Ever forget your house keys at the office? 

You’re not alone. New York-based career-development writer Matt Perman has — in fact, he does at least once a year. To create a workaround for a mistake that would otherwise cost him an additional 40-minute subway commute — and make him miss the next meeting he’s scheduled to take from his home office — he’s stashed a copy of his apartment key in a fake rock hidden in Central Park and keeps a geo-tagged photo of its location.

The workaround is one way Perman saves time as he moves between his work and home offices. Most of the practical details of hybrid work don’t require such stealth, but as millions move to a hybrid office environment, they’ll need to consider some additional steps to keep as productive as possible.

Tips for Easing Into a Hybrid Work Environment

  • Make a list of the items you’ll regularly need to bring to the office and back home. 
  • Organize items that you frequently shuttle back and forth into colored pouches or file folders. 
  • Try to mimic the arrangement of items between your home desk and your office desk.
  • Designate one far end of your desk as the dumping ground for items to be dropped off. 
  • First consider the task, then your personality when choosing your work location.
  • Let goals and desired outcomes dictate whether your meeting is remote or in-person.

Productivity and ease of transition are important issues for the many workers moving to a hybrid work environment

It’s a challenge that millions will face. As corporate America returns to the office, 60 percent of employers are expected to adopt a hybrid office environment, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Are you part of the hybrid movement? Consider the expert advice below on how to maintain productivity as you pingpong between home and work offices.

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Packing Up and Heading Out to Your Hybrid Office

Create a list of all the things you’ll realistically need every time you go into the office or travel back to your home office. 

If you have a designated desk with storage space at the office, you can keep your items stored safely there. But if you have to shuttle work essentials back and forth, it may be helpful to keep things organized in color-coded pouches or a storage caddy. 

Invest in sturdy color-coded or pattern-coded pouches and file folders to organize items in your briefcase or backpack, said Regina Leeds, a professional organizer and author of One Year to an Organized Life. 

“Everything needs to have a designated spot to live. If all your things are free-floating, you’re finished,” Leeds said.

A red pouch could keep computer accessories like chargers, headphones, thumb drives and electrical adaptors, while a blue pouch could hold essential office supplies like pens, a stapler and paper clips.

“Just by looking at the pouches or file folders and their color or pattern, I don’t have to open it up to know what’s inside,” Leeds told Built In. 

That way, you have categories of organized items, rather than a big mush thrown into your backpack or briefcase and chaos consuming your brain, she said.  

“Everything needs to have a designated spot to live. If all your things are free-floating, you’re finished,” Leeds said.

Four Steps to Organize Your Hybrid Office Briefcase or Backpack

  1. Break the organization project down into manageable chunks.
  2. Eliminate the items you don’t need.
  3. Put the items you’ll keep into categories and organize those categories.
  4. Conduct regular maintenance of those categories.

Develop a ritual of checking your list of items before heading out to the office or back home. Also, conduct regular maintenance of the items you’ve packed. For example, check if your accessories like a wireless headphone or mouse is fully charged, or if the material in your green file is no longer useful and just taking up precious real estate in your bag? 

Leeds recommends keeping a daily log for one week of which items you’re carting around but not actually using. Consider eliminating those.

“You may ask yourself, ‘Why am I carrying around this thumb drive if all my documents are in Google Drive?’” Leeds said.

Keeping essential office supplies in your briefcase or backpack can cut time spent running back and forth to the company’s supply closet each time you are in the office. The tradeoff is saving time, by already having these things with you, or losing time, but being lighter on your feet, with fewer items in your briefcase or backpack. If you chose the former, Leeds said think like a soldier when packing your briefcase or backpack. 

“When a soldier puts on that heavy, 60-pound backpack, you can be sure there’s nothing in it that isn’t necessary,” Leeds told Built In. “Packing your briefcase or backpack for work needs to be very strategic.”

Small organizational details can add up to a surprising amount of time saved. 

“If I hang my keys on a hook or hurl them into the environment, it’s about the same amount of time. But when I go to find my keys, I’ll be wasting a lot of time and energy as well as becoming upset,” Leeds said.

Over the course of a year, the time you spend looking for lost keys, charging cables and headphones can really add up. 

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Setting Up Your Home and Office Desks for Optimum Productivity

Familiarity always eases transition. That’s why it’s a good idea to set up your home and office desk with an identical layout, if possible, said Perman, author of How to Set Up Your Desk: A Guide to Fixing a (Surprisingly) Overlooked Productivity Problem. For example, if your task light and stapler are to the left of your computer at the office, do the same setup for your home desk.

