Office, remote, or hybrid? The debate around which is best for businesses post-COVID has dominated headlines and boardrooms for the past year.
The majority of the discussion around this topic has focused on culture, work-life balance, and budgets. All of these are important considerations, but perhaps the most important question is simply: How can we functionally make this work?
For those who return fully to the office, the answer is likely a return to the old way of doing things. For those who decide to go fully remote, the answer is likely to completely embrace and perfect the systems that they’ve used to survive the past 16 months.
But hybrid work is an entirely new animal for most companies. It requires a unique approach that involves more learning, more planning, and more tweaking along the way. But if successful, hybrid is the model with the most potential for success. It unlocks a wider talent pool, caters to everyone’s preference, and builds a foundation of compromise into the fabric of your organization.
Here are three things your business needs to succeed at hybrid work.
3 Things Your Business Needs to Succeed at Hybrid Work
- A remote-first mindset.
- A commitment to asynchronous work.
- A workflow management solution.
A Remote-First Mindset
Hybrid working is a lot like being friends with a vegetarian — you always need to keep them in mind when you’re making dinner plans.
You need to be proactive in ensuring remote employees have access to the same opportunities and information as those in the office. Otherwise, your processes and systems will fall apart.
Start by embracing the tools required for successful remote work. These include:
- Communication tools (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) that allow remote employees to have quick conversations or get rapid feedback without setting a meeting.
- Virtual meeting tools (like Zoom or Google Hangouts) that allow for group discussions and valuable face-to-face contact between employees.
- Collaboration tools (like Miro or Google Docs) that enable everyone to work alongside their colleagues, give and source feedback, and contribute to ideation and creation to the same degree.
- Work management tools (like Monday.com or Asana) empower all employees to create tasks, describe requests, flesh out ideas, and set deadlines in a transparent, remote-accessible way.
Next, plan every single meeting with remote employees in mind:
- Add a video call link to every invitation. Ensure meeting rooms are well-equipped for great audio and video.
- Create a shared online document versus printing out documents.
- Plan for virtual whiteboarding versus using the actual whiteboard.
- If you’re doing a lunch meeting, don’t just order catering. Give people at home food delivery credits.
And finally, establish virtual touchpoints with management and mentors:
- Create weekly open office hours for management teams that anyone can join. So many opportunities and blockers are identified through simple, casual discussions that might happen at lunch in the office but need to be planned while remote.
- Schedule recurring one-on-ones with all members of the team so they have dedicated manager facetime to discuss their work, careers, and personal lives.
- Host virtual lunch-and-learns, record training sessions, and encourage people to record processes and best practices.
Embracing a remote-first ethos means everyone can work comfortably, feel heard, and contribute equally — whether they’re in their office or yours.
A Commitment to Asynchronous Work
Far too often businesses will try to “recreate” the office environment for remote employees. This approach usually doesn’t work and it sacrifices the best parts of remote work: the ability to work without interruption and set a more flexible work schedule.
Rather than trying to create the same working environment for those at home, embrace asynchronous work.
Asynchronous work means working independently and on your own time. This doesn’t come at the cost of collaboration or cross-functional work. It simply means that an individual’s role in a task isn’t dependent on the presence or participation of anyone else.
When people work remotely, technology filters all of their interactions. They’re at the mercy of internet connections, document permissions, and video call invitations. Asynchronous work frees them from these restrictions, allowing them to execute on their work when it's most suitable to their new remote environment. This works for people in the office too. They can work at their own pace and spend less time in taxing video meetings.
How can a hybrid business embrace asynchronous work? There are two main principles you should adopt:
- Work out in the open. Asynchronous work and transparency go hand in hand. Employees need to be able to access information and execute their tasks whenever and wherever they choose. That means task information, files, feedback, briefs, and anything else that might affect their work needs to be public and accessible. Store documents on the company drive with open permission. Share ideas on public channels. Basically, take a hard look at your day and think of everything you’re doing that someone at home can’t see, then find ways to make those visible.
- Team alignment. When you get an assignment, you complete it. But what is the intended outcome? What is the common goal the team is working towards? Aligned employees make independent decisions better and faster because they know each task’s purpose. Alignment also builds team bonds and makes collaboration easier since everyone has the same end goal in mind. Involve your team in the creation of your goals to build buy-in. Then, take time on a daily or weekly basis to align your team around your collective goals and everyone’s role in achieving them. This can happen in team meetings, on Slack, or by emphasizing the “why” in tasks and briefs.
A Workflow Management Solution
To succeed as a hybrid organization you need to be proactive in adapting your workflows to your new reality. The first step? Understanding your business’ core workflows:
- How does each project get from idea to completion?
- Who is involved and at which step?
- Where and when do they work?
- What tools do they use?
This should help you map out your workflows for the hybrid reality while identifying blockers and chokepoints.
Often these blockers come in the form of tool silos. Information gets trapped in one person’s app, or team members struggle to locate and share key information. That’s where a workflow management solution comes in handy.
Ideally, you want something that allows you to customize exactly how information flows between the tools in your stack, without needing to code or turn to IT for each new project. If your focus is on simple automation, these can be one-way solutions (those that send information from one tool to another), like Zapier or IFTTT. Or, if your focus is on collaboration, a bidirectional workflow solution (which allows information to flow between tools), like my company Unito, might be the way to go.
Once your workflows are established, share them widely. Clearly defined workflows increase transparency, build alignment, and enable a remote-first approach. They tie everything together, providing a clear path to success for all employees.
Hybrid work is uncharted territory for most businesses. Like any explorer, you need to make sure you and your team are well-equipped to tackle whatever challenges come your way.
By committing to a remote-first mindset, an asynchronous approach, and a workflow management solution, you’re setting your hybrid team up for shared success in a new world of work.