It’s time to lead your company into its next stage. As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout picks up speed in North America, particularly in major cities, and your employees begin to envision a post-pandemic life, the moment has come to solidify your office’s reopening plans.
According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index Survey, 73% of employees want flexible remote options to stay, and 66% of leaders say they’re considering redesigning their office space for hybrid work. So while some companies have gone to extremes (Amazon recently announced it would return to an office-centric culture in September, and Twitter decided early in the pandemic to permanently allow remote work), it’s clear that leaders should take the hybrid model seriously.
As the founder of a company built to support hybrid remote work, I’ve talked to a lot of folks about their plans. Founders, CEOs, and HR leaders want to support their teams’ diverse working styles, continue to attract top talent, and, most of all, choose the model that will work for their business, their operations, and their people. Microsoft is calling hybrid remote “the great disruption”—but with the right model, we can make sure hybrid remote work is constructive, too.
Before I dive into potential models, I recommend that you ground yourself in the current state of your company. Below, I’ve outlined the most important factors to consider. If you aren’t sure where your team falls in each category, these questions can also be used to guide a company-wide survey or dedicated conversations with your people leaders and facilities team.
Factors to consider in selecting a remote hybrid model
- Geography. Your team might have lived and worked in the same city before the pandemic…where are they now? Have you hired new employees in other states? Have tenured employees moved in with their parents, fled to the spacious suburbs, or discovered the digital nomad lifestyle? Before you commit to required days in the office, check in on their current locales, and take the temperature on their willingness to relocate (again). At a minimum, you should know how many employees (and what percentage) would be impacted by an in-office model.
- Employee working styles. Are your employees ambitious networkers who desperately miss getting facetime with leadership, or are they independent contributors who are doing their best work at home? Understanding the range of working styles in your company will help you choose the best model. This one might be tricky to poll, so speak to your people managers directly—what have they seen?
- Management styles. Do your leaders miss in-person feedback and coaching? Have they found it difficult to support their teams (professionally and emotionally) from afar? If you’ve taken the pulse of your company with a culture survey, have employee ratings of managers worsened, or improved?
- Growth plans. Who do you need to hire in the next year, or in the next three? Will those roles need to be in office? Are they difficult to source in your HQ city? Talk to your recruiting team—how have they approached candidate sourcing this year, and how could a physical office help (or hinder) their future plans?
- Current space relative to headcount plans. Can the space you’re currently leasing (or plan to lease) hold your entire team today? You might have decided to let your lease lapse, or it might be that your team has doubled in the last year. Regardless, no one wants to come back to overcrowded conference rooms and doubled-up desks.
- Team morale. The last year has been a hard one for almost everyone—how has remote work factored into team morale? You might find out that for some employees, the flexibility of remote work has actually been a silver lining… or that for others, it’s been a serious drain.
- Office culture. Prior to the pandemic, how important was your physical office to your team culture? Was the building always abuzz with happy hours and planning sessions, or did your team prefer offsites in faraway locales?
- Recent productivity. How productive has your team been while working from home this year? While you’ll obviously look at your team’s recent success metrics, you’ll also want to get perspectives from your employees themselves. Even if they’re delivering above expectations, they might be struggling to focus and in danger of burning out.
- Collaborative needs. How much time do your employees spend brainstorming, collaborating on projects, and getting real-time feedback from one another? Are they in back-to-back team Zooms, or are they largely doing independent work? This may vary widely from one individual team to another.
Popular models of hybrid remote work
Now that you’ve reflected on your company’s needs, it’s time to identify the hybrid office model that will work best for your team. Based on conversations that I’ve had with countless HR and tech leaders, here are some of the most common models for hybrid remote offices, in a range from most to least flexible. You may decide that one of these models is perfect for your company today, but feel free to reach out to the OfficeTogether team if you want to discuss your options one-on-one.
The grassroots model
If you’re that concerned individuals in your organization may have dramatically different needs, consider a bottoms-up, or “grassroots” model. Every individual can choose when they do and don’t come into the office—some folks may come in every day; some may never set foot in your office again.
- Pros: Flexibility and empowerment. Implementing a model like this signals your deep trust in your team members to manage their work in the way that works best for them. It’s also easy to enforce because there’s nothing to enforce.
