Top Return to Work Models for Businesses
With many of your employees and team members receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or scheduled to receive the vaccine, decisions around how (or even if) employees return to the office are top of mind for management teams around the world. Based on moves and plans at the clients we work with, we’re seeing three primary return-to-work models that you should be considering for your office.
Full Time in Office:
In this model, companies are electing to allow or require all employees to permanently return to the office space as soon as Labor Day. While most employees will be vaccinated, many companies are not requiring that each employee be vaccinated. As such, while in the office, many safety precautions will still be put in place, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and minimal shared equipment.
Full Time Remote:
In this model, companies are allowing employees to remain remote for the foreseeable future. In fact, some companies have allowed some employees to leave the “100-mile radius” and move to different states and cities during this remote period. Companies pursuing this model often see it as both a cost saving measure and an employee retention measure.
In this model, employees will be allowed to work from home most of the time, but will also be expected to work at the office with their team once in a while (typically one day a week or one week a month). We’re seeing decisions around “team in office” days being left to managers, allowing for flexibility in the model. We’re also seeing some companies pursuing the hybrid model follow a “100-mile rule” where employees can live anywhere within 100 miles of the home office. Hybrid models allow teams to maximize efficiency and productivity as well as reconnect with one another.
Throughout this article, we will cover the pros and cons of each return-to-work model, discuss what other companies in different industries are picking, and help you decide which return-to-work model is the best fit for your company and team.
Full Time in Office:
Establishment of planning, ideation, and collaboration
A survey conducted by Prudential Financial for its employees indicated that the majority of remote employees missed the planning, ideation, and collaboration that takes place when all employees are in the office. When employees are all together under one roof, there is a sense of unity and work culture that leads to better communication and impromptu conversations which in turn sparks creativity, innovation, and new ideas. Instead of emailing a new idea or proposal to a manager or coworker, employees can bounce their ideas off of each other leading to better collaboration and morale.
Development of culture and creativity
When considering the culture of many top companies, it’s easy to forget how long it takes to create and develop that culture. Not only does it take years of work, but also consistent employees that are working closely together and spending time together. Whether it is a relaxed climate where employees just bounce new ideas off each other or a competitive atmosphere that leads to constant innovation, remote work has stripped the culture away from many companies. Moving all employees under one roof allows each company to find and develop their culture again, boosting morale, creativity, and creating a consistent office structure.
Training and evaluating employees
When employees are mixed between in-person and remote or fully remote, it becomes much harder to quickly train and update a new employee and even more difficult to provide equal consideration and attention to each employee. With all employees together in one office, it allows managers and employers to evaluate everyone equally for new opportunities and advancements as well as onboard and train employees more efficiently.
Many remote employees have moved to different cities or states
From March 2020 to December 2020, as many as 89,00 households moved out of San Francisco. Furthermore, New York City followed this trend as over 333,000 people moved out of the city since the start of the pandemic. With many employees electing to relocate to areas with lower costs of living and more space during the pandemic, how will companies that elect to move fully in-person handle these employees? For many companies in cities where their employees have moved away, it can not only be expensive for the employee but also a hassle for the company to relocate all employees and coordinate a plan to bring back all employees. More often than not, this will result in many companies losing key employees and struggling to return to work on time.
Scheduling around schools and children’s schedules
While your company may allow or require all employees to return, it is important to consider that many schools (and their afterschool programs), daycares, and summer camps will remain remote or closed for some time. Requiring all employees to return to the office can create a predicament for employees with children as one parent may have to quit working or parents may be tasked with leaving their children with a full-time nanny.
While we have more insight into the nature of the virus and how the vaccine prevents hospitalization, there are still many uncertainties when it comes to identifying how and if it can spread among vaccinated individuals. Will people still need to wear masks and sit 6 feet apart? Will employees be able to each lunch together and work closely or will companies have to stagger departure times? These are many questions where we do not have a complete answer and are instead tasked with handling these problems to the best of our abilities. As such, companies must figure out their responses to each of these problems which can cause additional headaches and unforeseen expenses.
Full Time Remote:
Increased productivity and efficiency
A report from Prodoscore suggested that from March of 2020, productivity among remote workers has been up 47%. With the average commute time around 30 minutes, working remotely can save up to an hour each day. Additionally, working from home eliminates many distractions and cuts down on those long lunches some employees like to take. While there are distractions at home, especially for employees with young kids, overall, working remotely has allowed employees to complete tasks faster and have a faster turnaround time for projects.
