If you’ve been working from home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may feel like it’s been just a few weeks or several decades (or somehow both at the same time) since you set foot in an office. And as in-person work becomes a possibility again, you might be struggling to figure out what going back into the office even looks like for you—particularly if your company is transitioning to some type of hybrid work model that gives you say over when and how much you’re in the office vs. remote.
Your optimal balance between remote and in-office work will be very specific to you and your situation. For one, different companies are likely to have very different standards and requirements for their hybrid workforce and these standards may change over time. Beyond that, “Employees should think about their preferences on five dimensions: productivity, professional opportunity, social engagement, work-life balance, and personal commitments,” says Mariel Davis, cofounder and CXO of Spokn, a platform that helps improve internal communication and employee engagement in remote and hybrid workplaces.
So there are a number of things to consider when planning your ideal hybrid work schedule. Along with our expert sources, we’ve come up with a list of questions to consider—divided into five categories—to help you figure it out. Keep in mind that your answers to these questions can always change down the line (for instance, as COVID restrictions are lifted or as your personal responsibilities shift). So take any future plans into account and be sure to revisit your schedule periodically to make sure it’s still the best it can be for you.
The coronavirus pandemic still looms large over the concept of hybrid work, but these questions will remain useful whether you’re planning your first hybrid work schedule after lockdown, revisiting your schedule a few months in to make sure it’s still working for you, or starting an entirely new hybrid position.
1. What Requirements Does Your Employer Have?
Even if your employer is offering you a lot of flexibility in choosing the balance of your hybrid work schedule, they still likely have some guidelines or requirements. Maybe you need to be in the office a certain number of days per week or month. Maybe you need to always be working from 10 AM to 3 PM but the rest of your hours are up to you. Maybe your team has to be in on certain weekdays. So before you make any decisions regarding your personal schedule, make sure you’re clear on what decisions are even up to you. A few questions to consider include:
- Can you choose how many and/or which days you spend in the office vs. remotely?
- Are you locked into those choices or can you change up your in-office schedule?
- Do you need to schedule your in-office and remote days ahead of time? If so, how far in advance?
- Will you be required to come in for certain team meetings or other activities? If so, how far in advance will these be scheduled?
- Are you required to work set hours?
- Does a single day need to be fully remote or fully in-office? Can you work remotely in the morning and come into the office in the afternoon, for example?
- Will there be any stipends provided for home office supplies or utilities (such as internet)?
2. What Schedule Will Help Your Productivity the Most?
You’ll be in a better position to benefit from a hybrid work setup if you’re maximizing your productivity. Basically it boils down to this question Davis says you should ask yourself: “In what environments or conditions do I do my best work?” But for most people, work isn’t just a single task. Using your remote time and your in-office time efficiently requires you to figure out not just when and where you work best, but which of your job duties are best completed in the office vs. at home.
For example, even pre-pandemic, Ellen Faye, a certified specialist in workplace productivity, would suggest that employees do “focused work” at home if possible, including creating financial reports, writing, or doing anything else that requires sustained attention. Meanwhile she’d suggest “in-person meetings to solve problems, innovate, and brainstorm.”
But these are just examples. Everyone works differently. “There are plenty of people who find the office a better place to focus intensely on deep work, and there are others who are very comfortable collaborating on projects remotely,” Davis says. So think about what’s true for you personally while taking into account your employer’s requirements and anything you know about your teammates’ schedules. Here are a few questions to consider to get started:
- What tasks are you responsible for as part of your job?
- During remote work, which of these tasks have gotten harder, which have gotten easier, and which have stayed the same?
- What tasks do you tend to put off or find harder to get started on when working remotely? How about in the office?
- Have you been more productive remotely or were you more productive when you had colleagues around you? Does the answer depend on what kind of work you’re doing? Think beyond collaboration, Faye says. “Sometimes people are more accountable when others are around them. And sometimes it’s just easier to work at work.”
- What are your favorite and least favorite parts of remote work?
- What do you miss about working in the office? What do you not miss about working in the office?
- What physical conditions allow you to do your best work on various tasks and do those conditions exist more at home or at work? For example, do you thrive in a shared or solo space? How do frequent interruptions affect you? Depending on your work and home environments, the physical setup might be more optimal for you in one place or the other. Someone who lives alone and prefers fewer distractions might opt to do deep, focused work at home, whereas someone with the same preferences and small children might find the office to be more suitable for intense tasks. Maybe you even have access to different technology or a stronger internet connection in one location and that’s vital for certain tasks.
