If it feels like we’re stuck in the middle of an RTO battle, that’s because we are. And the one person feeling the sting the worst? Managers.
That’s because the choice of whether to have teams report into the office full-time, go hybrid, or let everyone work remotely is often made from the top down. But figuring out how it all comes together for an individual team is left to managers.
What makes this 10x harder is that (for most) the mechanics behind hybrid or remote work is a completely new concept, one that can’t borrow the same tactics used for fully in-office models.
But fret not: this guide can help managers navigate this new way of working, including what considerations need to be made for each type of hybrid work schedule as well as the resources and tools that help keep teams connected no matter where they work.
What is a hybrid work model?
Before we define what a hybrid work schedule is, let's first make sure we're on the same page about hybrid work models in general. A hybrid work model is one that supports flexible working arrangements, blending together in-office with remote workers.
What is a hybrid work schedule?
The first word that should come to mind when defining a hybrid work schedule is flexibility. At its core, that’s really what it’s all about: giving your team the flexibility to do great work from the office, their favorite coffee shop, or their couch. It’s a people-centric approach vs the more traditional, office-centric model we’ve all grown accustomed to over the years. A hybrid schedule recognizes that the purpose of the office isn’t to “make sure people are working,” but to facilitate collaboration and deepen connections between employees.
And the best part? A hybrid work schedule doesn’t just benefit the employee: there are big wins for managers, execs, and the bottom line. A win-win-win-win, if you will.
What are the benefits of a hybrid work schedule?
Let’s start with flexibility. In Future Forum’s Summer 2022 Pulse, they found that flexibility improved work/life balance, decreased stress, and increased overall job satisfaction for employees with flexibility compared to fully in-office workers.
The short- and long-term gains of hybrid work and hybrid schedules far outweigh the initial challenges of learning how best to operationalize it for your team.
Let’s take a closer look at some common types of hybrid schedules and what considerations managers should think through.
How to operationalize your team’s hybrid schedules
Before we dive into the specifics, one thing to note: the concept of hybrid or flexible work is continuously being defined (and redefined). So to keep it simple, we’re focusing on three typical hybrid schedules we’ve seen across our customers:
Fixed Hybrid Employees are expected to work from the office on specific days or a specific % of time
Flex Hybrid Employees are expected to work from the office on X number of days but can choose which days those are
Remote First Hybrid Employees are free to choose when or if they work from the office
1. Fixed Hybrid
In this model, employees are expected to commute into the office on a set number of days (M/W/F) or a set % of time. American Express opted to go this route last year.
When specific days of the week are set as in-office, employees enter the workplace knowing exactly who’s going to be there. But that doesn’t always equate to the most productive hours. In fact, one University of California study found that it takes over 23 minutes to refocus after each interruption, with other studies finding that the average worker is interrupted somewhere between 4 to 12 times every hour.
To help guide teams towards making the most out of the hours they have together, managers should pre-plan out the activities, projects, and conversations that are better served in office vs what work can be done remotely. With consistency and repetition, teams can figure this out for themselves but from the initial get-go, managers should take a more active role here.
One additional thought: In some cases, organizations may allow different departments to set their team’s in-office days. For those situations, managers should take time to map out which departments their team works the closest with, get a read on their schedule, and see how they can help facilitate meet-ups between different teams to ensure that everyone is reaping the benefits of being together.
2. Flex Hybrid
In this model, the expectations of when employees should be in the office are a bit more flexible than the local hybrid schedule. Often times we see situations where there are no specific weekdays set for in-office, just a specific number of days or % of time to come in. This is Google’s current approach to hybrid work.
Anything that gives employees more autonomy (and shows that they’re trusted by leadership) is a big step in the right direction.
With that being said, this schedule—if not managed appropriately—can lead to a lot of confusion. Sure, employees know they need to be in the office X number of days, but which ones? Without guidance from managers, employees could find themselves showing up to the office just to realize the people they thought would be there, aren’t.
