Working in a hybrid office can have opportunities for new ways of working. It can also blur the boundaries between the office and home, cementing bad habits that may have formed out of necessity during lockdown.
Having good work boundaries in place is essential for healthy living and being productive at work. However, work seeping into home life is nothing new. While the smartphone, wifi and laptops mean many people can technically work from anywhere – it can also mean that you never get to truly switch off from work.
This blog is for people whose organisations are using or planning to transition to hybrid working to help you set healthy boundaries in a hybrid office. If your company is not offering hybrid working, you may wish to make a flexible work request.
Leadership leading the way
How managers behave will influence how the staff will behave when working. Whether working remotely, in the office or a mix – what is acceptable behaviour will be set by the actions of the leadership team.
This means if your company has a policy of working 9-5 then your management team should be setting the example. This is important for establishing positive behaviours. Research shows that if the boss emails or messages their team outside of working hours, then the employee is more likely to work later and longer.
When you’re setting healthy boundaries for hybrid offices, you need to start from the top to lead by example of what good looks like.
Maintain the office atmosphere
One of the concerns about hybrid working is how the office culture looks when team members are working from multiple locations and to different working schedules.
And a whopping 89% of employees feel it’s important to use the office space for building relationships with their co-workers. So maintaining company work culture matters to your staff. Understand how you want this to work when operating a hybrid office. It’s a good starting point to meeting your organisation’s needs.
Work out what you want with your boundaries
You do not need to limit your boundaries to what times you want to work. Although this is often the most pressing issue for staff.
“We’ve created boundaries that didn’t exist before. And in some cases, boundaries may have disappeared, but we still believe they exist,” explains Andre Keil, Director of Coaching Talent
Tanya Dalton, author of The Joy of Missing Out: “Most people are finding the hybrid model to be twice as stressful because it continues to blur the lines between work and home,” she says. “We can end up doing more and working more hours for the company than we previously did when we went into the office every day.”
Decide how you want your hybrid office work for location and time. This can give some structure and enable feedback from your team.
Additionally, having boundaries around communication can help you create space for tasks that require deep thought. In turn, this can help you be more productive as you reduce the number of interruptions and influences pulling on your attention.
For example, allowing staff more time to respond to emails or taking group chat onto a channel like Slack can reduce interruptions. Making it clear that emails need to be responded to within a certain time limit can help your staff better plan their day.
This gives them clear guidance of what’s expected and more of a structure to their day. If you have a team that relies on someone else meeting a deadline first – or responding to a message so there can be movement in a project – then communicating this is essential.
Plan in regular breaks
Regular breaks have huge benefits for wherever you work. Without the commute, it can be tempting to go straight into the day’s tasks. That commute can often be a time to read, listen or walk. Maintaining this on the days when there is no travel will help with stress and productivity.
Likewise, breaks within the day are good for your wellbeing and output. Feeling like you need to be tied to your desk throughout the day because you need to be ‘seen’ to be working is not healthy for anyone.
If you have employees who don’t meet as many deadlines when working remotely, make sure you set realistic achievements at the start of the week and hold progress meetings whether they are in the office or not.
Tracking time helps you understand how long you spend at work, especially on the days where you are working from home. It may be that you are unexpectedly working longer hours or taking less of a lunch break when not in the office. Or you may find the opposite to be true.
Tracking your working hours will help you understand when the boundaries are blurred. It can also help you see whether you are taking enough breaks in the day.
You may also find that you’re more productive at different hours of the day or in different locations. This can help you see the best ways that work for you and what fits in well with your team.
Turn off tech when at home or on holiday
One of the best ways to create healthy boundaries in a hybrid office is to make sure everyone turns off their tech when outside of work hours. This can mean putting on an out of office with expectations of when you are back working.
Having this time away from screens and updates will also give your staff a chance to relax and come back to work feeling motivated and refreshed. Spending evenings checking messages or shooting off emails because it will ease the morning pressure only sets bad working habits. And is in danger of leading to burnout.
Respect each others’ boundaries
While you may be focused on when and where you want to work, it can be easy to become frustrated about arranging meetings with others when both your working patterns no longer align.
Being understanding about the boundaries of others can help. Small actions, such as scheduling an email to send at 9 am rather than when you are working late at night can help reduce pressure from others within the team.
Likewise, understanding that you may need to extend some timescales to adjust for everyone’s working routines, can help reduce pressure to get the work done at all costs.
Allow for some flexibility
Building on respecting the boundaries of others is to be more flexible when it is needed. For example, if you are heading towards the end of a project and deadlines are stacking up – it makes more sense for everyone to offer some flexibility in their day.
As long as you are clear that this becomes the exception to the rule rather than sneaking through to the norm, it helps everyone to bend a little when work needs to be done.
Policies and procedures
As an employer, it is crucial to update your policies and procedures around hybrid working. This communicates to your staff what is and is not acceptable and it means you can adjust as you learn what does and does not work for the business.
Here is guidance from the CIPD:
“Hybrid working is a form of flexible working. Therefore, employers may consider either adapting or updating an existing flexible working policy to include hybrid working as a specific category or introducing a specific hybrid working policy. What is appropriate for each business will depend on their specific context. Whichever decision is made, as hybrid working is a relatively new concept, any new or adapted policy should be issued with supporting guidance and information to enable effective implementation”
If you need policies updating to reflect your new ways of working, get in touch with us.
Allow for mistakes
Right now, everyone is finding their feet when it comes to hybrid working. Not least because there is no model or structure that businesses know will work in the long-term. Hybrid working is a huge shift in our habits. While it has been slowly seeping into the work week since technology allows us to work from anywhere – there has not been quite the significant shift that we’ve seen over the past 18 months.
Add to this the varying needs that want to be met throughout an organisation and there is a lot of testing and negotiation that needs to be done before any company can say they’ve got this anywhere near right.
By acknowledging this, and allowing for mistakes, new habits and routines will eventually settle. In turn, this will provide a roadmap for future employees to adapt and improve upon the hybrid working boundaries that you are setting in place now.
Keeping a team that performs well together
One of the main worries around hybrid working is that the team will no longer be cohesive. It can be an adjustment to the culture of the team if you only see your co-workers once in a while. Equally, for hybrid working to work – it needs to take everyone’s needs into account. This may mean the reality of hybrid working looks different to the ideal situation for some members of staff.
But keeping a cohesive team working well together can work when people are working remotely. Regular interactions and team meetings can bring people together. Making sure that some of these are face-to-face will go a long way to embedding these working relationships.
Hybrid Working Boundaries
Overall, setting healthy boundaries in the hybrid office is crucial for wellness and work-life balance. Considering the bigger picture and how it impacts the wider team is important. As is ensuring you maintain regular contact with your team.
Employers can support these changes with their policies and procedures so that everything is communicated well. And that their leadership team set the best example by following these procedures and respecting work boundaries.
There is an opportunity to change the way in which we work for the better but this may take some trial and testing in the interim.
For those of you who feel you need extra support with hybrid working or flexible work requests, do get in touch to see if we can help.