability and trust. Managers need to stop tracking meaningless metrics (ie. mouse activity and hours online) and start looking at actual output. Our VP of Marketing, Ryan Green, advocates for, “being transparent and evaluating people based on the quality of their work and not the quantity of time they’ve logged in”. This allows employees to focus on important-but-not urgent work rather than prioritizing small check-list items to project a sense of productivity. Establish clear expectations, assign responsibilities, and set reasonable deadlines while giving your team flexibility in the output. Set your basic “measurement framework”, then allow employees to deliver outcomes in a way that works for their personal style.
Encourage flexible communication styles
Both managers and employees need to be especially attuned to communication styles. If over 90% of communication is non-verbal, then less in-person interaction will inevitably challenge robust communication. Video conferencing helps a lot but isn’t a complete substitute. Time still needs to be given to in-person interaction, including casual interaction and conversation, even if it is less frequent than the traditional office environment.
Balance attention to detail and ambiguity
Managing a remote workforce will inevitably lead to a degree of ambiguity. However, this increased ambiguity can spur creative thinking and allow people to have more ownership over their role and responsibilities. On the other hand, vague directions and goals can leave people feeling lost and unmotivated, so it is important to maintain a healthy balance. At Coegi, we have brought in a project management tool to lay out tasks, deadlines and shared progress updates across teams. This allows greater transparency but prevents constant calls and pings between coworkers about project status.
Redefine work/life balance
Creating work/life balance doesn’t just mean having a life outside of your job. Josh Waitzkin, in his book, The Art of Learning, emphasizes the importance of taking breaks and developing a short routine to refresh and focus throughout the day. I’ve found that implementing these small breaks during the work day can have a huge impact on my productivity, mental clarity, and overall state of mind. With flexible and hybrid work models, we can reframe the standard workday and let employees have greater ownership over their day to day routine.
At the end of the day, you cannot force good culture. Instead, do the work to create an accountable environment with strong frameworks set in place. From there, employees and managers will inevitably create organic culture and transform your company from within.