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How to design the hybrid workplace

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After the pandemic ends, most employees will prefer a Goldilocks plan of not too much and not too little remote work. Very few employees want to return to the office five days a week, but most employees also do not want to stay at home all the time. How should employees decide which days to come to the office? What challenges will managers face in running teams under a hybrid model? Here are a few ideas to start.

In deciding when to come to the office, employees should look carefully at the nature of their work. To the extent that their work involves critical collaboration and brainstorming, they should opt for the office. That is where casual conversations and intense meetings are likely to produce the sparks needed to get the creative juices going. These conversations in person are also preferable when you need to have difficult or sensitive conversations with your manager or your colleagues.

Remote work is best for assignments that need a lot of concentration. If you are in the office, you are likely to be interrupted by colleagues who pop in. There is no reason to waste hours commuting to attend routine meetings that can easily be done as video conferencing. Working outside the office is vital for sales or marketing people, who can forge stronger relationships by visiting clients on their home turf.

But if you are part of a team, it is important that all team members be in the office on the same days each week, which is how you can increase communication and collaboration among team members. I hear a lot of managers worried about how they can maintain the company culture if everyone is remote. Spending time in the office is one way to help team members buy into the informal mores of the culture.

The team should also come into the office on the same days each week, as having a regular cadence will help team members make effective plans for taking care of children or infirm parents. A regular cadence will allow the business to use space better by rotating two teams with the same offices, like one group on Mondays and Wednesdays, with the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Members of both teams will have a space to keep their materials instead of looking for a new seat every time.

While a hybrid plan will be prevalent in most firms, it presents significant challenges to managers. Even if everyone in the business must come into the office on the same two or three days a week, some team members will show up every day. They may be perceived as having an unfair advantage for learning about company initiatives and job openings. Indeed, studies show that employees with more face time in the office receive promotions at a higher rate than employees working from home.

To overcome these perceptions, managers of a hybrid team should make special efforts to keep remote workers in the flow of company information and show appreciation for their efforts. Managers should seek to have a direct phone call with every remote team member every week. Instead of a performance review at the end of the year, managers should schedule quarterly feedback sessions in which they review the success of the team member and make plans for improvement if needed.

For days when most of the team is at home, managers have to establish norms for how the team will operate. Some remote workers may feel they need to be online all the time and respond to every email right away. To avoid burnout, managers should circulate clear ground rules for the team. These should include hours when team members will not be expected to be online and reasonable response times to messages.

To design an effective hybrid workplace, team members should analyze the duties of their jobs and the composition of their group of colleagues. Then managers should arrange a regular schedule of office days and set ground rules for remote workers. This will be a learning process as each company strives to create the optimal Goldilocks plan.

Robert Pozen is a senior lecturer with the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He and Alexandra Samuel are the coauthors of “Remote Inc.: How to Thrive at Work Wherever You Are.”

Tags Business Culture Economics Finance Government Labor Market Pandemic

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