Many professionals will choose a hybrid approach to work after the pandemic, sometimes working from home, sometimes from the office. But how to decide where to spend each day isn’t always as obvious as it seems. The authors describe a data-driven process for understanding where you’re most productive on which kinds of tasks — and how to convince your boss that your resulting plan is best for their interests as well.
Over the past year, many of us have found things to love about working from home like flexibility, the ability to focus, and no commute. Now that offices are starting re-open, you might start to remember that there is a lot to love about the office, too: social interaction, the joys of collaboration, and of course, that endless pot of coffee.
Many companies intend to give us the best of both worlds by allowing employees to split their time between home and the workplace. But it will only give you the best of both worlds if you figure out how to combine home and office time in a way that maximizes your productivity and personal wellbeing. That means figuring out which days to spend at home, which days to spend at the office, and just as crucial, how to sell your boss on that plan.
The key is identifying which parts of your job are best accomplished where. This seems simple enough: for tasks that require collaboration, go into work; for tasks that require extended concentration, stay home. And, true enough, a review of research on virtual teams reported multiple studies showing that highly interdependent work can be difficult to tackle when you’re separated from your colleagues. But one of the studies also found that close collaboration across distance actually strengthened relationships and engagement among colleagues because it required them to improve their communication and mutual support.
And there are other factors at play, too. For example, maybe you do your best drafting work at home — but you need the collaboration of your colleagues to develop an initial outline. Or maybe you actually find it easier to brainstorm over a phone call, since you’re most creative while pacing the room. (You may also find remote collaboration more effective once you adopt some of the remote-friendly approaches we describe in our new book Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are.)
No matter which factors most affect you, you’ll want to avoid wasting critical time by coming into the office on a day it would have been better to stay at home, or vice versa. To create a hybrid work plan that allows you to get the most out of each day, first track and analyze your work to figure out which factors affect your productivity. Then match your findings up with your upcoming tasks and responsibilities. Finally, summarize your plan for your boss to get their buy-in.
Track Metrics That Matter
To track your productivity in each location, you first need to determine what to measure. We tend to think of productivity in terms of hours worked, but a more effective measure is the actual results of your labors. For hard metrics, look for some output measurements (words typed, emails answered, tasks checked off) as well as data on how your time gets used (we like automatic time trackers like Timing.app or ManicTime). For soft metrics, consider logging both your mood and your sense of accomplishment at the end of each day (use a 1 to 5 scale); you can also use things like email or group messaging to track feedback from others. None of these indicators is perfect, but together they present a useful picture.
Set up a spreadsheet where you can consolidate all your metrics into a single view. The simplest approach is to list the dates down the first column on the left and then assign a column to each key metric, like words typed, mood, accomplishments, and tasks completed. (You can use our Coda template as a starting point.) You might also want to track how much time you’re wasting on distractions (online shopping, meme browsing, gaming), how much time you’re spending on meetings, and how much time you are spending in apps that indicate you’re working diligently (like your word processor or spreadsheet app).
Then, for a limited period — roughly a month or two — track your daily productivity along each of the metrics you’ve defined. You can start this process even before you return to the office: Track your productivity metrics while working remotely, and when you get back to your office you’ll have a baseline that will make it easy to quickly compare your productivity in each space. During your tracking period, also mark the spreadsheet every single day to note whether you’re working remotely or in the office (or commit to a specific schedule); otherwise you’ll have no way of spotting the patterns that separate office days from home days.
Look for Patterns
Once it’s time to crunch the numbers, just eyeballing the columns of your spreadsheet will give you a sense of where you need to dig into the numbers more deeply. If your productive time or mood vary wildly from day to day, for example, you might scan for something that seems to correlate with those variations — perhaps the amount of time you spend in meetings, or your sleep hours.
To perform a deeper analysis, create a table or chart that zooms in on the relationship between the variations in your mood or output, and the factor(s) you think may explain those variations. Maybe you get more tasks completed on days with fewer meetings…unless the meetings take place in the two hours after lunch, when you struggle to get focused work done, anyhow. Maybe the days with the most “wasted” time are also the days when you generate the most written work because all those little distractions are the way you reboot in between pages, documents, or paragraphs.
Look especially for any divergences between your home days and your office days. Are there certain kinds of tasks that you complete more quickly at home, or at the office? Do meetings have the same impact on your mood or productivity when they’re face-to-face, rather than held via video? Do your most productive work times differ depending on when you’re working?
The answer may depend on the flow of life at home just as much as on the distractions of the office.
Once you know which kinds of tasks you do best at home and at the office, you’ll be in a better position to judge how to spend each day. And you can get a sense of the big picture too: Review your current responsibilities and determine how much of your workload is best handled in each location to get a sense of how much time you’ll want to spend at home versus in the office. This is a process you may need to revisit periodically: Perhaps this quarter’s big project involves planning a conference, which is a very collaborative process that will benefit from more time in the office. But next quarter you are producing the company’s annual report, which will require more time at home so that you can do focused writing and revising.
Making the Case for Your Hybrid Plan
Knowing where you want to spend your time is all well and good, but it won’t help if your boss isn’t supportive of your hybrid work plan. Luckily, all the data you’ve crunched about your productivity gives you a great place to start making the case. Summarize your findings in a concise note that shows the major responsibilities on your plate broken out into the parts that are best handled at the office, and the parts that are best handled at home. Support your conclusions with data that shows you write more words, reply to more emails, or create presentations more efficiently on the days that you are at home.
Depending on your manager, you may also find it helpful to estimate the specific amount of time each part of your work is likely to require.
For example, if your upcoming responsibilities include leading the work on that annual report, your hybrid plan might include the following:
Annual report (68 hrs)
Office tasks (24 hrs)
- Interview stakeholders (12 hrs)
- Brainstorm report messages (1 hr)
- Outline report (2 hrs)
- Review/troubleshoot report drafts (6 hrs)
- Brief and update designer (3 hrs)
Remote tasks (44 hrs)
- Background research for content (14 hrs)
- Draft report content (16 hrs)
- Image research for report design (4 hrs)
- Review/edit final report (10 hrs)
Based on this breakdown, about one third of your time on this project should be spent in the office, and two thirds can be better accomplished at home. If your other responsibilities have a similar breakdown, you might propose spending three days a week working remotely, and two days a week at the office — with those days scheduled to facilitate your stakeholder interviews and project meetings.
If your boss is still skeptical about the value of remote work, suggest a trial period for a month or so when you will follow your proposed combination of days at home and days at the office. By the end of the month, your excellent results should win over your boss. That’s what happened to Maggie Crowley Sheehan, who was the first employee at software company Unbounce to go remote, long before the pandemic. When her husband got a job in the Bahamas, Sheehan’s supervisor agreed to make her a test case for remote work. Her results were so strong that when the rest of the company went remote during Covid, one of Sheehan’s colleagues said, “We’re all going to become 80% more productive now — just look at what happened with Maggie!”
By thinking through the mix of home and office work that will allow you to be the most productive, you’ll avoid frustration in both locations — and demonstrate to your boss your ability to take ownership of your own working conditions and productivity in the new hybrid workplace.