With the rising popularity of hybrid work, you might assume that creating a hybrid schedule would be an easy task. But that would be a wrong assumption. Many companies and their leadership are still struggling to come up with a plan that can keep employees happy and ensure maximum productivity.
Moreover, even for those that have created a hybrid schedule, many aren’t providing the right guidance. Or leveraging the right data to make it successful.
In this article, we detail the three necessary steps to creating a great hybrid schedule for any company:
We’ll also explore different scheduling options, and provide examples of successful hybrid schedules in action.
Workplace experts from Savills dive into the strategies needed
to make a smooth transition to hybrid work.
By now, we’re all familiar with hybrid working… the workplace strategy that combines some amount of in-office work with some amount of remote work.
Thanks to the pandemic, the majority of workers have some experience with a hybrid work model.
Also thanks to the pandemic, many leaders have had to confront any of their preconceived notions against remote working. Indeed, contrary to once popularly held opinion, productivity can actually increase when people work from home.
“If people need to go to the office, and if they go there for connection and collaboration, then we need to ensure the office is set up and adopted as a tool to support this work,” says Mary Carnes, Senior Workplace Solutions Consultant at OfficeSpace.
The following clip is about understanding the purpose of the office:
But what does hybrid mean for a job? If you advertise a job as being ‘hybrid,’ or if you tell workers they can enjoy a hybrid work environment, what does that really mean?
It’s much easier said than done to create a hybrid schedule that is actually flexible and optimized. Also one that employees actually like, and that actually helps with both talent attraction and retention
Decision makers who are actively trying to create a successful schedule for a hybrid office therefore need to follow these three simple yet crucial steps.
First and foremost, the best hybrid schedule will be backed up by robust data. To create the right hybrid work options, you need to understand how much physical office space is currently available. This is, of course, along with how employees are currently interacting with it and each other.
In short, improving employee engagement starts with understanding employee engagement—and that includes understanding their workdays when they’re in-office.
So before you can think about creating a hybrid work policy, you need to be able to answer a host of questions, including:
Further complicating things, unless you’re a very small company, then you’re likely going to need different office schedules for different teams and/or departments.
“There’s no signal answer of a perfect workplace that will work for every company or companies within an industry or region,” says OfficeSpace CEO David Cocchiara. “I would even argue there’s probably not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution within a company.”
So to answer all these questions and make the best possible schedule for each department, decision makers have a few options for collecting data to determine what each specific team needs.
Facility managers (FMs) could walk the floor to get a feeling for where people are sitting and how they’re behaving when at work.
But clearly this alone won’t nearly provide all the nuanced answers you need.
So perhaps companies could send out some employee surveys, too. This would be to see what days of the week people think they’ll work best in the office.
But we know from market research that people are actually pretty terrible predictors of their own future behavior.
Of course, we’ll explore below, it’s always a good idea to survey employees. This is to see what their preferences are for the type of hybrid work schedules and other arrangements they’d like. And walking the floor is unlikely to go anywhere fast.
But for any company looking to move beyond imprecise guesses and observations, the only answer to planning flexible schedules and creating a truly productive workweek for everyone is to collect a wide range of accurate, real-time data from a variety of sources.
Specifically, FMs should be collecting as much advanced workplace analytics as possible from the following sources:
It’s important to note that simply collecting this data alone is also not enough. If data lives in silos, then it helps no one—at least not in a hybrid workplace.
“With the office becoming more complex, people need more from their data,” says Kathleen Williams, OfficeSpace Senior Product Manager. “They need to be able to look across their information silos and break them down as much as possible. My advice to companies is that you can’t rely on just one source of data. Unstructured data won’t cut it anymore. You need to bring your large datasets together to truly solve business problems.”
When companies are able to combine their disparate data into meaningful workplace reports and analytics, they can start to get a fuller picture of how people are using the office. Also, of course, along with how to pivot to make it more efficient and effective.
Specifically, when companies combine and assess data properly, they can use it to address a variety of workplace concerns. This fuels better decision-making for their overarching hybrid work policy.
They’ll be able to better configure the office for the teams that prioritize in-person work.
And they’ll be able to better identify where there may be gaps or unnecessary spaces in their real estate portfolio. This could potentially lead to big savings down the line.
Plus, as we’ll see below, data is at the heart of every other decision you’ll make for your hybrid team members.
“Ultimately, everyone is trying to answer the question of whether there could be a better fit between who’s coming into the workplace and the resources they have when they get there,” says Williams. “At the end of the day, employees need to be able to come together when the times are right for them to come together and collaborate. And they need to be allowed to work remotely or autonomously when the time’s right for that. That’s much harder to do, and it takes better data and visibility to make it possible.”
