6 mins

A hybrid environment comes with peaks and valleys. You may be working remotely, but not everyone else is, and that can be tricky.

Welcome to the future, where hybrid office models are becoming the norm. Even in companies where employees have been asked to return to the office, the requirement for in-office time is often less than five days a week. That means that many of us are working in a hybrid model, interacting with colleagues that are either co-located or entirely remote

Where fully remote and in-office teams are easier to navigate because everyone is using the same working model, hybrid environments pose more of a challenge. Meetings need to accommodate large conference rooms of people in a way that’s inclusive to those viewing that room from a computer. Social interactions have to fold in those who can only join via screen. Those in the office need to find quiet space to have a quick ad-hoc conversation with a remote colleague. A hybrid environment has to balance two distinct working models, face-to-face and remote. These elements have to both co-exist in equal measures, which can create natural friction. 

More so because many current hybrid employees did not sign up for this model in the first place. Those that had initially joined as in-office workers only moved to remote models as a result of the pandemic. And those that were hired remotely had no intention of relocating and recreating an in-office environment elsewhere. The outcome here is that people don’t know how to operate in a hybrid model, and sometimes aren’t particularly keen to do so.  

What does that mean for those of us who are not in-office, but still need to be as effective as those who get more in-person face time?

Personal relationships

It may seem contradictory, but personal connections and friendships are an essential part of any work environment. Feeling comfortable with your colleagues lends itself to an understanding of personality types and communication styles

More often than not, these natural connections crop up via shared time away from your desk. Whether it’s the “water cooler”, or lunchtime, or walking between meetings, colleagues become friendly in the moments between work. Those of us who join each meeting via video don’t participate in those interactions. Moreover, we don’t have impromptu interactions with people who aren’t typically part of our team or project meetings.

This is the area that takes the most intention to overcome. One can be social via computer, but you have to build in some time for it. This can come in the form of fun Slack channels that cover non-work topics; pet pictures are a common example. Coffee chats or board game hours are also ways in which to do something fun together. 

But personal relationships are most often born out of unstructured time. This could take the form of sending a DM to a colleague to catch up and see how they’re doing, or inviting them to an ad-hoc video chat to talk about a work item and how their weekend was. Find opportunities to develop personal relationships wherever you can.

Time in office

When you’re working in a hybrid model there is often a cadence in which the team comes together to meet in person. Whether that’s monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it’s an incredibly important time. 

As a remote employee, you need to make the most of this time together. Do your best to be there. Encourage your leadership to set these dates well ahead of time so that you can plan around them. 

Ahead of your in-person gathering, plan for 1:1s with whoever you can. Arrange to grab coffee with a teammate or have lunch with a couple of people from your partner team. The goal of in-office time should be casual conversations and ad-hoc collaboration. If the day gets filled up with too many meetings, push back. Unless you’re looking at whiteboarding exercises, most meetings are just as effective virtually. 

In-person events can be draining, especially as remote folks aren’t used to constant talking and being around people. Re-charge your social battery intentionally, so that you can attend accompanying events such as bonding exercises or team dinners. These are opportunities you can’t replicate via video and so are ones you don’t want to miss.  

Occasionally, you’ll need to opt out of a gathering but try not to make it more than one in a row – bar extenuating circumstances. If you do find you can’t be there in person, there may be room for your remote participation, but this gets infinitely more challenging when everyone but you is in the office.

Being visible

While some of us are more effective without the distractions that come with being in an office, those distractions often include quick chats and updates about our work. When you’re in-office you find yourself talking about your work, brainstorming on solutions, and otherwise reporting status in a casual and unforced way. Your teammates rarely wonder what you’re working on and if they do they’ll lean over and ask. 

When you’re remote, however, it’s incredibly easy to go radio silent as you focus on a given task. While this may feel productive, it misses opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Documenting your “in progress” tasks is the easiest way to do this. This can be using Jira or a Slack announcement. Pick a medium that works for you. These status updates give coworkers a chance to ask questions or recommend efficiencies with other work. It also gives them additional context that comes in handy if you’re blocked or need another pair of eyes.

Beyond this, make sure you’re openly communicating risks with colleagues when and where you can. Are you blocked on something? Tell the relevant stakeholders and whoever has the potential to unblock you. Worried about the relative prioritization of tasks? Start asking questions so you can determine a path forward. Working on something in a silo? Document, knowledge share, and make sure people know what it is and what they will eventually have to help maintain.

Be sure to celebrate the wins too. Report back that the bug is fixed. Share the doc you developed. Record a video of the new feature you’re launching. This has the added benefit of helping you track your accomplishments when you’re looking back at what you did over the past week, month, or year.

This approach isn’t any different from how in-office people have to communicate in order to be collaborative colleagues. And that’s sort of the point. In a remote environment, your touch points are different: Slack, Google Docs, email, but the things you need to talk about are the same. In fact, being remote forces you to communicate in ways that are more publicly available, and that’s a good thing.

Remote superpowers

Remote employees bring unique contributions to the table in a hybrid world.

Primarily, they’re able to work in other time zones. This is incredibly valuable when it comes to “coding with the sun” and keeping feature development moving forward. It can also help with the support burden if there are other company employees outside of the core time zones.

Being remote also gives you a different perspective on the effectiveness of your team’s collaboration model. If everything has to occur in a synchronous manner via meetings, there is probably room for improvement. If it’s difficult to find answers to questions unless a certain colleague is online, that’s also something to address. 

The nature of remote work is understanding that everyone’s work environment looks different. And each environment requires different adaptations. Recognizing this and intentionally working towards closing the gaps and doubling down on the efficiencies is key to success. You may not share a physical location with your coworkers, but you do share a common goal of doing good work.