Going back to the office or not: Tips for a successful hybrid work model

More than 33% of US adults over 18 have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, and that number continues to accelerate. People are starting to plan their first vacations in over a year. Kids are going back to school. Hope abounds. And companies are planning a return to the office. 

Many companies are considering a hybrid work model, with some time in the office and some time. And that seems to be what many employees prefer as well; SurveyMonkey found that 65% of workers prefer a hybrid model moving forward. A PwC survey found that 55% of workers want to be remote at least three days a week, although 68% of executives think employees need to be in the office at least three days a week (lots to unpack there, but we'll save that for another post). 

Some companies have gone fully remote and don't plan to go back to an office, even cancelling office leases (or never having had offices in the first place). And yet other companies are returning to a fully in-person model. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants all city employees to go back to work in person on May 3

So, what is your company going to do?

Of course this decision depends on the kind of company you have. What sort of work do you do? Who is employed at your company? What's the level technical expertise and access of your workforce? How will your customers be impacted? Harvard Business Review has a great list of questions to guide company leaders in making the hybrid, fully remote, or fully in-person decision.  

Be sure to talk to your team. What do your employees think? What do they want? Listen to employees from all areas of your company. That includes every kind of role, every team, every experience level, every family situation, etc… Pay particular attention to working parents, younger and older employees, people of color, new employees, and people from all pay scales. 

Throughout the past year, we’ve seen that the challenges one person experiences working from home can vary significantly from what another person experiences. For example, executives are more likely to say they're thriving in this environment, while women, employees under 25 years old, frontline workers, and new employees are struggling. (For example... I write this from my couch, surrounded by my daughter's at-home-preschool detritus, wearing noise-cancelling headphones because my also-WFH husband is on a Zoom call in the next room. I like the lack of commute, but I wouldn't exactly say I'm thriving.) 

What goes into a hybrid work model?

If you decide to pursue a hybrid model, there's a lot to think about. A hybrid model may be the most complex work model to navigate, but it also has the highest potential benefit. When executed carefully, a hybrid work model can lead to higher employee satisfaction, productivity and tenure. It can be the best of both worlds, combining the benefits you get from working from home, like flexibility and shortened commutes, with those you get from working in an office, like increased employee engagement and social connection. 

Here are a few of the areas should be thinking about as you design your new hybrid work world. 

What does a hybrid office look like? Will you get a new space or adapt your old one? What do individual workspaces look like? Will employees keep designated desks or offices? Will you move to shared workspaces? What about conference rooms, common areas, outdoor spaces? What changes in your physical office space, if anything?

What will your meeting policy be? Will some meetings require being in person? Which ones? How will you communicate that? Will you have "Zoom-free Fridays"? Will conference rooms in the office be setup to better handle video conferencing? 

What kind of flexibility will teams have? Maybe the culture of your customer success team is different from your marketing team - will they have to all abide by the same rules? How do you decide? Will this vary by team or employee? 

Are your new guidelines fair to all employees? Are some employees treated differently than their peers? What criteria will you use to decide who abides by which guidelines? 

Do employees have the physical resources they need to accomplish their work under your new guidelines? Do your employees have adequate home office setups? (Many still don't!) 

Will you make any changes to work schedules? Will this be company-wide or based on team or role? Will you codify temporal flexibility into your guidelines? 

How does this change your company perks and benefits? Will you change what you offer? Are home office stipends recurring or one-time? What about snacks, drinks, meals, parking, gym memberships, childcare, team outings, and the hundred other perks you offer?

How will you maintain a strong organizational culture? What will you do to spread and grow your company's unique work culture? What deliberate actions or policies will you need to create to make this really work long-term?

What technological changes will you have to make? What will you be able to keep from the past year of fully-remote work? What will need to be adapted (again)?

How does this impact budgets? What areas will you save money in? Where will you spend more? And how does this fit into your 2021 budget and beyond? 

Are you thinking about a return to the office? When? What's going into your decision? We'll be discussing this over on our LinkedIn page - we'd love to hear from you.

(And if you're working from your couch, kitchen counter, or bed right now, I see you. Hope you're hanging in.)