In Part 2 of our deep dive into remote work, Maja Paleka, co-founder Juggle Strategies, offers her top tips for hybrid workplaces.

This post is a continuation of our previous post on What’s the Purpose of the Office?, talking to Maja Paleka, co-founder of Juggle Strategies, which is on a mission to make flexible work, business as usual

In the last post, Maja and I talked about first meeting each other pre-COVID, at a remote-work conference, as well as the main questions or struggles businesses are having with hybrid and remote working post-COVID. We also discussed how it’s becoming more common to mandate days in the office. 

In this post, Maja offers her tips and insights for meeting these challenges. What works and what doesn’t? And how can organisations improve their roll-out of hybrid work arrangements?

Take a Step Back

Maja: We’ve now had quite a bit of time to see what works, and see how organisations have handled this really well. The first thing, even before we get into practical things, is to take a step back. I like to do this a lot! We need to think about what our hybrid work arrangement is for. 

It goes back to the title of the last post, and the question that you asked me at the beginning: what is the purpose of the office? We need to think about the office as a tool. It absolutely has a purpose, and it has something that it needs to deliver for us. So then let’s think about what that means. What do we want to achieve with this tool, the office?

What do we want to achieve with this tool, the office?’

Create Connection 

This is where we can learn from organisations and companies that have had fully remote employees even pre-pandemic. They talk about offsites being opportunities to deliver an incredible level of connection with people

When we bring people together for an offsite, we typically want to make the most of these opportunities. We need to ensure it is designed really well with lots of opportunities for people to work together and engage, and to allow for both structured and unstructured time. 

Cancel the Meetings

So if we’re using the office in the same way, to bring people together, a very practical thing that we’ve seen organisations do is to say, ‘okay, we’re all going to come in on a particular day, but we’re not going to schedule a lot of meetings.’ 

Instead, what ends up happening is that people catch up with each other and have a chitchat. They’re asking, ‘hey, what’s going on? Did you get the Taylor Swift tickets?’ You end up having a little bit of that chitchat, because people are not sitting just on Zoom calls or sitting in meeting rooms for the whole day.

Arrange Casual Catchups

The next thing I’ve seen happen is that the team decides that once a month, they’re going to go out for breakfast. They have become comfortable with the fact that coffees are actually work. And they are important work. A lot of people have told me, ‘People want me to go for coffee, but I have no time to do that because I’m doing back-to-back meetings.’ 

But we need to reframe this to recognise that spending time together and having a coffee is important work. It is about connection, which creates a sense of belonging, which enhances workplace culture. 

we need to reframe this to recognise that spending time together and having a coffee is important work’

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Plan Purposefully

In the study of human motivation, what motivates us, I love the self-determination theory, which emphasises our need for three things: autonomy, competence and relatedness. It means that relatedness and connection are really important to our motivation, but just shoving people together without changing what they’re doing is not going to work. 

Structure Carefully

We need to think purposefully about the days that we have together and create unstructured spaces and unstructured connection time. And then the structured time, whether that’s breakfast or other things we do together, will actually deliver a lot more. It doesn’t have to be over-engineered, but we do have to think about it.

We need to think purposefully about the days that we have together and create unstructured spaces and unstructured connection time’

Symbolise Your Values

Carolyn Taylor has an amazing model for developing culture. She says that values are brought to life through symbols, behaviour, processes and systems. So how can your office be a place that symbolises the values of your culture? How can people experience those values inside the office? It might be through things like

  • decor
  • employee benefts
  • environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals

The office is a tool, not just a place, and I fear right now the hybrid work debate has flipped. It’s become a symbol of control and coercion. People think, ‘I’m just coming in because they’ve said I have to come in three days a week, but I don’t really understand why.’

Organisations might reply that it’s because the team gets to collaborate, but that’s a hollow claim if the employee comes in and there’s no one to collaborate with, and they are sitting in the office alone. We need to ensure that the symbolism and the experience are coherent with what we’re trying to deliver.

Adopt a Co-Creation Model 

The number one thing, for me, is that hybrid work should be developed through a process of co-creation. That’s when it comes to life. 

Mandate a Conversation

Generally, I hate the word ‘mandate’, because it takes away a level of control and autonomy that people love. But I still recommend that organsiations mandate that each team have a conversation about how they will work together when they come together. 

Be Flexible

Allow a little bit of room for each team to decide how many days together is the right amount. This won’t be the same every week. For example, if the team has a big pitch, maybe they need to be together four days a week. 

We always recommend organisations start by taking a look at how they currently collaborate. Marketing teams are going to be very different from engineering teams, who will be different from sales teams. Team should discuss

  • How do we collaborate in the best possible way?
  • When are the critical moments when we need to work together?
  • When would it be better for us to separate to focus on deep solo work?

Promote Engagement

If teams are engaged in a co-creation process, they’re more likely to uphold the decisions because they know why they were made, they’ve been part of that process. We’ve seen that work really, really well. 

