Since the beginning of the pandemic, studies have repeatedly shown that remote work doesn't adversely affect productivity. But we know there's something irreplaceable about seeing our colleagues in person--especially when it comes to intangibles like culture, collaboration, and purpose.
Pre-pandemic, the standard was fully in-person work. Mid-pandemic, the standard was fully remote work.
We've tried the extremes. Now it's time to find a happy medium: Hybrid.
Isolating the benefits and avoiding the pitfalls of working from home (WFH) takes some trial and error. The experimentation may intimidate some companies who don't want to take unnecessary risks, especially in a challenging market climate.
Good news: You can use my company, Thirdlove, as an example.
For the past five months, I've been experimenting with hybrid work initiatives and identified a number of best practices along the way.
Work From Home Pros
No commute = more time for everyone. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report released last year found that in 2019, Americans were spending more time on their commutes than ever. The average round-trip commute time was roughly an hour, and more than 15 million Americans spent more than two hours a day commuting (up from 12.6 million in 2006). The average one-hour round-trip commute means five hours of lost time per week. Over a two-hour commute and you lose more than 10 hours in the car, every week. That's a lot of hours. WFH has no commute, giving all that time back.
WFH teammates become more independent and resourceful. Because you have fewer resources at your immediate disposal, WFH encourages a do-it-yourself attitude. I've seen many of our team become more self-reliant throughout the pandemic.
WFH minimizes distractions. Especially now that schools are back in-person, WFH gives people control over their environments. People who work well with music on don't have to worry about distracting people who work well in silence. You also don't have your teammates tapping you on the shoulder all the time, which in some cases is a positive.
Work From Home Pain Points
Communication inefficiencies. One of the most obvious drawbacks of WFH is you lose those in-between moments--dropping into someone's office to ask a quick question, swinging by someone's desk to check-in. The WFH substitute for these in-between moments is asynchronous communication--Slack, email, text, etc. I've noticed that these threads tend to go on much longer than necessary in some cases, especially for small topics. This means WFH teammates are devoting more time to easily solvable problems than they would in the office, which can lead to communication overload and misalignment.
It's harder to build relationships remotely. The drawback of strengthening your relationship with your own space is that you don't spend time strengthening relationships with your colleagues. We've all done enough Zoom happy hours to know that they're significantly less happy than the in-person versions.
Isolation can hurt collaboration and creativity. Collaborating in person will always have the advantage over collaborating remotely. Looking at a pixel representation of someone just doesn't compare with hashing things out in the same physical space. It's also very hard to get the creative juices going without feeling the energy that comes from all being together in a space.
The 4 Initiatives
Some of them may stick and some might not, but we're focused on finding ways to make our hybrid model work harder.
1. One Day a Week in Person
In our SF hub/headquarters, our full team who lives in the Bay Area comes in one day a week--Wednesdays. We all strive to only do meetings that can be fully done in person on that day. It allows for relationship building, collaboration, and connection. We do cultural events and happy hours for different moments and events. As we have built out our hubs, we're looking for ways to replicate this in Denver and LA as well. Our fully remote teammates (we do have some!) come to San Francisco regularly, at least quarterly, and when they are in town, we have their teams come in to foster team building and alignment.
2. "Work From Anywhere" Experiment
In July, we gave our team the ability to work anywhere, all month. Come into the office when it makes sense, and work from home (or from your parent's house, or a charming Airbnb) when you need it. We're encouraging travel and adventure to help promote creativity and renewal. This also makes people very intentional about when they come into the office and what they do when they're here. People who need to collaborate will plan to come in on the same days, and then take care of their individual work on the days they're away.
3. No Meeting Fridays
We first tried No Meeting Fridays in June and people loved it. The idea was to devote one day a month to deep individual work, without interruption. This has helped with some of the zoom-meeting overload that we all experience.
4. Work From Home Training
We've started to design training around how to make the most of WFH resources--communication mediums, meetings, and time. The training will also cover the activities that work better in the office and encourage people to schedule their in-person time carefully.
Setting new standards always includes an experimental period, which comes with some growing pains. Work arrangements shouldn't be universal. They should be determined by what you do, how you do it, whose input you need, and when.