If it’s not fit for purpose, down to the team level and down to the individual, you may be misappropriating funds, resources, space, and technology.Angie Earlywine, Cushman & Wakefield
If it’s not fit for purpose, down to the team level and down to the individual, you may be misappropriating funds, resources, space, and technology.
We know that employees want flexibility in terms of when and where they work. This is more than they specifically want a hybrid model. And they definitely don’t want an inflexible schedule, even if it’s technically hybrid.
Like Colleen McCreary, chief people officer at Credit Karma, tells CNBC, “if my kid has soccer on Thursdays and I have to be in the office all day on Thursday and can’t get him there, that may be hybrid, but it’s not flexible and isn’t working for me.”
In other words, companies certainly can mandate a hybrid schedule, and for some hybrid teams, that will be appropriate and/or necessary. But we know that most workers in most companies want as much autonomy over their own schedules as possible.
Of course, with all the benefits of working remotely, we also know that there are downstream benefits of more face time; companies aren’t wrong to want to encourage more face-to-face collaboration (and no, Zoom doesn’t count)
But if they don’t want to mandate office time on specific days, what can companies do? They can turn the office into a desirable collaboration space, and highlight all the ways coming in benefits everyone.
That’s why we’re seeing lots of companies exploring lots of perks (like free lunch or travel reimbursements, for example) in an effort to tempt people into the office. And while those strategies are important, employees are only going to make the effort to come into the physical office if it provides benefits that you simply can’t get at your home office.
As such, companies need to position the office in such a way that it boosts collaboration and productivity.
This will likely mean exploring a variety of work environment types that are specifically designed for boosting collaboration—think activity based working, agile working, and neighborhood workspaces.
And this will often be done hand-in-hand with creating more new and improved collaboration spaces, like huddle rooms (which tend to work better for hybrid meetings), more effective conference rooms, and more engaging flex room ideas. In fact, a large percentage of OfficeSpace clients are planning to add more remote collaboration technology, collaboration spaces, and social spaces in the coming year.
Finally, this will also mean talking to employees about how in-office work can help contribute to the flexible work culture we’re all craving. Like we’ll explore next, leadership needs to communicate all the benefits of making time for some office days—even when you might rather stay home in your jogging pants.
“There has to be a balance of social connectivity along with purpose in the workplace today.”Surabhi Raman, Savills
“There has to be a balance of social connectivity along with purpose in the workplace today.”
Hybrid working is clearly desirable, but it’s not without its challenges. Everyone on the team is going to need help and guidance as they work to find a schedule and solution that jives with both their professional duties and personal lives.
Good project management and leadership has always been important for leaders. But transitioning to a whole new way of working is inherently stressful. As the world of work gets murkier and increasingly complex, leadership will need to be more conscious of how they help employees navigate this workplace transformation.
“In terms of what’s successful in workplace planning, taking a ‘no policy’ approach doesn’t tend to work very well,” says Williams. “Even if you’re not sure what the best possible strategy is going to be at the start, you still want a strategy regardless.“
So yes, ideally, your company will have agility and a ‘can-do’ approach to testing out different models well into the future. But in the meantime, employees need to know what’s expected of them right now. That means hybrid employees need clear guidelines about how and why to use the office, as well as how to interact with their digital workspace and what’s expected of them overall.
Specifically, everyone on the team needs clear answers to the following questions:
Communicating these guidelines is often best handled in collaboration with HR. Many OfficeSpace clients also find it useful to create a FAQ section and/or more formal guides on their company portals.
But regardless of whether it’s done in a formal guide or through regular, on-going emails, Cocchiara writes in Forbes that “clear and constant communication can reduce the level of confusion employees may have and quell any uneasiness they may be feeling.”
Moreover, new research finds that hybrid leaders need better communication and organizational skills. This is along with more analytical and cognitive ability to help navigate this ‘new normal.’ Leading from a trust-first perspective is critical here. But you can’t trust people to do the right thing, unless they actually know what the right thing is.
Leadership also needs to ensure that remote employees have the same tools and support that their in-office counterparts do. Only 46% of companies currently help employees with remote work expenses. A number that will surely need to increase to ensure that remote workers are able to be full contributors.
Finally, as part of this process, leadership should also be checking-in regularly and conducting surveys. This is to see how people are feeling about their work-life balance. Remote teams in particular might need these extra touches to help create a truly connected workplace.
This is the best way to maintain an employee centric culture, as well as to create a feedback loop that, in conjunction with other data, can be used to make the hybrid office, and the hybrid work schedule, better and better.
