Hybrid work, in the authors’ experience, only works when all employees are treated as remote employees. To do this, companies need to do five things: embrace asynchronous communication, make communication boundaries clear, champion documentation and the production of artifacts, share information widely, and provide the right tools for employees to succeed.
The pandemic acceleration toward work from home has ebbed, but while many workers have grown accustomed to the convenience and flexibility of remote work and are demanding it, many companies are pushing for a return to the office. The compromise, increasingly, is a hybrid that blends in-person and remote teams. A recent McKinsey study of 800 corporate executives indicated that hybrid will likely be the norm going forward. Our experience, from having lead teams and companies that were hybrid pre-Covid, is that this isn’t as simple as setting days to be in-office or remote.
Hybrid cultures, instead, only thrive by treating everyone as remote. This means giving everyone access to the same information, people, tools, and opportunity to succeed, regardless of whether they are sitting in an office in Berlin or whether they are doing their work from a coffee shop in Jakarta or a bedroom in Tokyo. This is simple, but not straightforward. It requires consistent action from leadership on the following five fronts.
1. Embracing asynchronous communication
Communicating with distributed employees, especially globally, requires a special attention to ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the conversation. This can typically be achieved by one or more of the following means:
- Deliberately changing synchronous exchanges to asynchronous ones. Teams that are on different time zones need to move to written or recorded communication. This could mean replacing your daily stand-up meeting with short written updates to a chat channel, or with written documents that facilitate discussion in the comments. At a wider scale, a CEO could solicit written questions ahead of time for the company town hall, and then record and broadcast it instead of doing it live.
- Using technology to produce artefacts that can be shared after a synchronous exchange. Sometimes a synchronous meeting is required to discuss a complex or urgent issue. However, we now have access to the technology that makes it simple to produce shareable artefacts, such as recorded Zoom meetings, collaboratively edited meeting minutes in Google Docs, and automatically generated transcripts of video calls.
2. Making communication boundaries clear
With remote work, it is often unclear when colleagues and managers are available to chat, focusing on a task, or relaxing with their family. This can lead to awkward or annoying interruptions. This isn’t a new problem, of course; while one of the extolled virtues of working in the office was the ability to have spontaneous interactions and interruptions, it could be frustrating for staff who thrived on getting into flow and concentrating on deep work.
Remote work offers a reset. Teams should do two things:
- Set rules of engagement per platform. Working remotely means navigating emails, chat messages, video calls, and documentation with different levels of priority and urgency. Ideally, teams should clearly define what the expectations are for each. Is it reasonable to not answer a direct message on chat until the next day? What about emails? Is everyone expected to watch every meeting recording if …….