I still remember my first job after college in 2007. My manager gave me a phone, a laptop, and a remote connection to work. They told me I could work from home sometimes if needed – that was the end of the advice. I would burn out due to excessive hours and weak boundaries within a year. Over the next 13 years, I worked between 1 and 4 days from home before switching to fully remote in 2020. In some roles, the setup allowed me to flourish. In others, it was a source of stress, loneliness, and disconnection from the workplace.
In the past, hybrid working was informal and unstructured. Its success or failure was determined not only by the person working in two places but also by the manager’s ability and willingness to provide guidance and support.
The focus on hybrid and flexible work models is the opportunity to improve our work practices intentionally. Whether you are a first-time manager or have been doing this for years, this is the perfect time to consider what you can do to best support yourself and your team in this new way of working.
What is your company’s hybrid work model?
In the past, companies may have implemented hybrid working on a case-by-case basis. Now, many are adopting it as a standard way of working.
The hybrid working model you adopt as a team will depend on your company policy. The first step is to clarify how this applies to your team and each member. Does the company mandate a specific number of days or hours in the office each week? Is an ergonomic assessment available for home office setups?
Taking the time to understand both the constraints and resources available to make hybrid working a success will allow you to make better decisions at a team level.
When will the team be in the office?
The only thing worse than being the only one working from home is being the only one working in the office. Unless, of course, you are the type of person that thrives in that setup. Understanding the team’s preferences from a performance and well-being perspective helps to create a better team schedule, which is essential to support collaboration and effective communication.
Are there going to be some people in the office all the time? Will there be anyone who is working all the time remotely? Are you going to have dedicated days as a team that you’re all going to be in together, or will it be down to personal preference?
When you know the schedule, you can think about working better together and how the team will get support from you as their manager.
Pay special attention to those who might be working remotely more often than others and to people who might, for whatever reason, choose to be in the office full time. There might be days that they’re in there on their own, which can be just as lonely as working from home.
What’s the best way to communicate as a hybrid team?
Once the schedule is clear, the next thing to talk about is communication. How will you interact with each other as a team on the days you’re in the office and on remote days?
Pre-pandemic, I used to love working from home because those days typically had few or no meetings. I flipped to the other extreme for nearly two years when we spent most of our time between Zoom, MS Teams, and other video conferencing software. Now I have found a happy medium that works well for me.
Optimising your meetings is easier if you have a dedicated team on office days but remember there will always be exceptions. There might be somebody who is not there. Assume that you will always have somebody remote and somebody in the office when looking at how you can improve your meetings as a team.
Remember, however, that communication is more than meetings. Take a fresh look at email, phone calls and messaging tools and create ground rules that will set them up to support the team – not stress them out.
It’s also a good idea to look at your systems for managing work, sharing information, asking questions, and getting feedback. This ensures that the communication is happening in the best place for the topic, and you are less likely to have people missing out.
Managing your time as a hybrid manager
So far, we have covered schedule, communication, goal setting, and role clarity, but what about you as the manager? How will you ensure you spend your time the best way?
When managing a hybrid team, it is crucial to be available for the team when they need your support, regardless of where you are working. In my last role as a manager, I worked a few days weekly from home, but my team chose to nearly always be in the office. They needed to know I was still available even when they could physically see everyone on the team but me.
You could increase the frequency of one-to-one meetings with each team member. Just be sure to check if you can shorten the duration if you speak with each other more often. You could also block out “team time” in your calendar daily. This is a placeholder to prevent back-to-back meetings and is a clear window of time that you are available for your team. “Team time” could be a single block, or you could spread it across the day.
Being available to your team means you can respond to issues as they arise, work together to resolve them, and prevent a backlog from building up.
The other side of this is you do need to consider your workload. Suppose you are responsible for delivering on any projects or activities. How will you organise your work to make the most of each location? You might decide to do project work on the days you work remotely and spend most of your time in the office attending meetings and spending time with people face to face.
Think about what works and what work will work best in each environment, and set up your calendar, tasks, and everything else to support this.
Lead by example to create healthy work habits
Hybrid working supports well-being in many ways, but there is also a risk of blurred boundaries and excessive unplanned overtime. You can lead by example to create healthy work habits as a team.
Scheduling your lunch breaks is one of the best ways to support yourself throughout the day. As a team, try to set the same time every day as a group so that you are more likely to take it regardless of where you work.
As a manager, let your team see you finishing on time, taking breaks, and booking time off. Encourage them to do the same and support them in managing expectations with other internal stakeholders if needed.
The final note on hybrid working is that it is an evolving model. Focus on improving the way that you work together month after month. Celebrate the wins and adapt quickly to things that aren’t working well. Above all else, do it as a team.