Large American companies are discovering that “hybrid” work carries many complications.
As employers sign plans to bring white-collar workers back to the offices while still allowing them to do some work at home, many run into roadblocks. Businesses are grappling with new schedules that employees must follow, where people should sit in redesigned offices, and how best to prevent employees at home from feeling left out of impromptu office discussions or being ignore looking for opportunities, say CEOs, board directors and others.
Prudential Financial Insurer Inc.,
Expecting the majority of its roughly 42,000 employees to work in the office half the time starting on Labor Day, it wants to ensure that not all employees choose to stay home on Mondays and Fridays and then work in the office on weekdays. At Expedia Group travel company Inc.,
executives are trying to figure out how to have face-to-face meetings that don’t hurt those not in the room. Other employers, including software company Twilio Inc.,
They predict that the new era of work could lead to changes between teams, with employees gravitating towards bosses who adopt their preferred work styles.
Hybrid work “is going to redefine expectations, rules and permissions,” says Kevin McCarty, chief executive of Chicago-based consultancy West Monroe, which employs 1,360 people and is reconsidering when its employees should work at home or enter your home. Offices.
The new work style is sure to be another transition for workers who had to adjust to life at home a year ago. Although executives say it would be easier to manage if all employees returned to an office, or if everyone stayed away, surveys have repeatedly shown that most workers want a mixed approach as more adults are vaccinated. In a February survey of 1,000 companies commissioned by LaSalle Network, a national recruiting and recruiting company, most companies said they would adopt a hybrid model.
Companies have also surveyed their organizations to find out how employees feel. In Prudential,
Most employees indicated that they enjoyed working remotely but missed the planning, ideation and collaboration that takes place in person, says Rob Falzon, a vice president for the company.
Prudential has been redesigning its office space floor by floor and repurposing most of it for meeting rooms, collaboration and open spaces so that people are more likely to interact. Falzon says he insisted on adding video capacity in more small meeting spaces, not just conference rooms, so people working from home don’t feel left out.
Like many employers, the company is reducing its physical footprint, so desks will not be available for people who want to go to the office more often, with exceptions for some employees, including tradesmen. “We don’t have a desk for you every day,” says Falzon. “We have a desk for you three days a week.”
Range of hybrid models by company. The technology company Adobe Inc.
plans to allow employees to work from home up to two to three days a week, with staff capable of booking office desks, says Gloria Chen, the company’s chief of staff. Other companies are hesitant to post a specific number on the days allowed at home. Factors including length of travel, type of job and an employee’s seniority could determine how often an employee must visit an office, executives say.
“We will not prescribe” at the company level, says David Henshall, CEO of technology company Citrix Systems. Inc.
“Depending on the type of role you have, you will find the right balance.”
With flexibility challenges can arise. If a team meets in person, but not everyone can, that potentially creates an unsatisfying experience for those not in the room, says Expedia CEO Peter Kern. The travel company opened the first phases of an expansive campus, complete with Wi-Fi-equipped rocks, on the shores of Seattle’s Elliott Bay before the pandemic, and plans to initially allow spaced group team meetings at its headquarters.
Kern, however, says he has doubts about whether those in Zoom will get the same level of learning, encouragement, and professional growth as those in the room. Then there are the scheduling problems.
Managers may need to “organize group meetings according to some crazy algorithm of: Who is available and when? Who has a flexible day, when? “Says Mr. Kern.” There’s a lot of friction in all of that. It’s so much easier to say, ‘Everybody go to work.’ Now somebody calls a meeting and they’re all there. “
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A new way of working will require the company to think differently about performance, says Kern. Managers need to be careful not to make biased judgments against those who may spend less time in the office, which requires the company to be “really thoughtful about how we evaluate people and give them opportunities so that we don’t end up with biased results.” .
Training and onboarding can be more challenging in a hybrid environment, especially if new hires have a harder time understanding company culture without regular, in-person interaction with colleagues, says Tom Gimbel, CEO of LaSalle Network. With younger employees, “for them to learn something, they have to be surrounded by people with more experience,” he says.
Other companies have said they would allow remote work in limited circumstances. In a memo, executives from the New York Times Co.
He said the company planned to reopen its main offices in September and did not intend to go completely remote. The company “would approve remote work only in locations where the team and the nature of the work can accommodate it.”
Some HR professionals say that companies will have no choice but to adapt to worker demands, as an inflexible workplace could drive employees away as the economy recovers and because many workers have proven themselves adept at work anywhere.
“The employer before could only say, ‘This is our culture,’” says Tara Wolckenhauer, a human resources executive at payroll processor Automatic Data Processing. Inc.
“Employers have to step back and think very differently.”
—Krithika Varagur contributed to this article.
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