How will we work: 5 workplace models to get back on track in the hybrid era

Limited experience of hybrid working, and the different needs of the various employee segments, places management teams in a difficult position when making decisions on and how to return to work. There is no ideal solution. But also it seems that a poorly chosen strategy can cause serious damage to a company’s employer brand. I t’s not easy to choosethe right tactics.

Three. Well, 3.1 to be exact. This number appeared on the computer screens of managers at Procter & Gamble’s Gilette plant in the spring of 2021. Executives were previously tasked to develop a method to determine the optimum number of office days per week with the help of David Birnbach, a faculty mentor at MIT Sloan Business School. As part of the action learning process, they created a self-developed model that took into account, among several other aspects, the characteristics of work processes and the factors influencing employee satisfaction. The publication is available on the university website (MIT Sloan - M. Somers - June 2021)

So 3.1. is the ideal number. Could it be that simple? What are the factors that may tip the balance more towards the office or home working?

Author: Adam Horvath Board Member, European Association of Employer Branding Agencies Chief Sparkle Offizzer, Brandfizz

More efficient from home
Julian Birkinshaw is a professor at London Business School and author of the book Fast/Forward: Make Your Company Fit for the Future. He researced the topic: Efficient working for many decades. He studied the behaviour of workers in 2013 and again during the 2020 pandemic lockdown and found significant changes in how they are working. He learned that lockdown helped people focus on the tasks that really matter. They spent 12% less time drawn into large meetings and 9% more time interacting with customers and external partners. Lockdown also helped people take responsibility for their own schedules. Managers had less opportunity to micro-manage, and employees found their work was more valuable, and they were spending less time on tedious tasks.

The effects of working from home
-12% time spent in large meetings
+ 9% interaction time with customers and external partners
+ 50% to perform an independently selected task instead of a manager's instruction
-15% number of tasks classified as particularly tedious
Source: J. Birkinshaw, J. Cohen, P. Stach, Harvard Business Review, 2020

Significantly different needs
A recent survey of 5,000 people in the United States (Source: JM Barrero, N. Bloom, SJ Davis: Don't force people to come back to the office full-time. Harvard Business Review, Aug 2021), found that 33% of workers surveyed wanted to work in their home office only and didn't want to spend a single day within the corporate walls. Conversely, there is a significant number of people (24.5%) who would work exclusively from their workplace, presumably due to difficulty working from at home. This makes a CEO, thinking on their feet, trying to make the right decision for everyone very hard, even with the 3.1 calculation in mind. The complexity of the situation is compounded by the fact that we cannot state that working entirely from home is the right answer for everyone.

"Everyone back to the office 5 days a week!" – reverse effect
The Harvard Business Review published a survey in July 2021 involving 10,000 people in the U.S. Their conclusion was, those employers who insisted on future employees working at the office full-time, had the highest rejection rate. As well as 36.4% of current employees would look for another job if their employer reassigned them to full-time at the office, and more worryingly 6.4% would immediately resign.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” were the thoughts of managers at Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, who recently ordered everyone back to the office. This gained a lot of negative press, which carried on for weeks. The redundancies allegedly started right away, which of course was not confirmed by any of the companies. In any case, it is public knowledge that Goldman Sachs has announced an average salary increase of 30% in the 2 months after. Coincidence?

Future workplace models

What should companies settle for in such a complex and unpredictable environment? Daniel Davis Ph.D., a researcher at Hassel’s international, a work environment design consultancy (and former Research Director at the $ 9 billion startup, We Work) sees 5 possible scenarios.

Future workplace models

What should companies settle for in such a complex and unpredictable environment? Daniel Davis Ph.D., a researcher at Hassel’s international, a work environment design consultancy (and former Research Director at the $ 9 billion startup, We Work) sees 5 possible scenarios.

1. As it was: Employees return to the office and resume a regular nine-to-five routine. The office might be a bit more hygienic and flexible, but mostly this is the centralised office as it was before the pandemic.

2. Clubhouse: A hybrid model where employees visit the office when they need to collaborate and return home to do their focused work. The office serves as a social hub — the place people go to meet, socialize, and work together.

3.Activity-based working: Employees work from an office but don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they spend their day moving between a variety of workspaces, such as meeting rooms, phone booths, hot desks, and lounges. Prior to the pandemic, most Australian activity-based offices had approximately eight desks for every ten people (since people often worked elsewhere in the office). After the pandemic, firms are looking to shrink this as low as five desks between ten people, anticipating that many of their employees will be out of the office, working from home a couple of days per week.

4. Hub and spoke: Rather than traveling to a large office in the central business district, employees work from smaller satellite offices in the suburbs and neighborhoods closer to where they live. This saves them the commute to a central office while still providing the benefits of face-to-face interaction with colleagues.

5. Fully virtual: Employees work from home — or anywhere else they like — allowing companies to ditch expensive leases and build on what they started during the pandemic.

Satisfied with 3.1 days?
The results on whether staff at the Gilette Center in Massachusetts are satisfied with the three-day, or 3.1 days, office presence are not published yet. Neither can we state which of the above five models will work well and for who. Research findings however, suggest that the two extremes are unlikely to succeed between a five-day return and the unlimited home office ambiitons.
There’s a good chance we’ll come up with new, and innovative solutions soon.