In our podcast episode, Ann Gomez, founding president of Clear Concept Inc., speaks to Leah Giesbrecht, communications specialist at CPABC, about some best practices for maintaining productivity as a hybrid worker. Part of our Coffee Chats with CPABC podcast series.
According to recently surveyed Canadian CEOs, 43% expect to adopt a hybrid work model. So, what are the long-term implications of this monumental shift? One thing many organizations are wondering about is how this will affect team dynamics and their results.
We know from the data that productivity can be much higher when people work virtually. There is also promising research to show we can be very productive in a hybrid model - as long as we do it right. With that in mind, below are some best practices you can use to stay productive as a hybrid worker.
What areas do we need to focus on?
There are five key areas individuals need to focus on to thrive.
- Maintain and develop trust.
Trust is built organically in the office where we tend to have spontaneous conversations and meet-ups, for example, when we pass each other in the hallway or decide to go for a spur-of-the-moment coffee or lunch.
With hybrid teams, we are less likely to pick up the phone or reach out to someone for those casual conversations, but that is exactly what we need to do. We need to be more deliberate about connecting with our colleagues. And there are many ways we can do this, for example, through virtual coffees, by encouraging casual connections at the beginning of meetings, or through a team chat group that can stand in for the proverbial water cooler.
Leaders can also encourage team members to coach each other on relevant topics; this will promote communication and learning from each other, ingredients that are essential to build trust.
- Be more deliberate around engagement.
Teams thrive when everyone is fully engaged and excited about their work. Purposeful work, challenging opportunities, and developmental feedback all contribute to a motivated team. Savvy leaders recognize they need to be even more conscious about curating a culture of full engagement across hybrid teams.
Monitoring engagement levels may be harder when we don’t see each one another every day. But we still need to find ways to check in and gauge how enthusiastic people are about their current work and about their future opportunities.
- Find opportunities to foster autonomy.
Companies that are mastering hybrid work are offering flexible models where teams and individuals are empowered to choose the right place to work – based on what best meets business and personal needs. Savvy organizations empower teams and individuals to identify where they personally do their best work. High-performance teams co-create their working norms, based on input from all.
- Help individuals find meaning in their work.
We all want to know our work has value. The pandemic has increased our focus on meaningful work. Leaders can best meet this need by highlighting team values, getting to know personal values across team members, and being very clear on connecting the work to those values. High-performance teams also celebrate when they reach milestones. Progress is a powerful motivator – especially when it is linked to meaningful goals.
- Prioritize wellbeing.
When we don’t prioritize our wellbeing and mental health, we become vulnerable to stress and burnout, our physical health suffers, and we undermine our performance. High-performance teams recognize the importance of rest, recovery, and healthy habits. The only way we can do our best work is if we feel our best.
What productivity pitfalls do we need to be aware of? We all want to watch out for some productivity principles that may be intensified with hybrid work.
Being too isolated. Our connection with our colleagues is crucial. As mentioned above, we need to be much more deliberate about reaching out to people, nurturing our relationships, fostering our connections, and building our network. This creates more opportunities, builds our profile, and makes for a higher-performing team. It also makes work much more enjoyable – which is what we all deserve. If you find you are spending more time working virtually compared to your colleagues, you’ll want to make an even bigger effort to build your connections.
Facetime bias occurs when people in the office are perceived as more committed and hardworking, and therefore may be presented with more opportunities. Leaders need to be conscious about ensuring equal access to opportunities. As well, they need to make more of an effort to understand what their virtual colleagues are working on. If you spend more time working virtually than your colleagues, you can minimize the effects of this bias by proactively communicating. Frequently let your leader and colleagues know what you're working on. Invest more time in collaborating, and frequently reach out to colleagues. Ask questions like: What are you working on? How can I support you?
Multitasking. Whether you're working in the office or virtually, multitasking really does impede productivity. One of the challenges of working remotely is that people want to demonstrate they are working by responding to messages and requests right away. But when you’re multitasking, you’re always connected, always on, and always ready to respond within nanoseconds. You’re not able to do deep-focus work, and that's where the substantive, value-added work happens.
A focus rotation helps you to avoid the pitfall of multitasking. Focus for 30 to 60 minutes, then batch process your responses to messages and requests. Yes, every work environment will have a different pace and response-time expectations but strive to carve out some focus work time each day.
A popular technique is the Pomodoro Technique where you focus for 25 minutes and then shift gears and do other activities, such as responding to email. Protect your focus time and be responsive and accessible between those short, focused bursts of time. This kind of rotation works in practically every knowledge-based industry.
What strategies can we use to safeguard productivity?
First, establish clear priorities. Too many people (and teams) are trying to do the equivalent of everything at the same time. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We dilute our impact. Conversely, the magic number of priorities we can effectively manage is three. That doesn't mean three tasks, but rather three project-level initiatives.
So, be very clear – what are your three core priorities? What is the best use of your time right now? What's going to really help you move the needle?
Second, work with focus. Commit to doing one task at a time. For example, if you’re drafting a report, you might plan to spend half an hour on it. You might then turn to your email for a designated amount of time, then come back to the report for 45 minutes, then attend a meeting. Commit to doing one task at a time and resist the temptation of distractions. Try using the timer on your smartphone to help you focus. When your mind wants to wander, the timer will remind you to work on that one task.
Finally, have a routine. Try to structure your day and your week so that you know when you work on different priorities. Your routine should also protect time for breaks and clear divisions between your work and personal life. If you're working in your living room, you want to make sure you're not living at work as opposed to working at home. When you create routines around both your work and personal goals, you protect time for what you value most.
From clear priorities to focused work to proactive routines, you can thrive as a productive, connected, and engaged hybrid worker.
Ann Gomez is an engaging speaker and the founding president of Clear Concept Inc. She is passionate about empowering the world’s busiest people to perform at their best. She is also the best-selling author of "The Email Warrior", an active blogger and media spokesperson.