5 productivity tips for hybrid workers

When you work some days at home and some in the office, staying productive has new challenges. Here’s how productivity experts say you should handle them.

hybrid workplace productivity aleutie via shutterstock
Aleutie / Shutterstock

As the world returns to the office, many people are finding themselves working in a new hybrid environment, where some of the workweek is spent at home and some is spent in the office.

Working from essentially two different offices can make productivity in both places challenging. A collaborative study from researchers at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), Stanford, the University of Chicago, and MIT found that six out of 10 workers reported being more productive at home than they expected to be, in part because they were able to cut out commute time and unwanted conversations with chatty co-workers. The majority of respondents thought home was a great place to get some heads-down uninterrupted work done; however, many found some collaborative tasks were a bit more challenging to do from their home office.

According to a recent Gallup report, 42% of US workers whose jobs can be done remotely were working in a hybrid environment in February of this year. Some 53% of remote-capable workers expect hybrid work throughout 2022 and beyond, and 59% say it’s their preferred work model, compared with 32% who prefer working at home exclusively and 9% who prefer fully on-site work.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to working both from home and in a traditional office, a hybrid environment can potentially give you the best of both worlds and make for your best work yet — provided you set yourself up for success. I spoke to some professionals who have adopted a hybrid work environment to hear how they’re making it work.

1. Make a plan

One of the best things you can do before the start of any workday or week is to make a plan.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I saw a surge in the use of planning resources. People had gotten used to ‘showing up’ in an office every morning, then deciding what to do with their time,” says Laura Mae Martin, executive productivity advisor at Google. “Working from home required people to figure out exactly what they were doing and when,” she says.

“This type of planning is still important as you bounce back and forth to different work environments with different types of schedules,” she notes. “Fill out a daily plan the night before to make the most of the following day. What you intend to do will marinate while you sleep, and you’ll approach the day focused and intentional.”

When you’re planning your day, Martin also suggests thinking about it as a whole and being intentional in how you plan what to complete.

“Many people think of their schedule like a puzzle: ‘Wherever you find a 30-minute slot, throw a meeting in there!’ But your energy and focus are changing (and challenged) when you bounce from a one-on-one meeting to a brainstorm to a project check-in... the list goes on and on,” she says.

Instead, design a plan that takes your brain and your time into consideration. “Call Tuesday your ‘Project A’ day, and place work time and meetings for that project on that day. If Wednesday morning is your manager’s staff meeting, block time afterward to digest updates and trickle down information to your team as needed.”

Being intentional with your planning can also help you decide where to do that work.

2. Pick the right place

“Everything has a time and a place. I tell my teams that it’s best to get from each setting what it’s best for,” says David Cottrell, co-founder and CTO of Zynq, an office management platform vendor. “Focus on work at home being your distraction-free, heads-down time (e.g., troubleshooting your own code), while in-office time might be for working collaboratively and creatively with your colleagues.”

For instance, you might want to use in-office time to work through a challenging coding issue with another programmer, which might be more difficult remotely. Often the right place for the work is dictated by the type of work you’re doing. Trying to do solo work in the office or group work at home can end up hampering your overall output and productivity.

“A huge part of making hybrid work is communicating with your team on when you plan to be in the office and making a decision to go in or stay at home that mirrors what your team is also doing,” Cottrel says. “If your day entails mostly personal work, then it might be a good time to work from home; however, if you’re attending a number of meetings, it might be better to head into the office where you can collaborate with colleagues in person.” That in-person time has the added bonus of allowing you to connect with your team in those small moments before and after meetings and build camaraderie within your team.

3. Keep a similar setup in both locations

One of the challenges of hybrid work is that you’re essentially maintaining two different offices, which means that each time you change locations, you also need to get reacclimated to your work environment. It’s an issue Daniel Carter, marketing manager of lending app LoanX, says can be mitigated by making your two workspaces as similar as possible.

“Humans are creatures of habit, and there are strong reasons why making your workplaces as similar as possible — both at work and at home — can help you be more productive,” says Carter. “It's a good idea to maintain uniformity throughout both places, from how you position your desk and chair to the drawer where you keep supplies.”

When you don’t have to spend time looking for a cable or getting comfortable, you’ll be poised to do your best work.

4. Maintain open communication

For a hybrid environment to thrive, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication with your co-workers. Otherwise, it’s easy for critical information to get lost in one-on-one conversations and Slack DMs.

“Because many employees in a hybrid model work in a variety of shifts and locations, it can be challenging to keep everyone on the same page,” says Sumit Bansal, founder and CEO of Excel training site TrumpExcel. While it might be easier for managers to communicate in a physical office environment, he notes, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen in a physical office.

“Open communication fosters trust and makes it easier for employees to communicate their concerns to management,” Bansal says. “When the manager is aware of his or her employees' difficulties, resolving them becomes easier.”

Make sure your team has a communication plan in place, be it regular Slack conversations or daily Zoom stand-ups, to keep everyone informed on the team’s goals and progress. That open communication can be critical in getting projects done efficiently and ensuring you’re not unintentionally leaving a colleague behind when goals shift.

5. Use the cloud

When your team is working on a project from multiple locations, it’s important to make sure everyone has easy access to everything they need.

“Using cloud-based collaboration solutions is one of the greatest [ways] to ensure that everyone always has access to the information you require,” says Andrew Dale, technical director at IT service provider CloudTech24. Collaborative cloud platforms include a vast range of tools: online storage and file-sharing services, instant messaging platforms, videoconferencing services, virtual whiteboards, cloud-based productivity apps like Google Docs and Microsoft Word, project management apps, shared virtual workspaces, and more.

Dale says that while there are advantages to a variety of different platforms, “the key to being [your] most productive is to ensure that your team members are using the same platforms and that there are some standards on how to use them.” When you have standard tools and practices, you’re able to ensure that everyone on your team has access to everything they need, and your project can avoid unnecessary delays and inefficiencies.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Veronica Miller, cybersecurity expert at VPN review site VPNOverview.com. “Maintaining work on a cloud drive or shared server provides a slew of benefits for a hybrid workforce and is one of the most effective workplace efficiency hacks. Most importantly, it enables workers to work on a task in the office one day and pick up where they left off the next day while working from home.”

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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