This week I was running a session on collaboration and hybrid working with one of our law firm clients. It struck me that there have been months and months of consultation and debate about how we are all going to work but now that we are up close and personal with it, the nitty gritty of how this will all be in practice is not clear at all!

Yes, we know and understand that being in the office aids collaboration, learning and career development, wellbeing, social capital and even helps to boost focus and concentration. But if you are there and those you want to interact with are WFH that day, it kinds of defeats the purpose. It feels like it’s all got a bit messy – and not in a good way.

Hybrid working has always existed, but its prevalence has been turbocharged by the pandemic and subsequent remote working experiment. At its core, it’s an arrangement in which an individual, team or organisation work part of their time at the workplace and part remotely. But how do you facilitate formal and informal collaboration if people aren’t in the office together at the same time?

Zoom calls aren’t the best forum for creativity and there are some tasks that work better when people are sharing a desk, rather than a screen. And sometimes new ideas pop up from an impromptu conversation around the coffee machine.

Many companies are trying 3-2 or 2-3 set-ups – but it’s not going seamlessly. Companies embracing hybrid work have made many different moves, some requiring as few as a single day at the HQ, with others asking for four (often in more rigid industries, such as finance and consulting).

In a move for balance, many companies have tried policies bringing people back three days per week with two remote days (3-2), or two office days and three remote days (2-3). Google was among the high-profile companies who embraced 3-2 in early days, bringing workers back in April. But although some workers are happy to spend two or three days in the office – particularly those who are feeling isolated amid remote work or who simply don’t like being at home at all – these set-ups are not wholly going well across the board.

What about you?

Wherever you are with this, the most important thing is to start. It is likely that hybrid is here to stay so the first thing is to decide what that is going to look like and begin at the top. If you expect and want people to be in the office at least three days a week, for example, make sure leaders and managers are modelling that and that everyone knows how this is going to work in practice. It is also not much good if companies are coming up with too complicated (or too flexible?) models with two days one week, three days the next or six days spread over a fortnight.If you’re part of  a team and you’ve decided together which days you’re going to come in, be prepared to review that regularly. What happens, for example, if you are working on an important pitch or need to be together and on the day in question one of you says “sorry, I’m working from home today. I’ll just dial in…”

TIME magazine speaks to experts and industry leaders about the future of remote and hybrid working models

Good tips for hybrid working: as we start to embrace the new, we need to have honest conversations about how this will work and be prepared to try out different things, both as individuals and within our teams – here are a few ideas:

  1. Check in with yourself first – how exactly do you want to work and how do you visualise this happening?  It can seem actually quite daunting after so long working from home. It’s even possible to experience a new kind of “social anxiety” because of not being quite sure what the norms are.. Take a bit of time to reflect on how you might be feeling and some strategies that might help you. That could be anything from making time to meet with team members one-to-one or naming your feelings so your brain shifts into problem-solving mode.
  2. Switch up your routines – once you’ve worked out when you’ll be commuting and in the office, create a better morning routine for yourself. Have different routines when you’re at home and when going in to the office. Use your commute for some “me time” – perhaps listening to a great podcast, really enjoying that coffee or just staring out of the window can boost mental alertness and wellbeing ensuring you are set and ready for the day.
  3. Talk to your team – what’s  best for your team if some of you are at home and some in the office? Is your current set up working?  What’s  most important for collaborating and learning? Maybe everyone does not need to be there on the exact same days but there still needs to be coordination of some kind for it to work well.
  4. Rethink meetings – some of your meetings can continue to be online with some at home and some in the office. That’s still going to work for things like information sharing or updates. But if you want creativity, ideas, solutions and discussion – that’s may be better face-to-face. It’s a good idea to give those kinds of sessions different names too – maybe an ideas workshop or a creativity jam?
  5. Build connections – make time to meet colleagues perhaps in small groups or one-to-one for coffee or even for a dinner or lunch. Likewise make time for anyone you have met online – why not suggest face-to-face meetings? It’s likely they can lead to meaningful discussions, new opportunities and new understanding.
  6. Focus on outputs – as a team, flesh out goals and expectations so that everyone feels comfortable with their productivity levels, whether at the office or at home. We have proven that we can, in fact, be productive from anywhere. Certain types of work might be better suited to working from home and others from being in the office and people will know instinctively what works for them so talk about it!
  7. Boost your skills – The future of work will be defined by soft skills, including the ability to lead, make decisions, collaborate virtually and empathise with teammates and clients. In a hybrid environment, these skills become even more important. Focus on professional development and working out what you and your team need. Training in these areas can be a blend of online and in-person too, much like how we will continue to work.

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