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As companies reopen their offices, they are deciding how the virtual work arrangements they’ve relied on during the pandemic will factor into their long-term plans — or not.
Google’s “flexible workweek” calls for employees to spend at least three days a week in the office and the rest at home. Microsoft’s “hybrid workplace” means most employees can spend up to half their time working remotely. Ford Motor’s “flexible hybrid work model” leaves it up to workers and their managers to decide how much time they need to spend in the office.
Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase don’t have names for their postpandemic policies, because they expect most employees to return to the office for most of the time. Goldman’s C.E.O., David Solomon, called working from home an “aberration,” and JPMorgan’s chief, Jamie Dimon, said it had “serious weaknesses.”
But many companies have hatched a postpandemic plan in which employees return to the office for some of the time while mixing in more work from home than before. The appeal of this compromise is clear: Employers hope to give employees the flexibility and focus that come from working at home without sacrificing the in-person connections of the office.
How, exactly, to strike this balance can be less obvious.
Should companies require employees to be in the office on certain days? For a set number of days each week? How should those in the office accommodate colleagues working remotely?
To help answer pressing questions like these, DealBook assembled advice from experts about where to start, how to avoid common pitfalls, and the most important things to consider when not everyone is working in the same place.
a comparison of two accounting companies, researchers found that a flatter hierarchy helped facilitate virtual work, because remote workers didn’t feel too far from the center of the organization. Our own research also found a strong correlation between employee autonomy and productivity outside the office.
What is the culture of the company? Companies with an individualistic culture seem to make a smoother transition to virtual work; by contrast, companies that stress “us” over “me” have been slower to adopt online collaboration.
What is each team’s schedule? If schedules are similar and work is interdependent, it’s good to encourage everyone to work roughly at the same time. If employees live in different time zones, it’s better to set a few common windows for real-time communications like videoconferences, and let most other work unfold through email or document sharing.
These factors make it easier for managers to address the most common challenges faced by hybrid teams. Take communication barriers: What if half the team is in the office and the other half is dialing in from home? If their locations are dispersed (so the Zoom callers can’t make it into the office) and the organization is flat and decentralized, the company could use a buddy system to make each person in the room responsible for keeping one particular Zoom caller fully in the conversation. If the caller misses something, the in-room buddy can fill in that person via text chat; if the caller is being talked over, the in-room buddy can step in to ensure that the person is heard.
Another common dilemma is deciding exactly who will be in the office on which days. This is further complicated by a significant gap between executive and employee perspectives, with most executives feeling that company culture depends on people spending at least three days a week in the office and most employees saying they want to spend at least three days a week working remotely.