Creativity and innovation continue to be necessary as leaders consider how and if to entice workers to return to the office and navigate the new, perhaps hybrid, work environment.  

Last week McKinsey & Company published a study revealing that “the majority of executives expect that (for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site) employees will be on-site between 21 and 80 percent of the time, or one to four days per week.”1 While there is agreement about the need for a hybrid workplace, 68%2 have no detailed plan communicated or in place. 

As a leader, have you created your vision for a hybrid workplace?  Here are some questions we have been working with our clients to answer:

Where are you and each leadership team member with the potential shift to a hybrid workplace?

  • If you are all in agreement, great.
  • If you have some who are not in agreement or are struggling to take a stance, listen for the value in what they have to say.
  • Define how and when you will make a decision.
  • If you shift to a hybrid workplace, what will be needed to develop and support the leadership team in learning how to manage in this new environment? What will be needed to develop and support the entire team in this new environment?

Are you willing to offer a hybrid workplace?

  • If you answer “no,” consider surveying your managers and workforce and make sure you are aware of how many individuals will require “special circumstances” or be resistant or unwilling to return to work at the time of your choosing. 
  • If you answer “yes,” what changes in your culture, internal practices and processes and roles will need to take place? Make sure you have a plan for identifying and making these changes. 
  • Whether you decide “yes,” “no,” or “not now,” this is a situation where leaders and managers must rise to the occasion and be the best leaders they can be. Skill sharpening in the areas of communications, Emotional Intelligence, and our favorite tool, the Enneagram, will prove helpful in this time of change. Remember you’ll have teammates excited to jump back in, and you’ll have individuals who have real concerns and needs to be heard.

How much choice do you give employees about in-office vs at-home work? 

In a recent article in Harvard Business Review titled, “Don’t Let Employees Pick Their WFH Days,”3 the author, Nicholas Bloom, having surveyed over 30,000 employees and managers from March 2020 through March 2021, found his opinion shifting from, as one manager stated, “I treat my team like adults. They get to decide when and where they work, as long as they get the job done” to managers should pick the days that employees work from home. Here’s the why behind the shift. First, in a hybrid environment one concern that arises is the real challenge of keeping employees feeling connected to the organization and the unfortunate rise of angst and resentment between the “in-home” and “at-office” employees.  This is real—don’t dismiss this reality—address it head on! The author raises a second concern that is the risk to diversity.  Those who want or need to work from home due to lack of childcare or on-site educational resources can be significantly disadvantaged by not being physically in the office.  The author states, “Women with children surveyed are 50% more likely to need or want to work at home than men.  Single young men and women can more likely choose to come into the office five days a week and progress more easily in a company while employees with young children, particularly women, who choose to work from home for several days a week may be held back. This could be both a diversity loss and a legal time bomb for companies.” 

Given these concerns, how much choice will you empower your employees with as to the days they will or will not work from home? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Are there specific positions that require in-office only attendance?
  • Are there positions that benefit from in-person collaboration and interactions?
  • What does in-office coverage need to be to accommodate clients?
  • Will you enable your managers to decide for their areas of responsibility or, as a company, will you set a standard to be followed by all management?
  • What exemptions must you make to comply with state and federal laws, i.e., ADA, EEOC, etc.

There are no right answers, only ones that best fit your work environment and culture. Many of our clients are requiring that the employee work 2-3 days in the office and that the days worked in the office must be consistent. For example, in every week on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.  Other companies have become comfortable with minimal in-office presence. Of course, it is management’s responsibility to ensure appropriate departmental coverage and success.

We are also very well-aware that many companies, leaders, and employees are committed to returning as quickly as possible to the physical workplace.  They are ready to be together again.

There’s so much to grapple with here. Employees sincerely have discovered how effective and productive they can be at home, and many want to stay there.  We hear managers saying, “If I say that everyone has to be in the office 3 days a week, I fear I might lose employees.”  The truth is employees leave. That is a loss, sad, and unfortunately, inevitable. It might prove more valuable to shift your attention from the possible loss to creating an enticing workplace. 

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Make sure you have the needed support in place to help with the transition for those who are hesitant. Often, this will be on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Notice possible unspoken resistance and investigate. An honest conversation can go a long way toward understanding and addressing resistance. 
  • Come together as groups to dialog and envision the future.
  • Communicate the value of coming back together as you see it.
  • Make it fun. 
    • Offer social events that bring employees back together in the office during the day, i.e., massages, free lunches, in-office meetings with a meal served, exercise classes, etc.
    • Create short-term contests and games that offer prizes for departments with the most in-person collaboration.
    • Offer incentives (i.e., PTO, gift cards, event tickets, etc.) for individual attendance and/or contribution to the work environment.

Recognize and appreciate your employees often and in person. This goes a long way and doesn’t cost a penny!

While employees have grown used to working from home, they may have forgotten how rewarding and fulfilling it can be to work and collaborate with their colleagues in the workplace. It is going to take an investment of time, effort and money to entice employees to return to the workplace and create an environment that attracts and retains talented and committed team members.

There are lots of opinions out there for you to digest, yet at the end of the day you must decide what is right for your organization. We are here to be a sounding board and/or assist in forming your hybrid and return-to-work policies.  We are just a phone call away!

1What Executives are saying about the future of hybrid work, McKinsey & Company, May 2021. Page 2.
2What Executives are saying about the future of hybrid work, McKinsey & Company, May 2021. Page 2.
3Don’t Let Employees Pick Their WFH Days, Harvard Business Review, May 25, 2021. Page 5.