How to Deal with Less Autonomy in a Hybrid Role
Tips for a seamless transition to in-office days and ways to maximize productivity at work
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As companies begin calling for regular in-office days for some of their remote workers, a visit to cubicle-land might be in your future. If this makes your anxiety creep up, you’re not alone.
Like millions of other former full-time in-office workers, you have likely become comfortable working from home. And why not? You’ve traded business attire and long commutes for slipper-casual, a 30-second bed-to-desk stroll, and the company of your best furry pal—just a few of the perks working remotely provides. And if you’re like most remote workers, your productivity increased while working from home.
So, if both you and your company know this, what’s the point of going back to the office, you might ask?
Although you might feel like the call to return to cubicle-land is your company’s effort to maintain—or wrest back—control of your working life, there are some benefits to gathering in person to work on occasion instead of always flying solo. A 2022 survey by HubSpot discovered that there are a few things employees miss from their in-office days—namely, spontaneous in-person interactions with their colleagues. Other advantages include increased collaboration and connection to company culture.
Not Losing Your Religion (or Autonomy) in a Hybrid Role
A return to the office means you will lose some workplace autonomy (and you might have to upgrade your footwear!). You won’t have the same level of control over your surroundings, like being able to adjust the thermostat. And you’ll likely have to skip your 11 a.m. lap swim at the local pool.
But you’ll also reap some benefits from returning to in-person work with your colleagues. With these tips, you can maximize your in-office experience and come away energized and inspired, with a new level of appreciation for your company and team members.
Making the Most of In-Office Days
One thing to look forward to when returning to the office might be re-envisioned workspaces—ones that focus more on face-to-face interactions and collaboration. Fewer cubicles and more gathering spaces mean the opportunity to reconnect with your long-lost office buddy.
Take time to check in with colleagues in-person when you are in the office together. It can help you strengthen those relationships and maybe even make you feel a little warm and fuzzy inside.
Believe it or not, that in-office chitchat is not a waste of time. Studies show that those informal interactions foster employee connections, which in turn spur productivity and innovation.
One of the main reasons for managers to gather their teams on-site in the future will be for collaboration. Though collaboration can happen via Zoom and through other remote work tools, gathering in person, with purpose, can invigorate you and your teammates and heighten creativity.
If you are a manager calling your team back for some in-person days, be clear about your intentions and expectations. Are you requiring your reports to show up on-site just so you can monitor their work? Or do you have a plan for what will be accomplished on those days?
Some companies are planning monthly in-person “Superdays” as a way to invest in employee engagement and professional development. It’s worth exploring if you are leading a team.
Forge New Bonds
While you might be an introvert who prefers your dog as your only coworker, interacting with your colleagues, even on an occasional basis, can promote camaraderie. Seeing your colleagues—and bosses—as whole, complex individuals with their own interests and hobbies (and challenges) can build empathy and develop stronger workplace relationships, which will have a positive effect all around.
A two-year study by Great Place to Work revealed that feeling a sense of camaraderie with your coworkers and seeing yourself as part of a team with a shared vision helps to energize employees and increases productivity. So use these in-office days to reconnect with your colleagues and forge new bonds.
Communicate and Update
When you were working exclusively from home, you made use of technology to expand your ways of communicating—almost to the point of exhaustion. You sent emails, chats, Slack messages, texts. You learned how to Zoom (“You’re on mute, Jason!”). But now that you’re sometimes back in the office … what’s the protocol?
When working in the office, it makes more sense to stop by your colleague’s or manager’s desk—or pick up the phone—instead of sending an email or Slack message. Share weekly goals, work-in-progress, and work status via your company’s project management tool or your calendar, and update your Slack status to reflect your location and work status: in office/taking a break/busy.
Manage up by keeping your team updated on the status of your projects. Transparency builds trust.
Don’t Forget to Take Breaks
When working from home, your dog’s paw on your leg might signal the recess bell for a much-needed break. Back at the office, you won’t have that particular interruption—but you still need the break.
So don’t forget to stop, get up, stretch, take a stroll around the office or down the street for a cup of coffee, some fresh air, or a snack. Give your eyes a rest from the computer screen and your mind some quiet time. Block out time in your day to just think. If you have the option, spread meetings out, allowing time between each one to decompress.
It’s long been known that taking mental and physical breaks during your workday can boost productivity, fuel creativity, and prevent fatigue. If you weren’t already doing this when you were at the office before, now is the time to start.
When you were working remotely every day, you had plenty of alone time—maybe too much. So you might be anxious to dive right into social interactions again. But too much of a good thing could leave you overstimulated and exhausted—which can lead to an unproductive day. Wade back into the waters at a managed pace, reacclimating yourself to the group setting.
Tips for Managers
If you’re a manager new to hybrid work, resist any urge to micromanage your employees when they’re in the office. Instead, build trust among your team members by giving them the tools and support they need to do their best work.
Research shows that employees who have autonomy feel trusted, and that makes them feel valued. An employee who feels valued is going to be more likely to put in extra effort when needed.
With a majority of companies moving to a hybrid work model, managers who give their teams autonomy and set them up for success are going to benefit when it comes to worker retention, productivity, and satisfaction. And, as the Great Resignation continues, workers continue to hold the chips and have some bargaining power over how and where they work.