Hating hybrid work? Here’s how to make it less painful.

We spoke to work experts to help you navigate hybrid work and make it less messy and stressy

iStock/Washington Post illustration (iStock/The Washington Post)

If you’re feeling stress and exhaustion after returning to the office part-time, you’re not alone.

Hybrid work, which includes working in-office and remotely, can be frustrating, but there are ways to ease the pain.

As companies mandate people back to the office, workers across the nation are finding the switch to be messy, inconvenient and in some cases even pointless. But work experts say that with just a few tweaks, workers may be able to make the transition less jarring and more productive. They can make their mornings less stressful, get more benefits from the office and even be able to lower the anxiety they may feel back in the office.

About 60 percent of offices will adopt a hybrid work policy this year, according to data from market research firm Forrester. Already, employees at tech firms including Google and Apple have been called back to work in a hybrid fashion.

“Everyone is struggling with this right now,” said Stew Friedman, emeritus professor of management practice at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “This is a really hard problem, and you are not the only one.”

Hybrid work for many is messy and exhausting

Sara Perry, an associate professor of management at Baylor University who studies employee stress and remote work, said a lot of the tension related to hybrid work often can be tied to a lack of autonomy or employee choice. Perry says research shows that workers want flexibility and the opportunity to work in the way that suits them best.

“A lot of resistance comes from policies that don’t give [workers] a voice or preference,” she said. “Autonomy is one of the most important things to consider.”

While experts generally say employers should try to create a policy that makes sense for both productivity and workers, employees can do things to make their lives better regardless of the set policies. Here are five expert tips to make the most out of the hybrid workplace.

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Plan ahead to maximize time

One of the biggest benefits workers discovered after working from home during the pandemic was their schedules were much more flexible. They didn’t have to think too far in advance because their kitchen, their belongings, their equipment were all within arm’s reach. While going back to the office may feel more chaotic, experts say planning ahead can reduce some daily stress.

Give yourself enough time to commute, pack the things you need for the office or prep your lunch. Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor and author of “Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere,” said to think about it much as if you were taking a short trip somewhere.

“We used to take this for granted in the pre-covid world,” she said. “But today, even if it’s only for two or three days, you can easily forget things.”

Perry says one thing office workers commonly forget is to take regular breaks. Perry said workers should schedule breaks to ensure they don’t forget. Workers can set calendar reminders to notify them when they should break from work. When they are taking their breaks, they should do something toward accomplishing nonwork goals.

Instead of popping a load of laundry in the washer while working from home, workers at the office can take time to practice mindfulness, make a couple of nonwork-related calls or run an errand that could lighten the load when they arrive home.

“At home, we can do things to maximize our time,” she said. “Is there something we can do at work that is similar to balance our work and personal life?”

Coordinate your schedule and tasks

Working from the office can feel entirely unnecessary if workers relocate to do exactly what they do at home. Experts say workers will get more out of their hybrid setups if they sync their in-office days with their collaborators and separate the tasks they do based on the location from which they’re working.

“Coordinate times when you can be present in your work environment with others,” said Pamela Hinds, co-director of Stanford’s Center on Work, Technology, and Organization. “Schedule 10-to-15-minute check-ins without an agenda.”

Meanwhile, when feasible, workers should save tasks they can do from home for the days they work from home, Hinds added. That way, workers use more of their office time to collaborate, communicate and connect with their colleagues and managers, whereas much of the heads-down work is saved for remote days.

Neeley agrees, suggesting workers think about doing as much “shoulder-to-shoulder” work in office, then use remote work days to help balance out the social activities of the office.

“First, we had Zoom fatigue; now we have hybrid fatigue,” she said. “Spend your time when you’re at home to balance out that fatigue.”

Lower your expectations

Workers should also lower their expectations for what gets done during in-office workdays, as workers will probably accomplish different tasks, experts said.

Unlike working fully remote, workers should expect more time to be taken up by impromptu meetings and conversations, they said. There will be more opportunities to grab coffee and lunch versus sitting at their desk.

Workers should also remember they may need more time in between tasks. Instead of hopping from one Zoom meeting to the next with a simple click, they may have to relocate rooms, buildings or even commute somewhere else entirely. They may run into a colleague they need to quickly exchange information with in between meetings. All of these tasks require more time, but they also offer different opportunities than remote work, experts said.

“There will be a lot more nonwork and transitional experiences than in the remote life,” Neeley said. “You have to account for that as you set your goals for the day.”

Make the office more comfortable

The pandemic changed workers’ relationship with work, often giving them freedom to be more comfortable and flexible with how they work. While going to the office may change some of that, it doesn’t mean workers can’t bring some of their newfound comforts to the office, Perry said.

“What do you like about working from home?” she said. “Could you have proxies at the office?”

That could look like wearing more comfortable shoes, scheduling walking meetings with colleagues or incorporating some physical activity into the day. Is there food that workers can prep or snacks they can bring that will help them keep up with their health goals?

Workers have probably also found ways to create ideal work setups while working from home. Can that be duplicated at the office so that workers minimize how much they tote to and from work? Any work notes or to-do lists should be stored digitally and, if possible, in the cloud. The less workers have to carry, the less likely they’ll forget something.

Finally, it might be helpful to remember there are also experiences people can’t have working from home, Hinds said. So, they should use that mentality to make the most of their in-office days.

“It might be helpful for people to think, ‘What are all the great things about going into the office?’ ” she said. “How can I make sure that those things happen when I go in?”

Experiment and be patient

The old assumptions of work models are gone, so as workers navigate this new era, they should remember to experiment with how, where and when they get things done, Friedman from Wharton said.

Workers and employers alike may not yet know what works best for their teams, much less for each individual. The only way to figure out what works best is to try new things.

“It’s about thinking … [about] what’s most important to you in your life as well as what people need from you,” he said.

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Some workers may have more flexibility than others, but all workers have the chance to reevaluate how they do things and make small adjustments. Sometimes this may mean negotiating with the people in your life — whether that be at home or at work. That could mean explaining to your manager what adjustments — like workout time — may make you more productive. It could also mean negotiating quiet time at home for moments in which you can focus.

“Everyone is in a different situation,” he said. “But have the experimental mind-set to try to make things better for both them and you.”

Above all, workers should remember hybrid won’t be perfect and it won’t be entirely painless.

“There will be a lot of learning and relearning,” Neeley said. “They’ll need to be patient … and give themselves and others grace.”

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