With these questions, you can combine home office or mobile work with face-to-face work in a way that creates productive work in a dynamic hybrid team.
At the beginning of 2021, remote work was primarily home office. In the meantime, it’s more about how home office or mobile work can best be combined with face-to-face work – in other words, hybrid work.
Accordingly, I have adapted and updated my checklist from the beginning of 2021 as a suggestion for productive and satisfying hybrid working.
Clear structures for efficiency
At the beginning of 2021, the main issue was to tame the zoo of tools and prevent wild growth of the many new possibilities. The most important questions about efficient structures for working at a distance were:
- Is it clear to all participants which tool is used for which purpose and is there always only one for each purpose?
- Are there tools for simultaneous joint editing of information (e.g. whiteboards, remote access to screens, document editing with versioning)?
- Is the filing structure (e.g., team or project channels) understandable, are the files searchable, and does everyone have the access they need?
- Is the shared information held on secure servers?
- Is duplication of information avoided?
- Is a distinction made between temporary and permanent information (e.g., chats vs. documentation) and is the temporary also deleted in a timely manner?
- Is it clear to everyone which information must be actively shared with stakeholders (e.g., via notifications) and which group of people is affected?
If work locations are now changing, it is particularly important that information, materials and results are up-to-date and accessible from everywhere. In order to avoid an “informational two-class society” now, the following additionally applies:
- Is there clear information, also easily visible to other teams/areas, about who is currently reachable, how and where?
- Is the same tool used everywhere for the same purpose, i.e. both in presence and remotely?
- Can everyone involved use these tools confidently?
- Can people in the office still edit simultaneously and collaboratively with remote workers on whiteboards, for example?
- Is duplication of information avoided? Is there a “place of truth” that is up-to-date no matter what?
Making (digital) communication smoother
For remote Work, the questions in this section were aimed at ensuring that no additional work was caused by waiting times and misunderstandings:
- How are people easily reachable on an ad-hoc basis for short questions with a quick response, and how is availability for such inquiries clearly identifiable?
- Is it clear to all parties involved what waiting times they have to be prepared for with which means of communication?
- Which means of communication is used to reach which distribution list? Is active communication (“push”) required, or can the information be deposited for later collection (“pull”)?
- If voting takes longer than in presence: Are the waiting times and misunderstandings avoidable if the participants meet in videoconferences?
- Are the usual meeting rules applied in videoconferences (agenda, only necessary persons, moderation and speaking time limits, topic memory, etc.)? Are large video conferences divided into smaller working groups (e.g., no more participants than can be displayed on one screen)?
Most people find it easier to communicate in a personal, real-life meeting. On site, we like to use hallway radio, call across the table, or stop by for a moment. These questions help to ensure that participation in group events is also possible in the hybrid:
- How do people on site signal when they are available on an ad-hoc basis for brief questions? How is this recognizable to team members who are not on site? And vice versa?
- Are there regular exchange formats in which all team members participate, regardless of their current work location?
- Do the arrangements for active (“push”) or passive (deposited for later pickup, “pull”) communication also fit on-site?
- Does everyone agree with waiting times for remote work?
- Does everyone resist the reflex to create workarounds on-site by “painting-quick-selfies”?
- Before each face-to-face meeting – including ad hoc meetings – is it asked who of the remote team members needs to be there?
- In hybrid meetings, are all participants easy for everyone to see and understand? Is attention paid to equivalent means of communication, e.g., if non-public comments can be exchanged on-site, can remote participants use private chats?
Maintain well-established integrated business processes
At the beginning of 2021, the main issue here was to create business processes without process breaks. To track down unsuitable processes, these are the most important questions:
- Were processes transferred 1 : 1 from presence work to remote work? Can’t the goal of the processes now be achieved more easily (e.g., by summarizing or omitting steps)?
- What is the purpose of the processes that require switching between paper and digital media? What of these is no longer necessary in digital for these workflows (e.g., printing invoices when emailing can be done)?
- Are simple digital workflow options such as Kanban or task boards being used?
- Do waiting times or error situations increase because the person in whose head the knowledge exists is not available on an ad-hoc basis? What is this knowledge usually needed for and how can it be distributed (e.g. as a wiki)?
The improved processes without obstructive media breaks (recourse to paper) and information gaps (telephone order is missing from the system) and making the tacit knowledge accessible to all also retain meaning in the hybrid. It is all the more important that there are no relapses or new obstacles:
- In a retrospective, was a joint decision made on which processes and innovations should be retained?
- Where did people fall back on old procedures and why?
- What experience do other teams have to offer, can some of it be adopted?
Discover new potential
Remote work can serve as a door opener for integrating just-in-time expertise into teams. I had these tips on this, among others:
- Are there alternatives to office gossip and kitchenette conversations in remote work, e.g. personal chats outside the team boundaries (e.g. donut meetings, mystery coffee, etc.)? Are video meetings with an open group of participants (e.g. joint sports sessions, meetups with impulse talks on completely different topics, etc.)?
- Are teams supported in designing such informal virtual meetings themselves?
- Are team feedback rounds and retrospectives maintained regularly in remote work?
- Do moderators assist with conflict resolution via video?
- How can an open approach to mistakes or failures also be promoted at a distance (e.g. make projects and their (interim) results more widely known, organize events with reports on experiences)?
More can come from the experience of using the new tools, collaborating remotely and trying out more flexibility, here are a few ideas:
- What can be learned from remote work for face-to-face work? What about a task board for everyone, for example?
- Where can processes be improved due to the partial presence (e.g. introduce mentoring for new colleagues)?
- Has time been freed up by digitizing outdated processes? How could this be repurposed on site?
- What has the team missed in particular, what will the time in the office now be used for in particular?
- What additional opportunities does being on site offer (e.g., to network more with colleagues from other areas who are also only partially on site)?
- Where can innovations that have been introduced be further expanded (e.g., expand the wiki from a reference work to a knowledge management system)?
- How can attention be maintained for digitizable (e.g., paper-bound) processes?
- Do virtual meetups with external or internal experts extend to face-to-face events?
Conclusion: Continue to use positive energy
Hybrid working is basically nothing new. Sales representatives, international project teams or external employees and their managers have been familiar with this way of working for a long time.
So there is a wealth of experience and, in case of doubt, tips on what could be helpful. In any case, there is no reason to fall back into control and monitoring reflexes, constant accessibility demands (“she’s sitting there, so I can ask her”) or unproductive manual processes.
Returning to familiar presence terrain in combination with the experience of having managed these changes can release much more energy. Let’s go, the new future of professional and satisfying collaboration wants to be shaped!