Master the politics of the new hybrid office



When Kristi Fox, director of human resources for a financial services company in St. Paul, Minnesota, helped prepare the office for in-person work in May, she and her colleagues came up with the idea of ​​offering a little -free lunch and lunch in their cafeteria on Mondays and Fridays to encourage attendance. So far it works, but only on Mondays. “Not a chance for Fridays. Nobody wants to come into the office then, if they can help, ”she said.

Their office allows their staff of around 3,000 to come on any day or day of the week they want, without a reservation, and around 17% have chosen so far. The most popular days are Mondays and Wednesdays, which Fox says makes it easier for workers to switch to weekends.

Dividing days and shifts in the post-pandemic hybrid workplace can be complicated. On the one hand, few people want to come on a Friday. Experts and those who have prototyped their own company’s return-to-work plans say, perhaps counterintuitively, structure can be your best friend: scheduling is usually better than endless choices, and a message. clear and unified to all employees is essential.

A McKinsey survey of 5,043 full-time employees around the world between December and January found that people had various home work preferences. Almost equal proportions of respondents said they would prefer zero days of remote work per week (17%), three days (22%) or five days (19%). This suggests that many workers are flexible, but that can be a problem in itself.

“What makes hybrid work quite interesting is that it’s the only type of work we don’t know how to do,” says Ethan Bernstein, associate professor of management at Harvard Business School. “People had mastered working from home. In person is the way it was. But there are so many ways to go wrong with the hybrid.

Many hybrid offices require certain teams to meet on the same days so that they can collaborate in person.


David Paul Morris / Bloomberg News

Hybrid workplaces need to be careful not to set schedules in a way that makes the job more difficult, he says. “We should optimize not the personal preferences of senior members, but the collective needs of the organization and employees. This means not only letting the C suite choose their schedules first, but surveying your team first to gauge how people are feeling.

For example, Snyk, a Boston-based cybersecurity firm, has been polling its employees since last fall about working in person. Once the office reaches 75% of its capacity (it’s still at 25%), employees can choose between staying entirely remote, getting a dedicated office in the office, or a “flexible” option that allows them to reserve offices. temporary in the office but working from home on other days, explains Diana Marchese, manager of the company’s staff experience. According to their surveys so far, the most popular option in the Boston office will be allowances for a combination of working from home and a few days at desks booked in the office.

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“For me, however, it’s a no-brainer: I chose the permanent office option because I really appreciate my own space,” says Ms. Marchese.

Alyson Watson, founder of San Francisco-based startup Modern Health, says her company’s return-to-work plan, after much deliberation, is that everyone based in San Francisco will come the same three days a week, Tuesday. to Thursday, from in September.

“We considered all of the options, including staying completely at bay, which we ruled out pretty quickly because we really lacked in-person collaboration,” she says. But the entirely optional model, where employees could choose the days they wanted, raised too many questions, she said. “Having a certain structure is a way to level the playing field.”

Their thinking, she explains, is that Mondays would be good for planning and Fridays for thinking, and intensive teamwork would take place in the middle of the week.

“One size fits all can make life a lot easier,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Chief Talent Scientist at ManpowerGroup,

a Milwaukee-based staffing company. “When you give employees too many choices, you can inadvertently create a two-tier system. Despite the best of intentions, there will be rewards for people who walk into the office at the right place at the right time, creating some sort of implied or hidden bonus for showing up.

He observed that leaving too much choice in how to return to work may inadvertently deter women from opting for in-person work, as women often take on more of the domestic work and child-rearing at home.

“Measure who comes in and how often, based on your current model. If women, minorities or people who commute [long distances] are less able to attend, you should change your policies, ”says Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic.

Businesses should also try to avoid hybrid meetings, he says. “If you have a meeting and half is in person and the other half zooms in or connects, it’s a very patchy situation,” he says. People in person could continue to debrief after the call. “Look for metrics that equalize, even if you’re trying to create flexibility. ”

Many hybrid workplaces, especially those with shared offices, have adopted “quarters” where certain teams enter a certain part of the office on certain days. Harvard Business School’s Dr Bernstein says companies can also experiment with project-based reintegration. “It often happens that a certain segment of the business sprints towards a certain goal, and it can be productive to fit them all in during that time, rather than getting bogged down in a team-based schedule,” he says. .

Finally, many companies are considering how to preserve the benefits of remote working for employees who are mandated to return, especially if their workforce is geographically dispersed.

Ms Watson of Modern Health remembers how her team enjoyed spending quality time with family or the opportunity to work in scenic locations last year. While she’s delighted to see most of them back in the office, she didn’t want to create an inequality between her Bay Area colleagues and those who can continue to work remotely. “So last week we announced an additional policy that anyone based in the Bay Area can be totally removed for two months of the year,” she says. “There is no quick fix, but we are doing our best to figure it out.”

Write to Krithika Varagur at [email protected]

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