How to get the balance right with hybrid working
If we’re to do hybrid working well, is there an optimum number of days we should be in the office?
It’s a question being asked by many CEOs, Chief People Officers, Workplace Directors and Line Managers. Hybrid working is not the same as remote working. By definition, it includes a combination of remote and in-office work. While some organizations are still experimenting with hybrid, a piece in the New York Times highlights that some CEOs are making this way of working permanent. So, how do we get the balance right between time in the office and time away? Does that even matter in the first place?
Getting the balance of hybrid working right
Let’s look at it from an organizational health perspective. Like individual health, organizations tend to be in a state of either improving or declining health – in other words, things are either getting better or worse for the business. And, just as we need to take action to look after our individual health, we must collectively take action to look after the health of our teams and the organization. That means taking a balanced view of what is good for us as individuals, for our team, and for the organization. Crucially, that’s a responsibility that everyone in the organization has, not just the senior leaders. So, the first question for everyone must be, ‘How do I think about my role in the sustainable success of our organization?’
Why does that matter? Organizations are collections of people, and their success relies on human factors and skills, such as building and sustaining relationships, communication, collaboration, planning and coordination. Getting things done effectively depends on the linkages within and beyond our own team. Our serendipitous connections help build relationships and an understanding of how things get done. When we join an organization, we subconsciously assimilate information that allows us to ‘fit in’, such as the culture, who’s who, how decisions get made and the nature of communication. That takes more time and effort to absorb in a completely virtual organization.
So a blend of remote and in-office working could be just what the doctor ordered for a healthy organization serious about good hybrid working. But how do we know what is the correct balance?
What’s the average number of days people work in the hybrid office?
According to our latest Hybrid Working Index, a survey of 49 organizations in 22 countries spanning 155,000 employees, people typically come into the office an average of 35% of the time, up from 29% a year ago. That equates to an average of 1.75 days per week across the population surveyed. Consequently, 37% of surveyed organizations see an opportunity to reduce their office space. With associated costs and sustainability responsibilities, employers will understandably want to be clear on when and how office space is best used.
What we’re seeing is that people value being able to work remotely. Hybrid work models provide a range of benefits, such as the ability to focus, saved commute time to focus on output, greater reach of collaboration via video or phone meetings and the ability to balance home and work responsibilities much more easily.
But that is just one facet of a healthy organization (productive employees). What is also required is the cohesiveness that enables things to be done collectively. That‘s a challenging thing to do purely virtually.
What factors determine how many days people should be in the office when working in a hybrid way?
Hybrid team leaders must think about how and when people come together physically so that new joiners can be integrated, and beyond-the-team relationships are built and maintained. We have found that the best way to achieve this at the team and organizational level is to be clear on what your organization means by hybrid working via a set of principles and then by defining some straightforward ways in which those principles are brought to life, through what we call the Core Working Together Agreement. Using that as a foundation, each team can build their own Team Working Together Agreement, setting out how the distinctive needs of the roles in their team can be best met when working in a hybrid way. This agreement will set the good foundations for the future of work within your organization.
The advantage of using a Working Together Agreement approach is that everyone in the team has a voice and personal responsibility for ensuring that their team and the organization works in a productive and socially cohesive way.
Is there an optimum number of days people should be in the office? Well, it depends on several factors:
- The nature of work performed: Does it involve the need for close-up and regular collaboration throughout the day with other people or teams?
- The individual’s personal circumstances: Do they have safe and appropriate home working environments?
- The geographical spread of the workforce: Is productivity offset by a lengthy commute?
- The availability of suitable collaboration technology: Is it sufficient to make remote collaboration effective across the organization?
- Organizational culture: Is there a mature environment where people are expected to take personal accountability for themselves and their productivity, or are they stuck in a parent/child relationship system of management?
With these questions honestly addressed, it is possible to achieve high productivity and high engagement with low levels of office attendance, i.e., up to 20% in-office attendance. However, where there is a need for high levels of close collaboration, then the attendance rate may need to be 60% or more.
Whose responsibility is hybrid working?
So, who has responsibility for making this happen? First of all, the CEO and top team need to hold these hybrid workplace principles up as the standard expected of the organization. After that, it falls to line managers to make the principles and working together agreements come to life for the organization. To do that effectively, they need proper training and support. It’s a worthwhile investment because we’re essentially talking about a ‘new operating system’ for the organization, to increase effectiveness and resilience.