For business leaders worried about the lack of productivity of people working from home it is important to not paint every employee with one broad brush. Working from home doesn’t systematically equate to an unproductive employee. For some employees, working from home does in fact make them more productive, but for many it makes them considerably less productive. The pandemic has forced the workforce — and in particular business leaders — into a long experimentation cycle that will play out for many years to come. I’ve seen many large businesses go through painful policy motions and internal PR campaigns to create definitive policies that they then forced to enforce through monitoring, carrots and sticks, and ultimately struggle to pivot.
There is no universal “right” or “wrong” system; each company needs to find the right mixture of policies, tools and support that challenge and stretch their employees while giving them the flexibility to thrive. Most importantly, no matter the size of your company, leaders should treat this new paradigm like a startup — test and iterate! You likely won’t get it right on the first pass and shouldn’t expect to. We are still in uncharted waters. Most importantly, leaders should NEVER ask their employees to adhere to a policy that they themselves wouldn’t adhere to or exempt themselves from.
There are a few things I’ve found work well to boost the effectiveness of hybrid teams:
- Create a consistent schedule: If you’re taking a hybrid approach like my company, building a recurring weekly schedule creates consistency for the team. For example, we have Daily Engineering and Product Management stand-ups to review progress milestones. This ensures accountability, but also gets the team together regularly — whether we are in-person or virtual — to ensure everyone feels connected.
- Create some fun FOMO: Thursdays are our team-wide meeting; which we do in-person. This meeting is filled with company-wide updates on exciting CEO-led topics like venture funding, big partnerships and new hire introductions, and it is our recurring “demo day” where we review the latest features. This weekly team meeting creates buzz, and our team is genuinely excited to see what goodies are in store.
- Build a culture of over-communication: It’s true that Slack can be busy when you’re not in-person, but hybrid cultures create the risk of people missing out on key water cooler conversations or key emails/messages. Erring on the side of over-communicating ensures transparency, a feeling of inclusion and encourages everyone in the company to participate. What we want to avoid is a “presentation” culture, where we only hear from our team members when they have something major to report. We want to hear from them a lot.
My top tip to improve WFH productivity is to over-index on hiring alignment to a chosen model. Prior to the pandemic, fit with the company culture was naturally important — today it is absolutely essential. I could hire the best imaginable engineer in the world, but if I found out three weeks after hiring them that he/she doesn’t want to be in the office 3 days per week it creates a meaningful challenge for me and my team. Our chosen model is 3 days per week, because we’re growing very rapidly and we’re building a culture — oftentimes on the whiteboard creatively while enjoying a pizza — and the team members I hire need to see the value in that. Put differently, coming in 3 days per week shouldn’t feel like a chore. If they’re excited about the work, they’re talented, and they truly see the value of coming in those 3 days per week, they’re going to be productive and I won’t need to monitor them. I have team members on my team that commute from Oakland and San Francisco to our offices in Palo Alto — they never complain; they are excited to come in.
As the CEO of a rapidly growing startup, I’m a big believer in having dedicated “in-person” time through a hybrid approach. Our working approach is simple:
- Hybrid: We are committed to being in the office a minimum 3 days per week, which is typically Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. We’re growing too quickly, and things are evolving so rapidly, that this in-person time is critical to make rapid adjustments, be creative on a whiteboard or find a quorum for critical decisions in real-time. There is no substitute for this. More importantly, we’re building our culture with a rapidly-growing group of people who may not have worked together before. Being in-person part of the time is critical to build this culture. Meeting face to face is essential to collaboration. People can easily share ideas, brainstorm solutions, and get on the same page more effectively.
- Remote time: Our days working from home tend to be less meeting-intense, these are more commonly used (and encouraged) to be heads-down time for the team. Finding a balance between meetings and heads-down is really important; teams tend to burn out if they’re only in meetings and equally struggle to build culture if they’re only heads-down. It’s all about balance. Also importantly, be able to make exceptions for personal situations where more remote time is needed — flexibility is a key leadership decision by circumstance.
- Tech, Tools and Talent: We spare no expense to make it easy for our team to stay connected. Our teams are in Palo Alto (California), and Sydney (Australia). Working around the clock is a huge advantage, and we’ve ensured all of our tech, audio visual and tools are highly connected. In our offices in Palo Alto, Sydney, and at home we have big monitors, conference TVs and whiteboards ready to roll at a moment’s notice. Put differently, we want to create as little friction as possible for the team to talk anytime.
These are some of the ideas that we’ve landed on but we’ll continue to iterate. I’m curious to learn from you.
What has worked for you & your team in the post-pandemic era ?
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