Hey there! You’re reading Chapter 2 of The Hybrid Product Management Playbook: Tips for Leaders. Check out the rest of the playbook right here:
As a leader within a product organization, (CEO, CPO, Director of Product, etc), it’s your responsibility to set the precedents that’ll make hybrid work for your company. You’ll be choosing the right model (or helping to choose the right model), and learning how to be the best leader possible for your new way of working
Through this chapter of the Hybrid PM Playbook, you’ll learn how to choose the right model for your company, how to use hybrid to keep building company culture, and how to be a leader through the change.
Choosing a hybrid model
As we mentioned in our introduction, not all hybrid policies are created equal. The main three currently in fashion are:
- Hybrid: Each employee spends some time working from home, and some time working in the office.
- Optional: The most flexible approach, with employees able to switch between the office and WFH as they please.
- Partial: Certain teams/departments/individuals are able to work from home based on their requirements.
Each one will have a different impact on your teams, and some will offer more benefits for your company than others. So to help you make the decision, let’s look at each one in depth.
In this model, each employee is expected to split their working hours between home and the office. This can be done in a number of ways. You could decide that everyone comes to the office Monday through Wednesday, and spends Thursday and Friday at home. It could differ from department to department, or for Covid safety could you split the whole company in half and have then come in on alternate days.
One of the main benefits of this model is that it helps everyone to plan their working week. Your Product Management teams will find it easier to plan cross-functional meetings if it’s clearly set out which teams will be in the office and which ones will be home. It’ll help everyone get into a routine, whilst also giving them a sense of flexibility and ownership over their schedule.
It also maintains a sense of fairness and equality. Everyone works to the same model, so no one feels like they’re missing out on IRL collaboration, or on time at home for deep work.
However, this ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach might not be the right one for your company if you have teams with specific requirements. You might have teams that need access to certain hardware, who will be hindered by forcibly working from home. On the other hand, requiring people to come to a physical location limits your pool of potential new hires to people who live fairly close to your office. But that’s a question for HR, which we’ll get to in Chapter 3.
Optional is the most flexible model, allowing your employees to have complete control over when they come into the office and when they work from home.
This is the people-pleaser model, as it’s the most attractive arrangement when you’re looking to hire new people, and it’ll likely be the one that’ll keep your employees happy. Giving them full freedom is an act of trust and can have a very positive impact on your company culture. People do their best work when they’re in control of their environment, and when their schedule works for them and not against them.
Perhaps you’re apprehensive about using the model because you don’t want to pay for an office space, only to have everyone work from home 90% of the time. But if you run a product company, you’ll likely find that many people are happy to come to the office on a fairly regular basis. A study by Standord found that 55% of employees in the US preferred working partially onsite and partially from home. As we discussed in Chapter 1, the nature of Product Management means this number is likely higher among PMs.
When we asked our community of Product People what their preference is, the majority told us that they were excited to get back to the office and make the most of meeting face to face, whilst also valuing the benefits of remote work.
That’s all rosy, but like the first hybrid model, it does come with challenges. Allowing people full flexibility keeps them happy, but if not handled in the right way it can lead to confusion. With everyone on different schedules, it can be hard to get people together in the same room, whether virtual or IRL. It makes organizing meetings and even casual culture-building activities more challenging, as it’s hard to know when everyone is available.
You may also find that you have some people who barely ever come to the office and, like we covered in Chapter 1, they may find themselves falling out of the loop.
One thing that you can do to solve both of these problems in one swing is to give people freedom, but ask them to set expectations. Have each team leader work with their direct reports to come up with a schedule that they’ll more or less stick to. These can be used as guidelines so that teams can work with one another more effectively, as it will make meetings easier to organize.
By implementing this kind of ‘controlled freedom’, employees have the power to decide their schedule and so maximize their satisfaction and productivity. But you also get the benefits of getting the right people in the same room at the same time.
Twitter is among the big Silicon Valley companies to have adopted this model, stating…
“At Twitter, we’ll never force you to go back to the office. We believe in flexibility and choice when it comes to where and how you work.”Tweep Life – Careers at Twitter
The partial model recognizes that not all teams are made equal. Some work differently, whether for logistical reasons, cybersecurity, or their hardware needs. You might have content creators on your marketing team who need use of a recording studio, and your engineers might have office setups that would be impractical to transport between home and the office. No one wants to carry an iMac on the train, and few people can afford to have two. For various reasons, some teams may need to work entirely from the office.
On the other hand, you might have teams whose work is entirely digital and can easily be done 100% from home. These may be teams that you bolster by hiring from more diverse locations than just ‘near the office’.
The partial model rejects the idea that one hybrid work model can work for every type of employee, and only offers remote work to the teams that it makes sense for. It’s a popular model for companies like HSBC and Capital One, who are letting the vast majority of their call-centre and customer service employees work from home.
