As You Return to the Office, Make a Deliberate Plan
You’ve learned a lot about how you work and what makes you most productive over the last year. You had more choices on how to structure your day, when (and with whom) to engage. You figured out what worked best for you. The return to the office can feel as overwhelming as that initial, emergency pivot to working from home.
7 Tips for staying productive as you return to the office (or move to hybrid work.)
How to Build Your Return to the Office Plan
1. Inventory what made your work from home time so productive.
Our guess is you weren’t radically more productive the first few weeks you suddenly had to work from home. But you figured it out. The trick here is to learn from your learning. How did you structure your day? How did you communicate with your team during the pandemic? Did you get up earlier? Take more frequent breaks? Did you take time out for a walk at lunchtime to just refresh and think?
A return to the office does not necessarily mean you need to go back to all your old patterns and habits. Figure out what works best for you and your team, and then determine how you can incorporate some of that into your new routine.
2. Talk with your team and make a plan to support one another.
Here’s the good news. Everyone is thinking about how they can return to the office without adding hours to their day. No one on your team wants to be less productive.
This is the perfect time to communicate with your team (even if you’re not the boss) about what is working and how to work even more effectively and efficiently with one another.
We’ve built a FREE hybrid and virtual teams assessment to help you get the conversation going.
3. Leverage your commute.
When the pandemic first started, many managers we spoke with shared how much they missed the “time to think” or listen to a podcast.
Yes, commute time can be a huge time suck, but it can also be focused time to invest well. Consider how you might leverage your commute through value-added activities to work on your personal development, make a few calls (safely) to catch up with colleagues or friends, or even just have the white space to think quietly about the day and week ahead.
4. Be deliberate about what work you do where.
If you’re spending some time in the office, and other days at home, work to be deliberate in your time blocking. The news is full of examples of frustrating employees talking about quitting their jobs because a return to the office mandate feels like a frustrating waste of time.
Of course, your return to in-person work will be frustrating if you head to your cube and join a Zoom call with the people sitting in the cube next door.
Talk with your manager and co-workers about how you can best leverage the time you do have in the office for deeper collaboration and innovation. Then, do what you can to plan your deeper thinking or individual project work for the time you have at home.
5. Consider quiet hours (or open-office hours) to focus your work.
A best practice we are seeing with our clients planning their return to the office strategy is carving out “quiet hours” with no meetings and/or open-office hours where employees can “drop by” virtually or in-person to share ideas, brainstorm, or even get a quick response to a problem.
This time use of time blocking can help overcome the biggest fear we’re hearing from so many managers who are contemplating a return to the office: the fear of perpetual drop-by disruptions on non-urgent matters.
6. Invest in strategic relationships.
Even with a focused, deliberate effort to build trust and establish strategic relationships, most managers tell us they really miss the deeper conversations and spontaneous relationship-building that comes from in-person work.
Leverage your in-person time to work on a few key relationships. This is a great time to find (or become a mentor). Or to work on your relationship with a challenging boss.
And, of course, if you’ve ever taken one of our leadership training programs, you know how passionate we are about building strong, collaborative peer relationships. Consider how you might leverage your in-person time, to invest in your relationship with others as you build your return to the office strategy.
7. Learn, iterate and adjust.
Just like it took a minute to figure out how to be productive working from home, with the kids playing the ukelele in the next room with their virtual school on mute, your return to the office plan will take time to get right.
Talk with your manager and your human resources partners about what is working and what support you most need.
Try some of these suggestions. Figure out what works best for you and your team. Keep the conversation going. Iterate, and adjust.
We would love to hear from you. What best practices are you finding work well as you return to the office?
Note: If you prefer a video version of this article to share with your team check out this Asking For a Friend on Staying Productive.