“One thing we’re seeing in conversations with clients is that communication with employees is key in the new flexible work environment. Leaders need to make sure all employees are informed on how, what, when, and why.” David Cocchiara, CEO, OfficeSpace
“One thing we’re seeing in conversations with clients is that communication with employees is key in the new flexible work environment. Leaders need to make sure all employees are informed on how, what, when, and why.”
So what will your hybrid work schedule look like? Only one thing is for sure… It will look different from company to company, from department to department, and even from team to team.
That said, a majority of OfficeSpace clients will be expecting employees to be in the office 2-3 days a week in the coming year. This is actually in-line with how most employees are currently using the office.
Beyond this, there are some popular hybrid schedule options emerging.
When choosing a hybrid work model for their workplace, leadership needs to keep one thing in mind. It’s likely going to take a little trial and error to get a bespoke hybrid arrangement that truly works. You need to be both willing and able to test and reiterate.
“The thoughts you have today on how the workplace will best benefit the employees and the business may not actually be where you end up, and you may go through different variations as we go through this journey of experimentation and really reengaging in the workplace,” says Cocchiara. “It’s really important to stay agile as we figure out what flexibility means and test different methodologies and office configurations.”
In short, without workplace agility, it’s going to be very hard to find a hybrid schedule that works for everyone and for the long run.
Despite the inherent challenges, many OfficeSpace clients are creating unique and successful hybrid schedules.
For example, one health insurance company, with 1,700+ people spread out across multiple states and offices, has mandated that every employee needs to spend one day in the office each week. But they get to choose which day that is, and beyond that, they get to choose their own schedule. Employees that commit to three in-office days a week or more get their own assigned desk. Everyone else is considered a commuter and needs to share desks.
The facilities team for this company accommodates all this flexibility by collecting data and creating robust reporting dashboards to manage new seating arrangements. They started by doing an analysis of each department to determine the optimal number of shared seats needed. Now, going forward, they continue to look at monthly capacity reports for each location. This is along with reservation percentages by week and by day.
And to help manage their new flexible workplace, they put all shared seats on the outside of their floor plans. This saves the middle area for the more stable assigned seats. This makes it easier for them to grow and shrink the number of shared seats as necessary.
Another client in the nonprofit space is taking an extremely data-driven approach to managing their 600 employees operating in 15 offices. They’d never had any hybrid working prior to the pandemic. So they knew what they didn’t know when it came to the return to the office. Instead of mandating a schedule, they’ve taken a wait-and-see approach.
Namely, everyone the team currently gets to decide when they come into the office—if at all. But the facilities team asked everyone to use desk booking software to book out desks for six months in advance. Once those six months are up, they’ll have real-world data about how people are using the office. Data that their leadership will use to create a hybrid schedule and improve corporate real estate optimization going forward.
One of the biggest struggles for hybrid employees is being able to see who else is using the office on any given day. And/or who is planning to use it in the future. It’s only when they’re able to plan their schedules in alignment with their colleagues that hybrid employees will be able to maximize collaboration.
In short, one of the biggest barriers to adopting a truly flexible hybrid model has to do with workplace visibility. Without visibility, employees often make the (often troublesome) commute to the office—only to find no one else there.
Of course, visibility is easy to achieve in a traditional office, or even one with a mandated hybrid schedule. But companies looking to explore more flexible working schedules may also want to explore using a visual directory. Who’s In from OfficeSpace, for example, provides a searchable list of all the employees who plan to be in the office on a certain day.
Ideally, this visual directory will be accessible via mobile app. This allows employees to find and connect with colleagues (and their upcoming schedules) while they’re ‘on the go.’
And ideally, it will also be part of the same workplace experience software that helps employees to find and book desks and rooms, submit requests, and stay in the loop overall.
Finally, it’s important to note that office renovations can cost up to $290 per square foot.
So yes, while companies may want to reconfigure their real estate portfolio to better accommodate full-time hybrid work, there’s an inherent risk to any major changes.
To make these types of decisions, companies will need space utilization data, like cost per usage (to determine if employee attendance justifies the lease cost), actual usage versus full potential (to determine if they need to consolidate, sublease, or expand), and whether they can get more efficiency out of their current space.
Workplace data can also be used to help answer day-to-day questions like whether you have the office basics like desks, parking, and food right for whoever is coming in in the short term.
In short, “companies need good data to find the right balance,” says Williams.
Creating a hybrid work schedule may be complicated, but the end results shouldn’t be. Simply put, a good hybrid work schedule is one that can be measured and adjusted as necessary.
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