Virtual Teams

Hybrid work is not about how many days you are in the office 

We are having a lot of discussion around hybrid work at the moment in countries where it is becoming possible to spend at least part of the time in the office. But should we set a fixed target of how many days to be in the office, or is this the opposite of the flexibility we are all looking for?

Those in the planning stage preparing for hybrid teams are very focused right now on how many days someone should come into the office. It is a reasonable thing to think about and employees do need to know at some level what pattern of work they are going to be working.

It also gives managers a feeling of certainty, I am going to be able to see my people x days per week.

Most of our clients seem to be gravitating towards a guideline of two or three days per week in the office.

But how can a fixed amount of time in the office be appropriate for all the different jobs in an organisation – there are clearly some jobs that require frequent physical interaction and others where it is completely unnecessary.

People who have worked remotely successfully for 12 months or more are asking why they need to come into the office so often, if at all.

We do think that every organisation will have certain guiderails to ensure a certain level of interaction between people, to build the culture and maintain relationships. We can already see that this is varying a lot depending on the corporate culture of the client.

In general, senior leaders want to spend more time in the office than the rest of their people would prefer.

Others are experimenting with different patterns. Just this morning I was talking to a Chinese client where they have company Thursdays once a month when people are all expected to come into the office, they provide snacks but discourage formal meetings.

Others are doing the maths and saying, if we want to ensure some overlap periods between teams and stop them becoming isolated, then we need to have them in the office 60% of the time so there is always an overlap.

In facilitating our hybrid working workshops we are getting people to think about the office not as a place where you must go for a certain number of days a week, but as a resource that you use when getting face to face really adds value.

After our experiences in working successfully in a completely remote environment it would be a shame if we commuted into an office every week to sit there and do our emails or join virtual meetings. If we do, expect people to be pretty dissatisfied with this.

Getting back to the office will be great for relationship building, team building, resolving conflict, evaluating ideas, celebration and creating innovation etc. so we should prioritise our face-to-face time around these tasks.

We have been training remote managers for over 25 years, many of them in international teams where you’re face to face time has always been a scarce resource due to the cost and time involved in travelling.  International managers are used to prioritising this scarce resource carefully

Working from home is great for focus on the delivery of individual tasks, we definitely shouldn’t be doing those tasks from a building an hour away from our house.

I know it is really difficult to manage this level of nuance at scale. If you have hundreds of thousands of employees, as many of our clients do, you will need some guidelines initially, but I do hope we will be able to allow a more thoughtful and flexible approach as hybrid working evolves

A Swedish organization we are talking to is recommending 8 days per month in the office and asking people to think carefully about when they invest this scarce resource. I quite like this as a way of positioning it, it allows you to be flexible within the month, sets expectations but does not tie you to a rigid routine of weekly visits.

I do appreciate that for some people with external commitments a more flexible pattern may be difficult to manage. I do not think that hybrid working as a one size fits all solution will deliver the flexibility we all hope for.

I do know that now is the time to be having these discussions. People are keen to know what their working pattern will be and. without discussing these issues. we may be developing expectations about flexibility that we cannot then subsequently deliver.

How is your organisation dealing with this?

If you would like to hear more about how we are facilitating these discussions around hybrid working in organisations around the world, please get in touch

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