How should I manage work hours and breaks in a remote or hybrid team?

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We previously wrote on how to approach an employee who takes too many breaks in a pre-pandemic time. The article received a lot of love. Times have changed and many of us moved from a predominantly in person workplace to a remote or hybrid one. We received a lot of questions on managing work hours and breaks and are here to provide some guidance!

There is no one size fits all solution and this article is not about picking sides in the in person vs. remote vs. hybrid conversation. If you do have a remote or hybrid team, you are likely thinking about how to manage work hours and breaks. Here is what is working well for managers and teams we are talking to.

1. Acknowledge that flexibility and breaks are good for everybody.

Parents need to pick up kids from school. Everybody needs to go to the dentist. Vancouver operates on Pacific Time. Being flexible to those (and other situations) is good. Dog parents need to walk their dog. Everybody needs to eat. Sunshine came for 30 minutes in Toronto and somebody needs their Vitamin D. Breaks are good and are healthy. Creating a culture where flexibility and breaks are not understood is harmful for everybody.

2. Set clear expectations.

Team members (usually) do not read minds. From what we have seen, team members want clearer expectations across the board. If you are in Montreal or Toronto and work in an Eastern Time zone, you may want all of your team members working 9AM-5PM Eastern Time. However, you may have 10% of your employees in Calgary and 10% in Vancouver. Given this type of a demographic, you may decide on mandatory hours of 11AM-5PM Eastern Time, with the remaining two hours flexible depending on preference and location. The same thing applies to breaks. If people can go to the dentist during work hours and make up time after/before, tell them. We are all trying to do our best. Set clear expectations to allow everybody to succeed.

3. Roll out expectations in a structured way.

Your HR team needs support and input. Other leaders need to provide it. Have HR leadership prepare a draft version. Get feedback from the senior leadership team. Share the revised version with the management team and get feedback. Only then share expectations with the teams or company. Don’t surprise your people managers - most of the questions will come to them.

4. Communicate at a company, department, and manager level.

“When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it" (quote by Jeff Weiner, former CEO of LinkedIn). Don’t assume people get it after your first communication. You also need to create room for questions. Communicate at a company level so that the company knows. Then share it at a department level, potentially providing more context that may be relevant for this specific group. Then have managers bring it up to address outstanding questions. Think about those Vancouver and Calgary team members. These multiple levels of communications help drive alignment with any company level guidelines. They also allow better communication of rationale.

5. Ask people and don’t assume or accuse.

Remote and hybrid workplaces leave a lot of room for interpretation. Don’t assume. If somebody is starting work late one day, ask them if everything is ok. They could be at the veterinary. They aren’t necessarily interviewing with another company. If somebody took a break, they might have a migraine. Stuff happens.

6. Have empathy and find what works for you and your teams.

Your way is not necessarily everybody else’s way. Focus on impact and results. Define what works for you and your team. Be understanding of other people’s needs but know that you can’t always make everybody happy. Find what works and drives results while having empathy for needs.

7. Create a document or policy with FAQs.

Make sure you put it on (virtual) paper. A document to reference is helpful for everybody. Let it evolve as more questions and clarifications come up. Revisit what works and doesn’t work. Everybody benefits from clear expectations. If you are using Collage, put it on the dashboard.

8. Be open to change and evolution for the better.

Your first version is not your final version. You can decide that some things are working well while others aren’t. Your team’s needs may also evolve. Periodically, reassess the needs of your team. Doing so is not a failure but an openness that your team will appreciate.

There is no perfect solution. A team of 20 needs something different from a team of 200. Find what works best for you and your team.

Our HRIS is also here to help you in the process with Employee Engagement, Time off, and much more!

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