- What days and times of day are you most focused? It might make the most sense to do the hardest tasks at the time of day when you’re most focused in the environment that best supports that focus.
- Do you do your best work during the typical nine-to-five schedule or would some other schedule work best for you? For example, are you a morning person who’d be most productive logging on from home before most of your coworkers are awake, spending a few hours in the office, and wrapping up early?
For these questions, you might find it helpful to write out a list of your work tasks so you can really visualize all the individual things you need to get done during a given day, week, or month. Group together tasks that are similar or need to be completed sequentially within a short period of time. Then you can think through the ideal location to complete each task or set of tasks and keep that in mind as you construct your hybrid work schedule. You might have some definite remote tasks and some definite in-office tasks, but you’ll likely also have tasks where it doesn’t matter or there are pros and cons for each location, giving you some flexibility as to where you complete them.
For example, an email marketing manager may choose to work from home on Mondays and Thursdays and block off those days to complete analyses of email campaigns and write email copy. They might choose to work in the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to plan newsletters, brainstorm future sends and campaigns, set up and conduct any A/B tests, and make any changes to email lists because those tasks require more collaboration or aren’t as negatively affected by starts and stops. Maybe they choose to come into the office Friday mornings to schedule all emails for the following week, which is easier to do with the office internet and IT support nearby. Finally, they might leave Friday afternoons flexible, since catching up and planning can be done either in the office or at home.
3. What Schedule Will Give You Access to Professional Opportunities You Want and Need?
You’d probably like to continue to grow in your career, whether that means taking on more responsibilities, getting a raise, gaining skills and experiences to help you move to the next level in your current career or pivot to a new one, making professional connections that will help you in your next job search, or even starting your own business or side hustle. You might best accomplish your goals in the office, from home, or even during increased personal time you gain from the ideal hybrid work schedule.
If you’re looking for professional opportunities within your current job, be sure you’re taking into account how decreased face time with your managers, teammates, and others at the company might affect your ability to get them, as well as how you can be sure you’re still being noticed and recognized for the work you do even if you’re physically in the office less. Here are some questions to consider surrounding professional opportunities with a hybrid work schedule:
- What professional opportunities are you hoping to take advantage of in the next few years?
- When and how often will others on your team or at your company be working in the office vs. remote?
- Will your career be damaged if you’re not in the office at the same time as your manager or team?
- Has remote work negatively or positively affected your relationship and communication with your manager?
- Could time saved on a commute or some other aspect of a traditional workday one or more times a week give you the chance to pick up a side hustle, learn a new skill, or do more professional networking?
- Do you feel your work is just as visible to your team and company while working remotely or would putting in more than the bare minimum time at the office help decision makers at your company see your contributions?
- What are your company’s plans for making sure performance assessments and opportunities are equitable and not affected (consciously or unconsciously) by who is in the office more? If your employer or managers haven’t communicated any of these plans, it might be a signal that you should either ask or try to schedule your in-office time to overlap with your managers’.
- How might your hybrid work schedule influence the opportunities you’ll have access to? How can you address these concerns with my manager?
For example, if you want to gain more data analysis skills and work on projects where data is used to solve problems, you might choose to be in-office on the same day as the company’s data team or try to overlap your schedule with a coworker on your team who does similar work. Or if you want to build your network through a professional association, you might choose to work remotely on days they commonly hold events.
4. What Hybrid Work Schedule Will Give You the Optimal Amount of Social Interaction?
Everyone has a different capacity and need for social interaction, and it’s important to take yours into account when developing your ideal hybrid work schedule. You should also think about whether you’re getting the right kind of social interaction at work or if you’ll get more value from social interaction outside your office. Here are some questions to consider:
- Is the social atmosphere of your office positive, neutral, or negative? Unfortunately not all workplaces foster good social interactions. “Toxic bosses and coworkers are a lot easier to manage from a distance,” Faye says. Meanwhile, “Healthy work cultures where people engage and support each other can inspire better creativity and innovation.” When deciding how much time you’ll spend in the office beyond what’s required, consider whether the interpersonal environment there lifts you up or pulls you down. (You may also realize that certain individuals or combinations of people at work are healthier or more toxic than others and plan to spend more or less time around them accordingly.)