This model does come with the drawback of deciding people’s work situations for them, which means they may feel cheated out of the freedom that other companies are giving their employees. The main way to work around this is not to make your decisions arbitrarily.
Like with all things product, you have to be able to explain the ‘why’ behind your choices. If you’ve decided that Team A gets to work from home as much as they like, but Team B needs to keep coming to the office, you need to give them a good reason. In many cases it’ll be self explanatory. For example, Team A is in marketing and Team B takes care of server maintenance. One job can be done from home, and the other clearly requires office presence.
Choosing the right model
Choosing the right policy for your company is a multi-faceted decision, influenced by a few key factors…
- Practicality. If your business is entirely digital, some hybrid policies will make more sense for you than others, and vice versa.
- Budget and resources. Consider the costs of providing an office space and/or subsidizing remote work.
- Hiring. Some teams benefit greatly from being able to hire from diverse locations through a more remote model.
- Team preferences. Listen to your people if you want to retain them!
Working together with your hiring/HR/operations leaders on these factors (which we’ll get to in Chapter 3!) will help you to figure out which model will work for your company.
Being a great hybrid work leader
If you’re in a position of leadership/authority, like Director of PM or VP of Product, you may have some say or influence over how your company manages its hybrid model.
In that case, it’s your responsibility to be an advocate for your teams, and to be their voice. To that end, you’ll need to be open to feedback on how well hybrid suits the teams. When you first introduce it, along with the new policies and processes (more tips on that coming in Chapter 3!), run a quick feedback session with your team to understand what their thoughts are.
To be a successful hybrid leader, empathy and understanding are going to be your two greatest assets. Hybrid, though less disruptive than bringing everyone back to the office full-time, is still a disruption. People built new routines and schedules and habits around working remotely. Some even relocated to be closer to family and further away from the city.
There could be a good reason why one person wants to come into the office every day (for example, they don’t have a decent desk at home), or why they rarely come to the office (they’re introverts and thrive in a WFH environment).
Understanding that, and respecting people’s boundaries will help them to be better teammates, and will help them to succeed in their careers.
Maximizing the benefits
It’s the nature of Product People to sniff out opportunities, and that’s exactly what hybrid work is. After a few months of adopting the new hybrid model, ask yourself the following questions:
- How am I using hybrid tools to maximize the input of my team members?
- Am I confident in my performance and leadership given this hybrid system?
- Is everyone happy and comfortable in their new schedule?
- If not, what can we adjust to (fairly) make everyone happy?
- Is everyone still able to hit their targets and maintain the quality of their work?
- Is everyone able to make the meetings that they’re required to be in?
To make the most of the benefits of hybrid, it’s important to understand that the shift is a long-term commitment, and it’ll take some iterations. Done right, your teams will enjoy both their freedom and some killer onsite collaboration!
Building company culture in hybrid
One of the things that leaders and executives are concerned about when moving to a hybrid model is how to maintain company culture.
Presenteeism (which was pretty much obliterated by 2020!) still lingers in some people’s minds, and it’s hard for them to imagine how company culture can stay strong in a hybrid setting. There’s a fear that some teams, if they have different schedules, will barely interact with each other.
With a completely flexible model, some more introverted team members may choose to not come into the office at all, which means missing out on key human connections. While that’s their choice (if the model allows) too many people choosing to do this can impact how cohesively teams work together.
It’s important not to leave these people behind, so make sure to organize/encourage other team leaders to organize plenty of offsite culture-building events as well as onsites. When it comes to choosing who to promote, don’t write off those who choose to stay at home. Let presenteeism stay dead and buried! Focus instead on the quality of people’s work, how they work with the team, and
Final thoughts: building the future of hybrid
The future of hybrid work is still evolving. And when something is evolving, it offers opportunities for innovation. But as a product leader, we don’t need to tell you that!
That being said, any change comes with uncertainty. Your number one responsibility as a leader isn’t to decide the policies or even to choose the model. It’s to navigate your teams through that uncertainty by ensuring that they feel heard and that they feel like their opinions matter to you. After all, changing the way they work inevitably changes the way they live too.
Keep in touch with your teams and openly communicate any changes to their day-to-day, along with the reasons for the changes. You could even hold ‘office hours’ specifically for people to voice their thoughts on how to make the model work for everyone.
Look after your teams, and your teams will look after your business.
Summary – The Play
- Work with HR and operations leaders to choose the right hybrid model
- Iterate on your model until you get it right
- Listen to your employees and take their preferences into account
Coming up in Chapter 3
In the next chapter, we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of hybrid policies, covering all the major considerations that you need to think about as a HR/L&D leaders.
We’ll also be looking at how hybrid impacts hiring processes, along with how to use hybrid to your advantage in building a more diverse workforce.