“You want the same setup at both places as much as possible, because you’ll have muscle memory working for you,” Perman said. “You don’t have to do things a different way at work than you do at home, and it also makes the transition much smoother.”

Create a left-to-right workflow at your desk, whether at the office or at home, Perman said.  

Keep things you need to reference for ongoing projects to your far left, if possible. Current work can be stationed immediately to your left, right or in front of you. Completed work should go to the far right of your desk.

“You want the same setup at both places as much as possible, because you’ll have muscle memory working for you.”

The far right of your desk essentially becomes a dumping ground for completed files to be put away, empty soda cans to be deposited, or research materials to be returned at the end of the day, resulting in one trip versus three.

“I don’t like having to get up every time I need to take something somewhere,” Perman explained. 

Another potential productivity trick to consider is using the same external keyboard and mouse — whether provided by your company or your own — when assigned to a temporary desk. They’ll likely be more comfortable to use than your laptop’s keyboard, and more familiar. And familiarity can be a benefit.

“The big issue is no longer about saving time but about preserving your mental energy,” Perman said. “You have a limited amount of decision-making power in a day and you want to minimize how much you use it for unnecessary things.”

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Office Day or Remote? It Depends on the Task — and Employee Personality Type

Is your calendar a collection of meetings, days of detailed, focused work and tedious tasks to be done? The nature of the task at hand may influence your decision on whether to do it from home or in the office, assuming you have control over the days and location from where you’ll be working.

Mindless, tedious tasks may be well-suited for the office.

“Being among others who are doing the same work or activity can be very motivating and keep you on track,” said Camille Johnson, a social psychologist and associate dean for research and faculty success at San Jose State University in California. “You may look over at your coworker and see they’re still going, so you tell yourself you’ll keep going too.”

“Even if you are a self-proclaimed introvert or extrovert, you need to realize that no one is 100 percent of one of those things all the time. Introverts need people sometimes and extroverts need quiet too.”

If you’re an introvert or extrovert, that may also influence your decision regarding the most productive work environment.

Crowds can suck the energy out of introverts, whereas they may help fuel extroverts. But the type of task still plays a big role in selecting the most productive environment for either type of personality.

Focused detailed work, like coding or working on a financial-analysis spreadsheet, is usually better for introverts in a quiet home office. The work itself would likely drain some of their energy, which could be compounded by surrounding them with people, Johnson noted.

Extroverts who like to socialize may also find it easier to tackle focused, detailed work in a quiet home office rather than in an office environment. 

But extroverts who can maintain focus on detailed projects despite distractions may be more productive at the office, where they can feed off the energy of others.

“Even if you are a self-proclaimed introvert or extrovert, you need to realize that no one is 100 percent of one of those things all the time. Introverts need people sometimes and extroverts need quiet too,” said Johnson.


Should This Meeting Be Remote or In Person?

“What are your goals for the meeting? What are your desired outcomes,” Johnson asked, noting those answers will dictate the location and format of the meeting, if you are given the option to choose whether a meeting is in person or remote.

For example, an upcoming meeting may work fine for you if you participate via video conference, but you might want to attend in person for the added benefit of rebuilding social capital with coworkers, which can potentially lead to an even more productive working relationship, Johnson said.

Or depending on the project and your flexibility, you may find it’s more productive to log on to a meeting remotely and use the saved drive time to better prepare for the meeting.

Managers who need to announce layoffs or engage in any other sensitive discussion should opt for an in-person meeting as the first choice. It not only provides a more empathetic environment to deliver the news but may be more productive in the long run in moving the remaining team forward. 

Questions over a meeting’s productivity can arise regardless of whether it’s remote or in person, but other issues may also surface based on the format you choose, assuming you’re given the option to pick.

“What’s most comfortable for you may not always be what’s best for your long-term career.”

When given a choice by your manager to attend a meeting via video or in-person, choosing video can be a double-edged sword

Introverts may prefer video meetings conducted from home, where you can keep the camera off. But that option may not be the best choice if this leads you to avoid participating in the meeting.

“What’s most comfortable for you may not always be what’s best for your long-term career,” Johnson warned.

Regardless of your meeting format choices, one of the best steps to achieve a productive hybrid office environment is to establish predictability in your schedule.

“It’s important to have predictability in your schedule and the ability to control it,” Johnson said. “Human beings like patterns, like predictability. It’s really hard to cope with constant change. But if we know what’s coming, we can adjust our energy levels.”

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