Business owners across the UK are racking their brains on how to make hybrid working a success. A lasting shift in favour of hybrid workplaces is expected as employees make their way back to the office after an extended period of working remotely. The pandemic has undoubtedly transformed the way we work, travel and live, but we’ve always adopted a hybrid way of working here at CookiesHQ.
From the very beginning
When Nat and I started CookiesHQ in 2011 we realised (pretty quickly!) that, as a founding couple, we wouldn’t stay sane for long working under the same roof. So, we became a fully remote company of 2.
While Nat worked from home, I would work from a coffee shop or friends’ office and vice versa. We would communicate via HipChat (pre-Slack) and write asynchronous letters to each other on Basecamp.
As much as we liked the idea of growing a team in Bristol, it was never a sticking point. When the time came to start hiring, the location simply wasn’t an issue – we were already used to not being in the same room!
So, we hired our first remote full-time employee and labelled ourselves as a location independent business. No one would be required to be present in the office at any point.
For the past 10 years, we’ve run Cookies as a hybrid remote company. Pre-pandemic, it was a nice recruitment perk. Now, it’s expected.
Over the last decade of running the business this way, we’ve learned a thing or two about how to make hybrid working a success. We’ve made a few mistakes too! I’ve condensed our biggest learnings for anyone wondering how hybrid working will work for them.
What does hybrid working look like?
Hybrid sits right between "everyone has to be in office, 9 to 5" and "we don’t have an office, all our team members are working remotely".
72% of UK workers (who can work remotely) say they want a mix of in-person and remote working.
Your hybrid team could all be located in the same town, but they aren’t required to physically be together in the office. This could be because, like us here at Cookies, you want to give your teammates flexibility, and the option to choose where they work from at any given time.
Or, perhaps you have a core team in one location and few remote team members spread geographically. Whatever your reasons, you’ll have one part of your team working from home (or a cafe etc) and one part regularly working from an office.
In this post-pandemic world, the move towards hybrid working looks more like a whole team splitting their week into a few days at home and a few days at the office.
The pitfalls we’ve encountered, and how we overcame them.
You might already be aware that offering employees flexibility and the option to work from where they want or need comes with a tonne of benefits. Some studies will note productivity boosts, others boast better team morale, some will consider the ecological aspect and CO2 reductions while another might concentrate on the savings a business can make renting smaller premises.
Whatever way you look at it, there’s a whole host of positive aspects to hybrid working. But there are some common pitfalls you risk falling into, especially if you have never implemented it before.
Remote people are not present!
D’uh! This should go without saying right? But, when some members of the team occupy the same physical space, they’ll naturally start to chat. In these discussions, decisions about projects may be made outside of a formal meeting setting.
While this is great, it can lead to a discrepancy in knowledge or understanding within your team, as only the people present that day will be aware that the decision’s been made.
This is something that happened to us frequently in the early days. A few of us would share a coffee, talk about the project we’re working on and come up with a random decision on how to solve a particular problem.
But, only half of us would be present. While that half would get to work on the solution, the other half is still brainstorming. They’ve missed the conversation and may become frustrated that they weren’t part of the process or made aware of the changes.
The solution to that one is rather simple: Your team will have to become a lot more mindful about who may be absent.
Today, when chat moves into ‘discussion’ or ‘brainstorm’ territory, we try to stop and ask ourselves whether we want to bring remote colleagues into the discussion. If so, we fire a quick video call.
If not, we will make the effort to condense our decisions and rationale into our asynchronous communication tool of choice (still rocking Basecamp), so people can join the conversation in their own time and no one is feeling left out.
Overcompensating by overcommunicating
Emails, Slack pings, Zoom calls, Google Hangouts, Trello Boards and not forgetting good old fashioned texting – a whole host of virtual communication tools have now become part and parcel of our workday.
While it is important to make up for the lack of natural discussion opportunities outside the office, things can get overwhelming pretty quickly. If you have nine different apps or programmes demanding your attention at once, communication can feel scattered and disorganised.
When there are lots of messages flying around, the key is to be straightforward and keep things simple. Get to the point of what you want to say, be clear and concise. Focus on what’s really important and your messages will have more of an impact and a higher chance of being understood and acted upon without getting lost.
Not setting boundaries or limitations
There’s not much point in you telling your employees that they don’t have to work from the office, just to insist that they’re sat at their dinner table all day.
The beauty of flexible location working is that you can choose to work from wherever you feel on that day or with whomever you want.
Some of our team like to organise days where they work together outside of the office – somewhere like a cafe or co-working space.
Others might like to work with friends who are in similar situations. Some might want to visit family for an extended period of time and others may want to extend their vacation by a few days or weeks and work from somewhere lovely.
You should encourage this, but a key factor in how to make hybrid working a success is being clear on the boundaries or limitations.
Time zone, internet connection, availability, background noise, working hours are just some of the factors you may want to consider in drawing up your hybrid working policy. If you don’t discuss them early on, you’ll only find out where your boundaries lay through frustration and headaches!
Here at CookiesHQ, we require anyone who is working remotely to be within a 2 hours timezone of the UK. Maximum. It’s their responsibility to ensure that the place they choose has the correct setup for them to work and communicate productively – ergo, avoid the hostel that only has wifi connectivity if you’re sat on the stairs.
Those are our requirements, yours will most likely be different. You may have to experiment, but whatever you settle on, make sure that you communicate the rules clearly.
It’s easy to forget about the humans behind the screen
Lastly, and probably the most dangerous of all is that the chance that we’ll forget about the humans behind the faces on screen. Without human physical interaction, there’s a risk of become detached from your remote workers.
This is obviously not good for the team, as these people may start to feel disengaged or that they are missing out. More importantly, this could contribute towards more serious mental health issues if the person is otherwise isolated or not seeking much interaction outside of work.
To combat that, we’ve introduced some tools and tactics over time that our team can use to connect with each other outside of the usual morning standup and Friday afternoon catchup:
Cookies Labs are half a day a week that everyone can use for learning and personal development. While some prefer to use this time individually, we’re encouraging people to schedule some pairing as it creates some natural discussions and connections, outside of the context of client work.
Tea? / Coffee?
Let’s face it, sharing a virtual coffee, via Zoom is certainly not the same as sitting on the same table. But you can still take a good 10/15 minutes and have a bit of banter. Talk about things work and non-work related, and make sure that people in your team can instigate those times as they would normally do in an office.
Quarterly get together
Aim to get the whole team, regardless of their location, together at least once a year. And if you can, a little more than that. At CookiesHQ we’ve decided to go with quarterly. We spend a day or two, all together with no client work, so we can really focus on ourselves.
As you can see, there’s nothing magical about our solutions. But we have had to deal with the issues (and benefits) that hybrid working throws for a decade now. We’re a small team that can’t afford a Chief Happiness Officer (and I’m not keen on office dogs!) so we know how important, and difficult, it is to stay consistent.
Be patient, remember that if you’re transitioning from an "all bums on seats" culture to a more fluid one, you’re going to make mistakes. Make sure that you’re keeping track of the changes and ask your team regularly how they feel. Everyone will be different!