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Leadership

Stop Zoom bashing and master the hybrid world of work

Published 4 January 2022 in Leadership • 5 min read • Audio availableAudio available

Whether it’s taking 15 minutes after a call to make a start on your “to do” list or having coffee in-person with a colleague, there are more efficient, effective and healthier ways to organize our time at work than endless virtual meetings. We offer five key questions and a planning structure to improve your hybrid life in 2022.

There are some things that Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams are great for when it comes to managing a team, and some things that really need face-to-face interaction.

We’ve talked about a future of work that is “multimodal”, where managers need to pivot between virtual coordination mode for tasks such as establishing goals, monitoring progress and sharing information, and face-to-face interaction, which is vital for innovation, acculturation, dedication and collaboration within organizations.

Getting the balance right as a business leader is part of the recipe for success in the world of hybrid work. But it can’t all be about what our managers do. What about the individual team member? How can we manage our time, tasks and wellbeing more effectively and efficiently in the hybrid workspace?

We’ve all suffered from Zoom fatigue during the pandemic; dragging ourselves through back-to-back calls only to emerge unable to focus on anything productive. For some, just as in the old office days, an eight-hour shift of meetings – online these days – is a reason to brag. For others, it’s a reason to complain.

It’s easy to see the negative impact that all that “virtual” time is having on our mental health and performance. If we are to apply our existing research about managing work in a multimodal way to the individual worker, it has to begin with a personal reflection.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself so that, next year, you can become happier, healthier, more efficient and more effective in the hybrid world of work – and less likely to moan or boast about all those Zoom hours. 

Young woman has a business conference via laptop

What have you learned from the past two years? 

What has the experience of working in different modalities during the pandemic taught you about how you work and what works for you? When has virtual working become unproductive or inefficient? How have you managed the balance between screen time, video calls, wellbeing and in-person work? What changes can you implement personally in 2022 to improve the situation?

Why is this call so long? 

Before you send those Zoom, WebEx or MS Teams invites, think about how long you actually need for a productive call that won’t eat into everyone’s working day. Would 20 minutes be better? Instead of booking back-to-back meetings, schedule some time between them so you can think about and act on the outcomes of each interaction. This allows you to stay on top of your workload, while starting each meeting with a clear mind.

 

When do I actually need a meeting? 

Using the three criteria of efficiency, effectiveness and quality of life, create a chart to decide what kind of meetings need to be in-person or virtual. If you just need to exchange information, then it is probably not worth travelling into work for – it would be more efficient and better for the planet to stay at home. If you want to brainstorm to solve a problem, face-to-face interactions are likely to be more productive and enjoyable.

Once you have the basics in place about the type of meetings that belong in the face-to-face and virtual columns, you can then progress to the finer details.

Why am I even on this call? 

Creating space between meetings means you will need to make choices between which calls to be on. Some meetings are essential or mandatory, such as a weekly review with your manager, but others are not. Where do you add the most value? For those calls that don’t seem necessary for you, could you do more to contribute or would you be better off declining the invite. Would anyone even miss you? After all, to paraphrase Charles De Gaulle, the world’s Zoom waiting rooms are full of irreplaceable people. Have the conversation with your manager and team about your approach. Does this call really need another sea of distracted faces, or could most of us be doing something more useful with our time?

Whatever happened to taking a break? 

It can be challenging, with endless virtual and in-person meetings, and all the work in between, to find time to take a genuine break. To maintain your wellbeing and energy levels, think about when and where during your day to schedule a coffee break or some time to go for a walk with a colleague. These moments of socialisation strengthen the culture and sense of belonging at our organizations. After 30 minutes away from our screens and in the company of others, we feel refreshed, connected and have new ideas.

Make a plan 

Once you have come to a decision about what might work best for you, make a plan for the next two months and monitor your progress. Are you becoming more efficient? Are you more effective? Has your quality of life improved? Keep finetuning your approach at intervals through the year with those three questions in mind. Over time, you will escape the temptation to click “accept” every time you receive an invite, and learn to make more of the benefits of a hybrid world of work.

Authors

Robert Hooijberg

Professor of Organizational Behaviour at IMD

Robert Hooijberg is Professor of Organizational Behavior at IMD. His areas of special interest are leadership, negotiations, team building, digital transformation, and organizational culture. Before joining IMD in September 2000, Professor Hooijberg taught at Rutgers University in their MBA and Executive MBA programs in New Jersey, Singapore, and Beijing. He is Program Director of the Breakthrough Program for Senior Executives and the Negotiating for Value Creation course.

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