Flexible Work: How To Find Your Sweet Spot
Anna Glynn for Maxme: an edited version of Are You Prepared For Hybrid Working?
After two very long years, March 2022 saw the return to the office for many and a glimpse of the hybrid working model.
While some employees were counting down the days until they could reconnect with colleagues IRL, others have been reluctant to give up the flexibility they’ve become accustomed to whilst working from home.
So far we’ve been finding this re-adjustment hard. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, because change is hard! We’re used to working one way, and now we’re being asked to change all over again and return to an environment where there are still plenty of unknowns.
It’s not as simple as saying “we’re just going back to the way things were,” because our 2022 existence sure isn’t the same as our 2019 one. We and everything around us is different, and no one wants to go back.
You may have noticed your priorities have shifted in recent years. Moving forward, most of us want the ability to work from home and the office … depending on the day, week, and your broader lifestyle/family/life circumstances.
One of the biggest challenges we now all face as individuals, and employees, is determining what we want our working model to look like, and how to make that model set us up for success.
While a small number of organisations have said their entire workforce will return to the office Monday to Friday, or that they’re fully remote, the majority are moving towards a hybrid working environment. Every option presents both pros and cons, so it’s increasingly down to the individual to determine what Flexi work model works best for them and their capacity to thrive.
So which working model is best for you?
Is it 40+ hours per week in the office? The ‘work anywhere’ model, but with set times? Or working anywhere, anytime?
Well, it depends.
We’ve shown that working remotely can be both productive and engaging. We have fewer distractions, less commute time, and if your employer manages you according to outputs, then they should know this too. But if you need further proof, studies have also shown this link.
However, working remotely has also seen well-being decrease for some. Some individuals weren’t able to establish solid boundaries between home and work life, were overcome by remote schooling their kids, or missed the connection, collaboration and energy of their colleagues.
On an individual level, the efficacy of a particular working model may also depend on the type of role, tasks and responsibilities of the job an individual performs, and the industry in which they operate.
Therefore, the working model you choose must:
- Support your wellbeing
- Optimize your engagement in work to ensure performance remains or improves.
I consider a hybrid model as best practice – whereby you’re given the flexibility to work from home, yet gain the benefits from some time in the office too. Research also suggests that we reach peak engagement and burnout is lowest when we spend 40-60% of our time working remotely (Gallup, 2020). So hybrid has my vote!
What are we loving about the office?
- Our colleagues – as human beings we crave connecting with others. Our relationships bring us a lot of positivity, boost our wellbeing, can help us cope with struggles and stressors, support us to be engaged, and provide us with a sense of belonging. We’re enjoying the incidental conversations or ‘water-cooler’ chats, and we can collaborate and innovate better when we’re physically with our teammates.
- A routine – some people have been lacking important daily habits. So they’re embracing the simple things like getting up at a certain time, exercising outside of work, dressing for the office, or grabbing a coffee on the way in. They’re enjoying having a defined start to their working day and returning home knowing that work is done.
- The return of the third space – whilst working from home, many complained that their lines between work and home were blurred. They were constantly switching between the different roles in their life, not able to focus on one wall, and weren’t able to properly switch off at the end of the day. The third space is the place we go between work and home, like our commutes, which allows us to regroup and regenerate so we can show up as our best selves when reconnecting with family, friends, or colleagues. So with our commutes back, people have that space and time to transition effectively to their next task.
What has been hard about returning to the office?
- Our colleagues – despite the joy that our relationships can bring (see above), it seems we’ve forgotten what it’s like to work surrounded by others. We’ve felt frustrated by people talking too loudly on the phone, eating their lunch in our ear, or interrupting us regularly throughout the day.
- Lack of guidance – some workplaces have left figuring out the new working norms and expectations to their people. This has caused confusion as many don’t know where they’re supposed to be. When they do turn up to the office, some have found that none of their team are there, and they’re left sitting by themselves, which is doing little for creating a sense of connection and belonging.