- How much value do you get from being in the same physical environment as your colleagues? Is it frequently easier to get certain things done when you can bounce ideas off your coworkers or ask them questions? Are there specific team members who are especially helpful? When will they be working on-site?
- Are there certain coworkers you enjoy working with more than others? When will they be in the office?
- Do you get as much or more value from social interaction you get during (or because of) remote work as you do from in-office work?
- When socializing outside of work goes “back to normal,” will that affect how much time you’d like to spend around your colleagues?
For example, you might want to make sure you’re in the office on the same day as your work bestie or that coworker who always has great insights on how to solve problems, while still making sure you’re working remotely on at least one of the same weekdays as your significant other.
5. What Schedule Will Help You Live Your Best Life—at Work and at Home?
One of the biggest benefits of hybrid work is increased work-life balance—that is, a healthy equilibrium between work and home. Work-life balance is affected by how many hours you spend working, but it also depends on your ability to keep your mind on work when you’re working and off work when you’re not so that you can focus on those things that matter most to you outside of your job.
Ideally, you would set up your hybrid schedule so that your work interferes less with your personal commitments including your family, caretaking duties, hobbies, pets, or anything else that’s important to you, Davis says. For this section, you want to really think about your priorities at work and outside of it and how they can exist side by side. Here are a few questions to get you thinking:
- Have your hours spent working remotely been more or less efficient or about the same? If you’re more efficient remotely, maybe you should plan to be remote on days you’re working on more complex tasks, for example.
- Are you able to separate your work time from your personal time while working at home? If not, are there firm markers you could put in place? If you tend to work indefinitely when you’re at home, it might be better for you to be in the office as much as possible.
- When you’ve worked remotely, has there been an expectation that you’re available to your colleagues at all times? If so, can this be addressed, or should you work in the office on days you’d like to be fully “done” at a set time?
- When you’ve worked on site, have you often taken work home with you or been expected to? Is there a way a certain hybrid schedule could mitigate this?
- In what ways does in-office work negatively affect your personal life? What about remote work? Could a hybrid work solution like commuting at a different time or working in the office as little as allowed help alleviate this? If you have children or other caretaking duties, will being remote at certain times help you to cut back on the costs associated with their care? Does working remotely at the same time as your partner strain your relationship?
- How much do you want your work life and personal life to mix? Do you want your work and home life to exist in their own blocks of time or would you prefer to move between work and non-work activities throughout the day? Can you get your job done while your child is next to you doing homework?
- What responsibilities do you have outside of work? What responsibilities would you be able to fulfill more easily or take on with a certain hybrid work schedule that would improve your life overall? Are there people, pets, hobbies or other parts of your life that you’ll have an easier time attending to if you planned your hybrid work schedule a certain way?
- What aspects of your life (inside or outside of work) are most important to you right now? What hybrid schedule will help you to prioritize these aspects?
Maybe you want to be home when your kids get off the bus at 3 PM, so you work mornings in the office and then finish out the afternoon at home. Or maybe you want to take that class at your local gym or community center on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so those are your remote days.
You can also plan a hybrid schedule that improves situations like a bad commute (by going into the office less or by avoiding travel during rush hours), high childcare costs (by working from home more of the time that your kids are home), or a tendency to work late into the night (by giving yourself firm markers to end the day like leaving the office or setting firm remote hours and sticking to them).
Once you’ve considered all of the facets above, it’s time to put it all together and prioritize. Company requirements will be first, of course, but after that, what’s most important to you? Working from home on Fridays so you can really focus on finishing that week’s budget update? Going with an elderly parent to a weekly doctor’s appointment? Getting in plenty of time with your managers so you can land that promotion?
Depending on your answers you might choose to assign certain days of the week or month or certain hours of the day to remote work. Draw yourself a calendar if you’re more visual or even use Google Calendar or a similar program that will help you to visualize blocks of time and see which configuration will help you honor your priorities and achieve your goals.
“It’s important to consider what’s best for you and not just go along with what your colleague is doing or what your boss is doing,” Faye says. “Consider your goals for work and life”—and build your hybrid work schedule around what matters to you most.