Here’s a puzzle: You have a project due in a month, but you’re only in the office with the other team members every other Tuesday and Friday. And every time you’re there, it seems like you’ve left something you need in your home office. The company hired a new team member who’s in a different time zone, and you’re trying to get up to speed on the new version of your company’s collaboration platform of choice. How in the world are you going to stay productive and hit your deadline?
Welcome to the new hybrid workplace, where more people are working some combination of in-office and remotely. And few are sure how to stay organized and get things done. “Employers are figuring it out as they’re going along. And so far, there’s no data, metrics, and/or analytics that show what’s going to be best for a company,” says HR expert Richard Polak, author of Work Smart Now: How to Jump-Start Productivity, Empower Employees, and Achieve More.
How is anyone supposed to keep conflicting schedules straight, remember what they’re going to need on any given day, and create systems and routines when team members are working in different places at different times? Here are seven ways to stay organized and get things done.
Know the ground rules
As companies make plans for the hybrid workplace, they should be collecting information from you about what you need to get your job done. Be forthcoming because this is not a one-size-fits-all environment, says Robert C. Pozen, a senior lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, productivity expert, and author of Remote Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. “Each team has to decide what’s the optimal combination of hybrid of office and home for that team,” Pozen says. Ideally, there will be at least several hours per day a few days per week when team members’ schedules overlap and they can collaborate.
Once you’re familiar with when team members are expected to be in and out of the office and available for meetings or collaboration sessions, how results will be measured, and other expectations, you have a framework for your workweeks. That’s essential to help you avoid overwork and burnout. “Lots of people complain that they’re working 24/7 because they don’t know what the boundaries are,” Pozen says.
Establish an office “home base”
Pozen says there’s a lot of speculation about how office space will be used once teams begin operating in a hybrid manner. One suggestion is “hot-desking,” where workers treat workstations as shared, and perhaps even on a “first come, first served” basis. Pozen gives that idea a thumbs-down from a productivity standpoint. “It leaves people in the office with a real sense [that they’re] transitory. They don’t really have any place to leave their stuff. It changes all the time. They have to reorient, and it’s really going to undermine their productivity,” he says.
Instead, try shared desks where you may have two teams rotating in and out of workstations in a structured way. Even if you share an office with another person part-time, you can still keep a collection there of the items you need during the course of your workday rather than fighting for the best seats with your fellow team members, Pozen says.
Plan three days at a time
When your schedule’s changing regularly, trying to plan day to day won’t cut it. Looking ahead three days will give you a sense of what you need to plan now, says organization and productivity expert Carrie Collins. For example, if you’re in the office for two days, then working remotely, you can better plan for the situations that will arise, she says.
This ranges from the mundane (e.g., getting gas for your commute) to the opportunistic (e.g., seeing that another colleague will be in the office at the same time, giving you two days for in-person collaboration sessions). Collins also suggests setting recurring reminders to help you fit in those regular tasks and fun things even as your schedule shifts, such as ordering groceries or taking that yoga class with a friend.
Create an office “go bag”
Getting back in the habit of bringing what you need to the office may take some time. Collins suggests having a bag packed with the things you may need, including chargers for various devices and earbuds, paper, pens, an extra pair of blue light or reading glasses, etc. Consider that the food provisions in your office also may have changed, and consider bringing lunch, snacks, and beverages.
Share access to information and work
Few things are more disruptive to productivity than not having the files, data, or work product you need with you. Hybrid companies will simply have to become more digitally based, says productivity expert Helene Segura, author of The Inefficiency Assassin: Time Management Tactics for Working Smarter, Not Longer.
In addition, you’ll need to establish ground rules for managing paper files, supplies, and technology. “Does that mean you’re going to be hauling supplies and files back and forth? Not only is that a possible inconvenience issue, but also a security and confidentiality issue,” Segura says. Paper files or data should typically remain in the office, especially if other team members need them. That may require you to be more thoughtful about the data you’re going to need when you’re working from home.
Use the right tools
One of the best ways to ensure that others have access to the information you need is to use cloud-based collaboration platforms. And while various platforms have their strengths, the key to being most productive is to ensure that your team members are using the same platforms and that there are some guidelines for how to use them, Pozen says. If you have team members who are using different platforms, that work product and data may not be easily accessible to others and can cause delays and inefficiency.
Manage meetings and interruptions
If there are fewer core hours that the entire team is working at the same time, more systems are going to be needed to guide meetings, Segura says. You may have specific days and hours that meetings are possible, so those times will need to be used judiciously, not only to ensure you get the collaboration time you need, but also to guard against wasting time in unnecessary meetings. In addition, many are looking forward to the social aspect of the office. You’ll want to catch up with coworkers. But you’ll also want to protect the time that you need to devote to other things. It will be a balancing act, especially at first, Segura says.
It’s going to take some time to work out the rhythm of being in the office part-time and remote part-time. By planning ahead and using the tools and tactics available, you can make these shifts a little more seamless.