Are You Best Suited for Remote, Hybrid or In-Office Work?
Five questions to help decide your employment future
The pandemic left us worker bees grappling with a question that previously lurked only as the title of new-age panel discussions: What is the future of work?
Specifically, your work?
Futuristic work arrangements have long been driven by technology and employee desire for flexibility. The pandemic accelerated that change, at the same time that labor market upheaval tipped the power dynamic toward office employees. Your boss doesn’t want to have to replace you, so if you propose a palatable arrangement, they’ll probably be inclined to work with you.
So, now is the moment to articulate your perfect work life to your manager. But what is it? And how do you bake in the needs of your organization, team and boss?
The answers are, apparently, inside you. “People generally know what they need for them to deliver their best work and perform at the highest level,” says Anna Gurun, associate director at London-based HSM, a research and advisory consultancy that has been researching how people work for 13 years. Your work location, timing and schedule are, basically, everything. “They impact the way you communicate, and the way your meetings are run, and bring up questions of promotion and development. Questions of fairness become more important,” she says.
Below is a series of step-by-step questions to help you suss out your best way forward. Gurun suggests approaching these with an “expansive” mindset that avoids assumptions, in a “cool, creative” way — for instance, this is not a life-or-death crisis, but a chance to loosen up and explore.
Surprisingly, she suggests approaching your work life without last year in mind, for the good reason that pandemic conditions will not remain. For example, you may have slayed your job from your couch when your coworkers were also home, but that may no longer be the case when your team meets daily in the conference room. Here’s your list:
1. What is your work? This seems obvious, but beginning here avoids the most common mistake that workers make, which is starting with their personality, lifestyle and family commitments, Gurun says. These decisions should be led by your work, not you. What is your actual day-to-day work? What tasks do you need to accomplish daily, weekly and monthly? Which people do you need to see, and how do you need to interact? How long does it all really take?
2. Under what place and time circumstances do you deliver that work best? Jot down your thoughts, and then imagine a graph with place along one axis, and time on the other, so the graph has four quadrants: flexible time + flexible place, flexible time + set place, set time + set place, and set time + flexible place. Break your work into the categories of collaboration, coordination, focus and performance, and place each category in its proper quadrant. Do most land in one quadrant? That’s your answer.
3. What’s best for your team and manager? Visualize your team. What type of participation from you would most benefit them? Why? Now translate that answer into a specific time and place schedule, such as working with the team in office half-time.
4. Where do you get your energy? Now you can focus on your personality and preferences. When are you most and least excited about work? Does office camaraderie and coworking inflate your balloon, or drain it? Does this align with your answers to #2 and #3? If not, you might be misaligned with your job.
5. What are your home and family commitments like? This question is last because it’s pivotal. Your feelings on remote and off-hours work will differ if, say, you’re living in a tiny apartment with roommates, or you’re a mom squeezing work in between school dropoff and pickup. Do you need time or location flexibility?
These questions will not deliver An Answer, but they will yield clear time-and-place guidelines that provide the basis for discussion with coworkers. “Talk to others about this, thinking through these questions together, and adapting as needed,” Gurun says. Ideally your organization has laid out loose priorities, such as valuing face-to-face connection, but hasn’t mandated how and when those priorities happen. For some, that might mean a quarterly visit to the office; for others, daily.
If your manager agrees with your conclusions, frame your upcoming months as a trial run. “Maintain that openness to adapting and changing as you see what works best, and challenges that emerge,” Gurun says. “It’s not going to be a Big Bang type situation, where you solve everything at the start.” Small bang, here you come.