More than 1 year ago, I wrote: “How to Be a Great Remote Product Manager.” Little did I know that we’d be living in a remote-only world for more than a year!
But, things are changing again and they are changing FAST!
As of 4/24/21, more than 53% of the adult population of the United States had received at least 1 dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
And there are signs of tech companies returning to work in person in a limited capacity everywhere you look:
Facebook, Microsoft and Uber have announced plans to reopen offices on a limited basis, as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic continues to slow.
Microsoft and Uber say their headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and San Francisco respectively will welcome employees on March 29.
Facebook said that if COVID-19 numbers in Menlo Park, Calif., the home of its headquarters, continues to decline, up to 10% of its workforce can go back to the office on May 10. Similarly, offices in Fremont and Sunnyvale can open a little later — May 17 and May 24, respectively. And the San Francisco office is slated to open its doors on June 7.
And as a more personal example, this past Friday, I went into my downtown Chicago office and worked with 5 of my fully vaccinated co-workers.
It was magical.
But it is still a far cry from a full-scale return to the office and that’s ok.
Similar to the adjustment period that we all experienced in March and April of 2020, there will be an equal adjustment period as we determine how we all will work successfully in a “hybrid” remote world.
In this new hybrid world, there will be both significant opportunities and challenges to navigate through successfully.
Without further delay, here are my 5 Do’s and 5 Don’ts for returning to work in a hybrid world.
5 Do’s of Returning to Work in a Hybrid World
- DO — Understand that everyone’s comfort level will vary
2020 was, quite simply, a LOT.
There is a lot of accumulated anxiety, there are a lot of new and modified behaviors, and there is a lot of rustiness with basic social and human interaction. Be understanding and empathetic with others as they return to the office.
Some individuals may not be ready to return to the office until they see others return successfully first. Some may want to keep their distance from others in the office. Some may still want to wear masks.
All of this is completely normal and you should try your best to support your co-workers, regardless of their personal comfort level.
2. DO — Enjoy your time together in the office
If you’re like me, you haven’t seen most of your co-workers in person in over a year (if at all!) So be silly, goof off, get lunch every day for a while, grab that 2nd coffee together, talk about life, and more.
You have a LOT of lost time to catch up for!
3. DO — Allow for time to re-adjust to working from a different environment
Do you remember how lost you were working from home for the first few weeks in 2020?
There is going to be a similar adjustment period as you begin to work from an office environment. There are different distractions, different patterns of work, and (obviously) a proximity to your co-workers that you haven’t experienced in over a year.
Allow for some time to re-adjust to working from the office environment. It’s completely normal and ok to feel less productive for a few weeks as you acclimate.
4. DO — Recognize that co-workers will want to spend different proportions of their time in the office.
Not everyone has the same desire to work from the office or from home as you do. People in different roles or on different teams may choose to work from home more or less than you and that’s ok.
It’s going to take some time for us all to determine what balance of office and home time makes us most effective and most fulfilled. And it’s not going to be the same for everyone.
5. DO — Take advantage of time together for more creative and collaborative exercises (whiteboarding, retros, etc.), but… don’t forget about your remote coworkers. Ok, that was both a DO and a DON’T, but it’s an important one!
While not everyone will be in the office the same % each week, it’s important that when we do have everyone together in one place, we take advantage of that unique time with creative and collaborative exercises.
How can we best plan for this time together and align our group meetings, design discussions, and all-hands meetings to make the most of it?
5 Don’ts of Returning to Work in a Hybrid World
- DON’T — Forget about your fully remote co-workers; make sure to find opportunities to get everyone together
As we return to the office in different capacities and in different frequencies, some co-workers will be working from home more than others. You’ll realize you have meetings where half of the group is in person and half is remote.
It’s incredibly important to treat remote attendees of the meeting equally.
Remember to engage them for questions and input (it’s not always easy to find a time in the conversation to jump in when you’re remote!). If you don’t, you’ll start to form an invisible divide between “in office” and “out of office.”
2. DON’T — Set inflexible schedules for return to work
Our first return to office plan won’t be perfect.
We’ll have to make adjustments, react to issues, and listen to employee feedback. As such, it’s important not to set inflexible schedules that prevent you from adjusting to real-world conditions.
Be honest with your team: We’re all figuring this out together, we’re going to be listening to your feedback and we will make adjustments as we need to.
3. DON’T — Assume everyone will want to follow the same hybrid schedule
Not everyone is going to want to be in the office 5 days per week (or 4 days or 3 days or …). We all have different life situations and work preferences, meaning that we’re all going to want a different balance of in-office and remote time.
You should plan for this and not assume everyone will follow the same hybrid schedule.
4. DON’T — Push people outside of their comfort zone too fast
As I mentioned before, we’ve accumulated quite a bit of anxiety “debt” over the past year. There is no value in rushing people past their comfort zone.
Let each member of your team explore their level of comfort and determine how they want to return to work and how they want to interact with others.
5. DON’T — Assume that you’ll have the same level of productivity as employees return to the office for the first time
For the first week or two of returning to the office, in addition to a re-calibration of how to work in the office, employees will be making up for lost time building personal relationships.
While this may show up in reduced velocity and lower output, the relationships built across your team during this return-to-work period will be vital to your company’s ability to adjust to and thrive in the new new world!
We’ll Get Through This Change Together
As we did at the beginning of the pandemic, we’ll get through this new work adjustment together too.
And if we can do it right, I predict we’ll see our highest levels of productivity ever. The right balance of work from home and work from the office can be a beautiful thing!