On the other end of the hybrid spectrum is the remote first schedule. In this model, employees have complete autonomy to choose the days that work best for them to come into the office. This is the schedule we use here at Scoop.
This schedule is by far the most flexible and exhibits the highest level of foundational trust between leadership and individual employees. Big, big, win.
But unlike the other examples we’ve mentioned above, the remote first hybrid schedule has little consistency on when employees make the trip into the office. And because we humans are creatures of habit, it can be difficult to break employees from the “pattern” of doing everything from home.
In fact, let’s take a look at some recommendations that managers and teams can start leveraging today to achieve that connectivity.
The 4 Core Components of Hybrid Team Connectivity
Regardless of your team's hybrid schedule, there's still the question of how managers can keep everyone connected, both to the individual team and the larger organization when their people aren't all reporting into the an office 5 days a week.
To help solve this, managers should focus on 4 core components of hybrid team connectivity:
Whether it’s virtual meetings (Zoom, Google Meet, Welcome), project management (Asana, Monday.com, Trello), or day-to-day interactions (Slack, Teams), collaboration software is having its moment in the sun. The challenge here isn’t about finding available tools, it’s deciding which ones (out of the many, many options) fit your team’s needs the best.
Even after you’ve landed on the right tech, there’s still the challenge of how best to use it. Take meetings for example. There’s bound to be a mix of employees that take some meetings in-office vs remote. Managers will have to be mindful of ensuring these meetings remain equitable to every team member, regardless of location.
One of the more difficult challenges of adopting a hybrid schedule is trying to coordinate team members’ times to coincide with one another.
Today, most managers go about this the “hard” way, e.g. juggling calendars, going back and forth over email, or digging through Slack threads.
However, there’s now technology specifically built to solve the challenge of hybrid team coordination. Not only can individual team members easily see where one another plans on working from, but they can see that information in the places they’re already working from (calendar, Slack, mobile).
And the best part? This takes the heavy lift off the manager’s plate while giving them better, instantly accessible visibility.
Contrary to what some may say, workplace culture doesn’t suddenly erode because a team’s gone hybrid—and if it did, there’s a good chance the root cause has nothing to do with hybrid work.
Much like any other aspect of hybrid work, ensuring your workplace culture is felt by every employee regardless of location takes intentionality. It’s not enough to dole out free swag and call it a day. Protecting, and improving, workplace culture depends on a number of factors: establishing a foundation of trust, challenging proximity bias, and encouraging a healthy work/life balance.
Of course, there’s tech that can make some of this a bit easier: tools like Donut for team building and engagement or BucketList Rewards for employee recognition. Still, managers should treat workplace culture with the same level of importance as anything else on this list, especially given the link between the sense of belonging at work and employee retention.
And lastly, with regards to work/life balance — while employees need to advocate for themselves, many don’t or simply won’t. As their manager, having visibility into their workload, how much time they’re spending online, or just having an honest conversation about how they’re feeling can go a long way in ensuring that your employees don’t burn out or feel siloed from the rest of the org.
A few quick tips:
Establish and maintain reasonable working hours
Encourage time off
Make time off sacred
The Future of Work is What You Make It
At the end of the day, no one has figured out how to operationalize hybrid schedules perfectly. That’s because this really isn’t a perfect science. But managers can get there if they recognize that, much like any new policy, it’s going to take learning, experimenting, and making a few mistakes. But the good news is that as long as you’re intentional with your team about the why, how, and where of the office, you’re already setting them up for success.
Here at Scoop, we recognize that it’s the people that make a trip to the office worth it.
Whether you’re setting specific days to be in the office or allowing your employees to choose what works for them, Team Sync eliminates the time spent coordinating schedules so teams can focus on doing good work, not figuring out where it happens.
Is enforcing a return to office actually doing more harm than good? Join Scoop Technologies CEO and Co-Founder, Rob Sadow, as he examines the implications of mandatory RTO policies, what today’s employees really want, and how leaders can find common ground without sacrificing top talent or workplace culture.