- Removal of autonomy – we have a psychological need to feel that we have control and choice over aspects of our lives including our work. If people have been forced to come back to the office, their ability to do their job how they want has to some extent been taken away, so they might not be feeling so motivated or energised by this change.
So what can you do to find your own ‘flexi-work sweet spot’?
Setting up for a hybrid environment can be successful if planned and managed well.
First up, be sure to have a conversation with your employer about your preferences when it comes to flexi work – what conditions support you to be at your best, taking into account what went well and what didn’t over the past two years. It would be wrong to assume your employer knows this, or simply ‘should’ know this without some kind of formal consultation. Ultimately, your employer needs to understand that when you feel included in this conversation, you’ll also feel less anxious about what’s to come, and therefore more likely engaged and satisfied with the work they give you (McKinsey, 2021).
Individuals should also be thinking about:
Your employer’s value proposition – what is it? How does it define a ‘flexible working experience’ for all employees in your organisation?
A formal set of guidelines from your employer – does your workplace have a central source of truth that provides clarity to workers on their days in the office, working hours (if set), expectations for remote and in-office work, communication and collaboration tools to use, and other norms and practices, etc.? Ask around!
Communicating your wants, needs, and plans – in the words of Brené Brown, “Clear is kind”. We need to play an active role – taking responsibility in telling our employer what we expect and/or need from them in whatever working environment we prefer. Be comfortable sharing, but perhaps acknowledge that some answers might not be known yet and that not all of your ‘wishes’ will be possible to accommodate.
Role modeling desired behaviours and outcomes – if remote/hybrid working is your goal, then work hard to show your leaders they can trust with that setup. Remain engaged, demonstrate productivity, and keep the lines of communication open even whilst away from the office.
Shifting mindsets to ‘remote first’ – when working from home, employees can miss out on conversations, be left out of the loop on matters, and feel overlooked in hybrid meetings. Ensure you don’t miss important details from your employer by requesting easy access to centrally stored resources, announcements, documents, etc. You’ll need to take this one step further by setting a regular cadence for yourself to also check in on those locations! This may take some time and patience but will help you to feel more connected and less confused. And you’ll need to return the favour to your remote colleagues when you’re in the office too!
Tracking how it’s going – regularly check on how your working environment is going for both yourself and your employer. Ask your manager/colleagues for feedback, and ensure check-ins are set at regular intervals.
Finally, here are a few ‘working from home hygiene questions’ well worth asking yourself in the pursuit of finding that Flexi sweet spot:
- Routine. What will your day look like when working from home? Just because you’re able to sleep a little later, does it mean you should/will? What will be your ‘hard stop’ time at the end of the day?
- Meeting Overload – Saying No. What blackout periods will you create in your WFH days/weeks in order to focus and get your most important work done?
- Rest Periods – Throughout The Day. It’s all too easy to consider your ‘walk to the kitchen’ as a break when WFH. What will you do to get out of the house for 5mins, stretch the legs, get some oxygen, and refresh your mind and body over the course of your workday? Can you duck out to grab a coffee each day? Perhaps lunch out of the house once a week? Could you start work earlier on a couple of days in order to finish by 4 pm?
- Set Focus Periods. Per point #2 above, setting clear times to put your head down and turn off notifications / close email browsers is paramount to WFH productivity. Do you work best in the AM or PM? Think about what conditions support you in finding a state of flow and getting your best work done. Are you better to take meetings in the morning, and set focus time for the PM, or vice versa? Is it possible to set aside one full day per week for NO MEETINGS?
All of this takes ongoing work and much self-discovery (not to mention open, candid conversations with your employer/manager/colleagues), but it’s work well worth doing if it helps you to reach your peak state on the regular.
Right now, there might be nothing more important than you finding your Flexi-work sweet spot – the unique environment, cadence, and particular set of working conditions YOU need to achieve in order to feel good, function well, and thrive in work and life!