Don’t be surprised if you make some mistakes during the transition to hybrid work. I’m not just talking about mistakes in how you transition to a hybrid work arrangement: I’m talking about garden-variety operational, service and professional errors that happen as a result of entirely reinventing the way you, your colleagues and your clients work together.

These mistakes are all but inevitable, which is why you need to ask yourself three things:

  1. How will we notice when our approach to hybrid work causes us to make errors?
  2. How will handle these errors as they arise?
  3. How will we learn from these errors so that we improve our work and our approach to hybrid?

A hybrid mishap

The risks of hybrid work bubbled to the surface for me last week, when I heard from a professional services firm I’ve been working with closely for the past six months. So imagine my surprise when, after all these months of collaboration, I got my first big package of deliverables.

The surprise? The work was prepared for my husband’s signature (he’s also my business partner), even though I’ve been the sole point of contact on all the work to date.


Own your mistakes

I was relieved when my account manager promptly replied with an apologetic email, promised to look into her internal business processes, and scheduled a date for us to talk through their error. When we got on the phone a few days later, she made it clear that she understood this was an unacceptable mistake, which turned out to be a byproduct of how our business information had been entered in their system. The only remaining mystery was why the person assigned to our file had entered my husband’s contact information ahead of my own.

“Did the person entering the data work remotely?” I asked, out of curiosity. “Maybe if he’d been in the office, he’d have overheard you using my name when talking about our file.”

“Actually, he’s someone who prefers to be in the office,” she told me, “But it’s true, there’s a lot less opportunity to just overhear conversations about our work and clients these days.”


The death of serendipity

This circumstance reminded me of something I hear so many organizations and professionals mourning these days: Remote work has dramatically reduced the serendipitous exchange of knowledge in the workplace. Even in hybrid teams that are now in the office two or three days a week, the reduction in office time means there’s much less time for the casual chitchat that leads to us picking up the little bits of knowledge that can prevent mistakes or enable innovation.

That’s why it’s crucial to interrogate every mistake that happens in our professional lives—while accepting that mistakes are inevitable, and mostly forgivable. Precisely because we’ve reduced the opportunity for informal learning in the workplace, we need to stop, look and learn whenever a mistake suggests that a learning opportunity is at hand.


Consider the hybrid contribution

It’s not like organizations were error-free before the invention of remote and hybrid work, so not every mistake is going to be attributable to our hybrid transition. But for the next year or so, it’s definitely worth asking the question, each and every time an error occurs: Did our hybrid work arrangements contribute to this error, and if so, how?

Asking the question may remind you of the ways you shared knowledge informally, back when you were all in the office. Perhaps you’ll realize there were some formal or informal cross-checks that occurred when you had a colleague sitting at the next desk. Maybe there are errors that are cropping up now, in the return to office, that didn’t happen when you were full-time remote: Perhaps there’s something about the distractions of the office, or the shuffle between office and home, that causes things to fall between the cracks. You won’t know unless you stop to reflect.


Look for systemic fixes

When you identify a gap in your internal systems, or simply a type of error that could recur, think about how you can tighten up your processes to avoid making a similar mistake in the future. This applies even if the mistake wasn’t the direct result of your hybrid work arrangements: You may simply find that your organization requires more structured business processes, or more cross-checking, when you have less face-to-face time within the organization or with external clients.

Every time you catch a mistake serendipitously, think about how to make that kind of catch systematically instead. For example, I suggested to my services firm that they might introduce a client intake form that asks the client to specify who should be the signatory and point of contact. It’s a simple fix that takes implicit knowledge (“Who is our usual contact point?”) and turns it into an explicit question (“Who do you designate as our contact point?”)


Acknowledge and apologize

You’ll probably make some hybrid-related mistakes you can keep to yourself, like misunderstanding a deadline that you make up by working over a weekend, or wasting a morning working on the wrong Acme account. But sometimes you’ll make mistakes that are all too apparent to colleagues or clients, like addressing your work to your client’s husband.

When that happens, you need to do exactly what my account manager did: Acknowledge the mistake (without minimizing its impact), apologize for it (without blaming someone else), and address it as a learning opportunity. Resist the urge to attribute your mistake to hybrid work: That will only raise more questions about whether you and your team have got your act together.

Instead, explain how you’re embracing the transition to hybrid work as a process of learning and business improvement—one that has challenged your organization to fine-tune the way you work. The more you can share about how you feed these lessons back into your business operations, the better.

Because the chances are good that your clients and colleagues are struggling with the transition to hybrid too. With a little transparency, you can learn from your mistakes together.

This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.