Many organizations are beginning to transition back to the office, offering employees the flexibility to balance both in-person and remote work options. But with such flexibility can come confusion. How do you know what in-office days to request?
There are four key factors to consider as you make your own hybrid schedule decisions, while ensuring maximum productivity. First, think about the decisions you make and projects you work on. Being in-person to handle strategic choices and negotiations, as well as large project meetings, may be useful. Second, consider how your team operates. For those on your team who process information face-to-face, you might want to align in-person time with their in-office schedule. Third, choose days that work with your energy trends. If you’re an introvert, for instance, use remote time to recharge between in-office days. Finally, track your motivation trends, and choose in-office days that will give you that extra push to be productive.
With a sudden jolt in March of 2020, millions of Americans who could do their work virtually were finding that they were doing their work virtually. According to a Pew Research study, prior to this shift, about 20% of workers who could work remotely were doing so; this percentage swung up to 71%.
This change happened with very little warning and gave employees little to no choice in the matter. But now as organizations are transitioning in earnest back to the office, many employees will have more choice than ever before.
If you find yourself in the situation where you’re now able or required to have some in-person facetime each week and you feel uncertain about what you should request, here are some strategies that can help guide your hybrid schedule decisions. As a time-management coach, I find that considering these four key factors can empower you to maximize your overall productivity when you’re (partially) back in the office.
What tasks do I prefer to do in the office?
Some of the most important business functions happen most effectively in person. You’ll want to be “at the table” literally when it comes to high-level strategic decisions and negotiations whenever possible. What’s communicated and not communicated virtually is substantively different than in person.
But even if you’re not making game-changing decisions, there are tasks you may prefer to do in the office. For example, if you have project meetings that require problem solving, decision making, reviewing tangible objects, or have high emotional content, those are best done in person. Schedule your in-office days for when those project meetings are held. And if you have some authority over those meetings, consider asking other team members to try to make it into the office those days as well. You could also flex these preferences over time. For example, have everyone meet in person when you’re first kicking off the project, hold virtual meetings for standard updates, and then encourage people to come in person again when it’s time for a more in-depth review of deliverables.
When does my team need me?
To maximize your team productivity, you’ll also want to identify what kind of interactions (in person or virtual) will be most effective. If you pick up on the fact that some of your colleagues — and specifically, your direct reports — better comprehend what you are saying and can retain and respond to the information more appropriately when you’re in person, try to plan some in-office days to align with when those individuals will also be present. Thirty minutes spent in person could save you hours of headache from unread or misunderstood written and phone communication. Alternatively, if you discover that some of your colleagues comprehend information better in writing or through some other virtual method, continue having those meetings remotely and reserve your in-office time for other activities.
Despite having honed our virtual communication skills over the pandemic, people may have preferences for in-person communication, face-to-face meetings, or remote options, so consider what makes sense for each individual on your team as you look at your schedule.
How can I maximize my productivity?
The first two factors I shared have to do with maximizing the productivity on your project work and that of your team. But the final two factors are about maximizing your personal productivity, starting with managing your energy.
If you have more introverted tendencies, you may find it effective to do no more than two days in a row in the office. For example, maybe you decided to go in Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Monday, Wednesday, Friday. By interspersing your days in the office with days at home, you give yourself an opportunity to recharge by having less stimulation from other people on your remote days. You can also group together your meetings on the days you’re in the office so your work-from-home days have longer stretches of uninterrupted time for getting your solo work done.
On the other hand, if you have more extroverted tendencies, going into the office multiple days in a row may not be a problem. And you may be energized overall by booking meetings both when you’re in the office and at home so you have opportunities to connect with people daily. When you are working remotely, book some meetings at the start of your workday to get you geared up and then again in the afternoon when your energy starts to wane.
When do I feel the least motivated?
Even prior to the exodus from the office, I’ve seen that my coaching clients tend to have motivation trends throughout the week. For some, they start out on Monday morning with a bang but by Friday afternoon it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to get any substantive work done. For others, it’s the opposite: It takes them a while to get going on Monday but by Friday they’re knocking things off the list easily and working until 6 or 7 PM at night.
Remote work can affect these motivation levels as well, especially if you’re younger. The same Pew Research study that measured the grand shift to remote work, found that 42% of workers ages 18 to 49 said that it’s been difficult to feel motivated to do their work remotely. And the percentage is even higher for 18- to 29-year-olds, with 53% of them saying it’s been difficult for them to be motivated to do their work when they’re not in-person with their colleagues. (This is in contrast to only 20% of workers 50 and older feeling the same way.)
Use in-office time to pump up those times when you’re feeling less motivated. Just like going to the gym can make it massively easier to work out, going into the office makes it massively easier to get work done for some people. If you find you’re most motivated when you’re around other people and you fade as the week progresses, request regular office days on Thursday and Friday. If you find the opposite to be true and know that you’ll get a lot more done if you go in Monday and Tuesday, make that your aim. Know when you’ll need some positive peer pressure and plan your hybrid schedule accordingly for big increases in productivity.
With more and more organizations making the shift back into the office, you’re likely facing the possibility of a schedule that bridges in-person and remote work. Consider these four factors when making your decision on when to be in the office so that returning to the workplace works for you.