We’re all adults, and none of us like following rules we don’t understand. Instead, get people to have a purposeful conversation, offer flexibility, and be very proactive about planning time together to allow for true engagement and collaboration. 

Take a Leap of Faith

Karen: It becomes a leap of faith, from a business owner’s or leader’s perspective, doesn’t it? In the current economic climate, people are very focused on productivity. There’s a fear that if you go for coffee every Wednesday morning, they won’t be coming into the office until 10am. It gives leaders the jitters. So it does take a big mindset shift, and a leap of faith to believe that this will actually help us in the longer term. 

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Managing Perceptions

You mentioned that different teams will have different needs. How do you manage what might be seen as perceived inequities? For example, let’s say I’m in the marketing team and I really don’t want to work from the office at all, but we’ve determined the marketing team must come in three days per week, whereas the engineering team get to work at home all the time. Have you come across that? And what would be your advice around that?

Maja: There are a couple of ways that we can manage that. 

  • Guardrails Ensure that, when the teams are having those co-creation conversations, you provide some guardrails for that conversation, rather than leaving the parameters completely open. 
  • Support for Leaders Leaders need to be given some support around handling those tricky situations when somebody says, ‘Well, I don’t need to come in at all right? I can get all my stuff done at home.’ How does the leader handle that conversation? This might lead to a different conversation about leadership capability in the hybrid environment, because it is very different. 

It’s not always going to be easy. We are human, and we will compare. But you can go into a conversation saying, ‘I understand where you’re coming from but we, as a team, decided within the guardrails that this is what we need. Engineering is engineering, we’re going to trust that what they design is right for them. And we need to deliver on how we decided we’re going to work’. 

We’ve found that when people feel heard, and when you go into these conversations with respect, but also trust that people will comply with the group decision, it’s a very different conversation. People might not love it at first, but they’ll go with it eventually. 

Get Explicit

It’s important to recognise that hybrid work often requires clearer guidelines. You might need to say, ‘In the past, we didn’t have to get explicit with our contributions to the workplace, because we were all together all the time. But your job here, and the outcomes that you deliver, go beyond just the productivity or the tasks that you complete.’ 

Contribution to Culture

Contribution to culture should be on everyone’s performance review. Every single one of us is bigger than just ourselves and the tasks that we do. We are part of this workplace community and part of this team. So we need to get explicit around what that really means. 

Contribution to Other People’s Learning

This is another big one. Once we helped the new recruit who was sitting next to us, because they were right there. Now we can say well, ‘it’s not my job to do that’. But actually, it always was your job in the past. So how do we get become explicit around that? 

You can have conversations where you say, ‘Hold on, it’s not just enough for you to get some tasks done. You are part of this team, and we need you to be part of it. And, as humans, we need to have some relationship. So I need you to engage with the team’. When that is just an expectation, you get a different conversation.

Equity vs Equality

Sometimes people think that it’s fairer if we just make everyone in every team come in, say, three days per week. That seems to make sense and will kill the ‘perceived inequities’ issues. But if we flip that on its head we might see that while three days in the office could work very well for marketing, it might not be great for, let’s say, engineering. 

It may be that people in the engineering team spend 80% of their time on deep work, and they’re disturbed when sitting in the open-plan office. Doing three days in the office for them might actually be deeply unfair because they’re not able to do their best work. 

We often think that sameness means equity. But a lot of the time, the same thing might give some people a great opportunity, while hampering others from doing their best work. It’s equality, but not equity. We know this from diversity and inclusion – just because the same thing has been given to everyone, does not mean it is equitable. 

Karen: That’s right, blanket rules are often inequitable – because blanket rules are vulnerable to indirect discrimination and other impacts. It’s often the easy way out to say, ‘well, we’re all in this together, we’re all doing the same thing’. 

Maja, if anyone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the kind of work that you do? Do you come in and talk to the leadership teams? Do you do workshops? How do you work with clients at Juggle Strategies?

Maja: We do lots of different things and we are driven by the needs of our clients. Typically we’re brought in by the people team, and we believe the executive team needs to be involved in this conversation. 

This is not an HR initiative, this is a very fundamental choice around who we are going to be, and how we bring that out in our ways of working. So we often facilitate a conversation at the executive level, because it is a conversation about the future of work and capability and the right skills and leadership. 

And then we get involved in the implementation. A big part of it is leadership skills because this new hybrid environment will ask a lot of leaders, and it is really unfair to put them in a position where they have to handle some of these grey conversations. There is no black and white anymore. We need to let that go. They are very human, messy conversations, and we need to provide leaders with support. 

So we work with the leaders, and sometimes we work with culture or engagement, with IT teams, whatever the client needs us to do.

Karen: Thank you for joining me, I really appreciate your insights today. If you want to get in touch with Maja you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Maja is the co-founder of Juggle Strategies

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