- Cons: Inconsistent expectations across your org could make it tough for everyone—from ICs looking to collaborate with their counterparts, to your IT team figuring out audio for All Hands—to plan.
The team-centric model
If your organization has strong middle-management and teams with varying degrees of collaborative needs, you might delegate decisions about time-in-office to team leaders. Each leader works with their team to find the best balance of WFH to IRL, based on individual needs and preferences.
- Pros: Unlike the “grassroots model”, this creates predictability for employees on the team level. It also allows teams who mainly operate independently to choose remote-centric models, and teams who are more collaborative to spend time together in the office.
- Cons: This model only works if you have strong middle management capable of determining and enforcing the best model for their team. It also might not be ideal for teams who frequently collaborate with other teams.
The magic number model
In this model, you’ll decide on the number of days every employee should work in-office—whether that’s two days a week or fifty days a year. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.
- Pros: Like the most flexible models, this gives your employees the flexibility to control their own schedule, while also ensuring folks are collaborating in the office for some portion of the week (or year).
- Cons: Depending on how you configure this model, your employees may struggle to find overlaps with teammates…or find themselves showing up to network on a day when everyone else is out. If you aren’t using a scheduling tool that caps daily visitors, your office could exceed capacity without prior warning.
The 2 +1 model
In this model, everyone works in-office three days per week—two predetermined days (for example, everyone comes in on Tuesday and Thursday), and one “flex” day up to each individual’s discretion. You can either limit your employees to three days in-office or allow them to come in as many as they’d like—this is where your official capacity and resourcing come into play.
- Pros: This model has something for everything—it gives your employees a predictable time together in-office, dedicated days to work from home, and a touch of flexibility.
- Cons: This model is slightly complicated, and like most flexible-with-limits models, it could take a fair amount of overhead to organize and track.
The 1+1 model
If you want to give your employees even more flexibility, but your teams need dedicated time to collaborate IRL, the 1+1 model could work for you. In this set-up, each employee works two days in-office—one simultaneously with their team, as well as one “flex” day. As in the 2+1 model, you’ll need to decide whether employees can come in more than two days if they’d prefer.
- Pros: If your team has largely thrived while working from home, this model gives them time to collaborate and socialize, while still prioritizing remote work.
- Cons: Like the 2:1 model, this system will be hard to establish and enforce without a scheduling tool. And if you do choose to let employees come in more than two days per week, you could end up with crowded lunch lines and overbooked conference rooms.
The TGIOffice model
In this model, you’ll dedicate a weekday (or multiple weekdays) that are “office days”—you might expect everyone to show up Wednesdays and Fridays, for example, and work from home the rest of the week.
- Pros: The model creates consistency for your collaborative teams, is easy to enforce, and makes it simple to predict daily capacity in your space. This could also be a good option if you have plenty of room to grow, or if you plan to share a space with another company.
- Cons: Depending on your space, this might not be the most efficient use of it—in theory, your office could stand utterly empty several days per week. And while it gives your employees clarity, it doesn’t give them much flex.
Thinking outside the office
Regardless of which model (or combination of models) you decide is best for your company, you may want to build relationships and collaborate outside of the traditional office. A formal plan to get outside of the office can become an important way to supplement any policy. Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Establish always-on flex spaces. Take a cue from Thumbtack, who will be opening up “libraries that function as communal spaces for their remote employees—not offices, but shared spaces to give employees the opportunity to work outside of their homes. If you anticipate that your workforce will be largely remote, or you have a handful of employees who live outside commuting distance to your office, this could be a smart option.
- Host “off-campus” meetings IRL. If your team will be largely remote (or using one of the flexible models outlined above) you may still want to regularly rent conference rooms for important meetings, presentations, and gatherings. This can be a cost-effective, low-commitment way of bringing folks together.
- Plan annual (or quarterly) retreats. If your company has reduced its need for office space, you might want to reinvest some of those dollars in a regular company retreat. Even if your team is largely in-office, a shared experience in a new environment can spark fresh perspectives—and inspire serious team bonding.
We’re all eagerly anticipating the return to the office—whether that means multiple days in the office every week, or a weekend every quarter together in a tropical locale. Deciding on the right model is an important first step to reopening. I’d love to help you think through the right model for your team and make sure you have the tools you need to manage the overhead.