Managers may think employees “enjoy” the freedom of working from home, considering it as unofficial days off. However, they will be surprised to discover that some employees have resigned due to what they consider chaos. Here is an email I received from such a reader:
I read your articles about the world of work with interest.
I would like to share my experience with you.
I worked in a large company in a technology team. We worked two days from the office, but they did not necessarily coincide with all the employees. In the days when they worked from home, there were no rules about acceptable working hours, not everyone was available, and as a new employee in the team I discovered that my work day starts at 10:00 and ends at 15:00 since from 16:00 most people are no longer available. It felt like I was on my own, no team, no communication, no management. That’s why I ended up leaving for another company.
In the new company I work about 4 days from the office and I am very productive. On the one workday from home I am less efficient. We still face availability issues, just like in my previous job. That’s a big concern. Managers should allow remote work, but with clear guidelines. Even if it’s not the most convenient option for everyone, we need to make sure that remote work doesn’t turn into a half-day off. Right now, I treat it like a day off from the office, unless I have a specific and urgent task to complete, I go out to do hobbies.
So to be honest, right now, I feel like working from home is kind of fake. Until we establish a real remote work culture, it can’t fully replace the office. For people who work in teams or have to interact with others, it simply makes them less efficient. Maybe it’s only suitable for those who work independently without much need for communication.
The whole situation caused by the pandemic brought some great promises, but we’re still dealing with some challenges. We haven’t quite found the right balance and the appropriate work culture yet.
In this column, I specifically want to address the employees themselves and what we can and should be doing to ensure that we are capable of working in ever-changing work environments, without having to rely on our managers. To that end, I present an open letter in response to all those currently navigating hybrid work, offering guidance on how to approach it effectively.
It begins with a fundamental decision: choosing where to work. Rather than being constrained by necessity, we should exercise our prerogative to work from the office or elsewhere based on what suits us best. If, for instance, you find it challenging to concentrate at home or prefer the structured environment and the presence of colleagues, then working from the office might be the ideal choice for you. Similarly, if you’re new to the job or organization and desire more face-to-face interactions to acquaint yourself with your coworkers and the organizational culture, opting for office-based work makes perfect sense.
It is, however, important that you don’t stick with working from the office just because it is familiar and you haven’t figured out how to make remote work work for you. It is imperative that we recognize the need to adapt, just as organizations must comprehend the transformed world of work and learn to operate in diverse locations. Acquiring the skills and tools necessary for remote work becomes an opportunity for personal and professional growth, enabling us to reimagine our work processes. Furthermore, considering that others work remotely, even if we choose an office setting, it becomes essential to cultivate the ability to collaborate with colleagues who are not physically present.
As a response to the reader, I’ve put together some practical strategies to help you overcome the challenges outlined in the email while unlocking the full potential of the ever-evolving realm of work.
Align: Hybrid work necessitates a deeper level of alignment. It is crucial to work with your manager and team to establish a shared understanding of what constitutes success in terms of deliverables and outcomes. Determining specific targets, deadlines, and performance benchmarks enables you to gauge your progress within the broader context of the team’s activities. Naturally, unexpected surprises and unplanned events may arise. Therefore, this alignment should not be a one-time occurrence but rather an ongoing framework that guides our actions. Should circumstances change or unforeseen obstacles emerge, it becomes imperative to raise concerns and reassess the plan. By setting measurable goals, you can ascertain what must be accomplished on a daily or weekly basis, effectively managing your time and prioritizing tasks.
Plan: Take responsibility for devising a plan that ensures you have access to all the necessary resources to meet your goals. Identify your dependencies on individuals, information, tools, and materials. Determine who you need to collaborate with and who relies on your contributions. Identify the sources of information and establish effective means of sharing knowledge. In the dynamic landscape of work, where multiple teams engage in various projects simultaneously, it is crucial to create agreements that address these dependencies. This is the secret to successful asynchronous work, where individuals operate at different times and locations, yet still have access to the resources they require without disrupting others.
Agree: Since separate plans and realities coexist in hybrid work, it becomes essential to reach agreements not only on dependencies but also on interfaces, communication channels, and processes that enable us to close the loop. Optimal remote work is not an emulation of a typical workday. Rather, the benefits of remote work arise from being able to transition between work and personal time in a way that works for you. But that doesn’t mean everyone determines their own schedule. To make it work as a team, it is necessary to establish clear availability windows for meetings or calls. Equally important is to communicate windows of unavailability, ensuring others understand when personal or private work time is scheduled, avoiding frustrations caused by delayed real-time responses. Even in the absence of a predefined process from your manager or organization, you can help create agreements that stipulate available hours, response times, and establish structured communication processes for updates, feedback, collaboration, and idea-sharing. Agree on expectations regarding deliverables, interfaces, and conduct, particularly in areas where interdependence exists.
Communicate: If you find it challenging to create such agreements within your team, take the initiative to communicate your preferences and requirements. Clearly articulate your availability and non-availability, share your work materials, deliverables and schedule and specify what information you need in return. Over time, this proactive communication may inspire others within the team to follow suit. Effective communication lies at the core of being able to work from any location and at any time. It encompasses not only work-related discussions but also expressing your needs, seeking feedback, sharing knowledge, and building relationships. Articulate your challenges and requirements to both your manager and team members. Inform them of your preferred working style and solicit their input to ensure a mutual understanding of expectations, allowing you to refine your approach and contribute to the team’s success.
If you regularly collaborate with specific individuals, consider scheduling routine conversations with them, either in person or through technology, even if they are informal. If possible, prioritize face-to-face meetings, especially on days when everyone is present in the office, to build connection and enhance communication. In cases where face to face interaction is not feasible, ensure remote channels foster strong communication. Extend your communication beyond immediate team members to encompass a broader network of individuals who exert influence on your work or career. Identify individuals within your organization whose expertise intrigues you and arrange lunch meetings with them on office days.
Monitor: Hybrid work allows us to structure our workdays and weeks in accordance with our personal work styles. To capitalize on this flexibility, we must first understand our own preferences. In traditional office environments, most individuals adhered to similar working hours. However, remote work allows for greater customization, enabling us to adapt to our individual rhythms. Determine whether you are most focused in the morning or evening, whether you thrive during long uninterrupted stretches or prefer to divide your work into smaller sessions.
This self-awareness empowers us to establish personalized routines and work environments that suit us best. Moreover, it enables us to establish clear boundaries between work and personal life, optimizing productivity. For instance, if you traditionally begin your day with coffee at your desk, continue this ritual at home. Dress for the workday, organize your workspace, and designate a specific area for different types of work requirements. Mark out spaces where you conduct Zoom meetings and maybe different areas for work that requires concentration, ensuring you don’t find yourself scrambling for a suitable spot at the last minute amidst a bustling household.
Whether you prefer structured time blocks for focused work, meetings, and breaks, or if you thrive on continuous work punctuated by breaks when concentration wanes, it is crucial to acknowledge the necessity of taking breaks. These breaks serve multiple purposes, not only allowing you to attend to household chores or family responsibilities but also enabling personal rejuvenation. In an office setting, breaks often involve strolling down corridors or engaging in impromptu conversations with colleagues in communal areas. Replicate these experiences in your home environment. Take a walk in your neighborhood or visit a local café to interact with a friend who also works remotely. If you feel isolated, seek opportunities to connect with colleagues or join communities dedicated to professional growth and learning, both in-person and online.
Working from home need not resemble a day off, nor should it breed a sense of isolation. Use this opportunity to design your work experience, harnessing the full potential of hybrid work to benefit your career and other facets of life. Good luck!