Flashback to February 2020. For most, work meant commuting into an office and spending the bulk of the day in face-to-face interactions with colleagues. If you were lucky, your company offered the flexibility to occasionally work from home, but it was the exception rather than the rule. At larger companies, you got to enjoy the perks of an onsite cafeteria, dry cleaner, and daycare — all to make the amount of time spent in the office more tolerable. Pre-2020, Americans spent only 5% of their working time at home.
And then overnight, homes became offices. Workers demonstrated amazing adaptability in converting nightstands and coffee tables into workstations and transitioning to life in the “Zoom room.” While there were many speedbumps, productivity increased during 2020 rather than declined. Given the high rates of productivity and increased quality of life, many workers question the wisdom of returning to the workplace.
But still, offices across the country are reopening and employees are being welcomed, and in most cases, strongly encouraged, to rush back in.
But before we race back to “normal,” let’s not forget what the average day was like in early 2020:
- Executives spent an average of 23 hours per week in meetings
- Somewhere between 15–35% of meeting time was wasted due to unclear objectives, the wrong people in the room, and challenges with technology
- 30% of the workweek was spent on communication, primarily through email
- The workforce was increasingly overworked, exhausted, and disengaged
After all we’ve been through for the past year and a half, we should aim higher than where we started.
“Flexible work” and “hybrid working models” are the terms of the moment. Putting the policies and technologies in place to support these new ways of working is a top priority for many organizations. What is more easily overlooked is resetting team norms and practices to enable this new way of working to actually work.
Since working remotely was the exception rather than the rule before the pandemic, practices were heavily biased in favor of the office-based employees. Stories of “forgetting Bob was even on the phone” were common. Lack of familiarity with screen-share functionality meant that remote participants were listening to the equivalent of a podcast until midway through the meeting when someone thought to email the materials. Working lunches created unbearable background noise which the remote team would tolerate by multitasking their way through it. All in all, it was a total waste of time for anyone not in the room.
Unless we reset the standard now, we’re poised to scale this bad experience to a lot more remote workers. While there are many ways to elevate hybrid meetings to an art, let’s start by establishing a basic foundation for success. Consider the four P’s for every hybrid meeting:
Purpose: Establish a clear goal for the meeting and include it in the invitation: The purpose of this meeting is to ratify the budget for our upcoming team event.
Participants: Invite the smallest number of people possible based on your objective. Ban attendance for anyone who needs to know the meeting outcome but would not be active in the conversation. Instead, establish reliable mechanisms for disseminating a recap.
Preparation: Determine what context the participants will need to be fully engaged and send as a succinct pre-read with sufficient lead time. Don’t waste time in the meeting presenting the pre-read. Set the expectation that pre-reads are not optional.
Process: Design the meeting so that everyone, particularly those who will be remote, has an opportunity to participate. Use simple techniques such as calling on each person in turn to share their perspective or inviting questions and commentary through the chat feature. Make camera usage mandatory for both in-room and remote participants. This shared visual experience fosters significantly better engagement.
We human beings have proven time and time again that using one another’s time effectively and convening high-quality discussions is not an innate skill. Hybrid work is here to stay and we can’t labor under the delusion that it will just “work itself out.” Use this moment of return to office to make collaboration better than when you left it.