Equal opportunity for advancement and opportunities
Like with going fully in-person, staying fully remote allows managers to equally evaluate and consider newer employees. Especially, if one or more employees are not working in person, working remotely is the best work model to ensure that each employee is heard and considered as individuals are all in one call rather than a mix of in-person and on calls. Additionally, conducting interviews and business proposals remotely allows companies to meet new clients and potential candidates from all around the nation without expensive travel planning, not just from a specific geographical area.
Lower costs and higher safety
For companies with many buildings scattered around a metroplex or the nation, working remotely has drastically cut down on the expenses from the buildings all while reducing their carbon footprint. This increased budget has allowed some companies to reallocate their money to projects and teams that need more funding. Additionally, maintaining a remote model will allow employees to better protect their kids who are not vaccinated as well as employees who refuse or are not able to be vaccinated.
Difficult to develop a company’s culture
Overall, having a strong company culture helps retain employees as well as improve each of the employees’ engagement, productivity, and performance. What remote work has done and is continuing to do is disrupt and eliminate many companies’ cultures, creating atmospheres where new and old employees feel less encouragement and motivation compared to working in the office.
Increasingly difficult to train new employees
For many employers, training employees remotely has become a tedious and time-consuming process. With traditional in-person methods, employees could simply walk over to their supervisor to ask a question or review their work. Nowadays, they must either schedule a call or send an email which can take hours for a response. Furthermore, not having constant face-to-face supervision can decrease the morale and motivation of these newly onboarded employees leading to slower learning and development.
Younger employees are developing slower
As many new employees enter the workforce, the lack of face-to-face supervision and the increased difficulty of asking questions and accessing information has limited the growth and development of many younger employees. In many jobs that require constant access to managerial support and communication, new employers have struggled to assimilate to the new environment and complete projects in a timely manner. Additionally, as a remote employee, it is much more difficult to ask questions and review work than it would be for traditional in-person employees. As such, many companies are struggling to onboard and train new employees in fields and departments that require constant supervision and support.
Access to teams for newer and more tenured employees
One of the most common hybrid models is where teams or departments get to go into the office for 1-2 days a week and are remote for the remaining days. What this does is allow each of these teams to reconnect and better teach and onboard newer employees. This type of “reconnection” amongst teams develops the culture, creativity, and allows more tenured employees to get to know newer employees better, especially those that joined during the pandemic. Lastly, employees that need more help or special attention on a project can more easily receive this attention during in-person days.
Technology to make it work
Throughout the pandemic, many technology companies have designed software and devices that allow in-person and remote employees to better communicate and connect. For example, Microsoft Teams has rolled out a system called “Teams Rooms” which will link any conference room to any remote user who wants to attend the meeting. Furthermore, each of these “Teams Rooms” has software that recognize a person’s voice and will project their name on a screen which allows managers to distinguish between remote and in-person employees. Furthermore, many of these communication platforms including Slack, Zoom, and Teams have new functions that allow remote employees to easily connect to a meeting via their phone.
For many current remote employees, the change in scenery and the new connection for one to two days a week is enough for employees to develop and get a feel for the company’s culture. In a recent Buffer study, remote employees cited “loneliness” as their biggest struggle. Allowing employees to meet with their team members each week increases team spirit, motivation, and productivity.
Evaluating promotions and opportunities
Perhaps the most difficult challenge of a hybrid return structure is evaluating employees for promotions and opportunities. For those who cannot return to the office, ensuring that their coworker who is face-to-face does not receive more attention and subsequently more opportunities for advancement is extremely difficult to manage. Additionally, the impromptu conversations and the ability to quickly talk to managers and supervisors allow many managers to grow closer to employees that are consistently returning to work each week further growing the gap between remote and in-person workers.
Coordinating meetings and projects
While most teams will try and maintain their remote and in-person status on the same day, there will be times when other departments and team members will not all have the same status. During these times, it can be a headache to coordinate tasks, manage work schedules, and communicate different ideas and questions.
Remote-only employee exclusion
While a hybrid model gives many employees more flexibility in their living situations, there are still many employees who have grown extremely fond of working entirely from home. For these employees, the “100-mile rule” and in-office days could be a deal killer that turns them to fully remote companies. Hybrid models also exclude a large talent pool of workers who live in other states and can’t or won’t participate in office days.
Which Model should your Company choose?
When evaluating the different return-to-work models, the most important consideration you should take is what your company does and the employees that make up your company. Below, we have listed the considerations you should take for each model as well as companies that are adopting each model.
The case for in-person:
For companies that hire many new and young employees each year that require weeks of onboarding and constant supervision, an in-person work model allows for each employee to feel the support and encouragement they need to succeed and develop within the company. Additionally, if your company or team is predicated on innovating and producing new creative ideas, adopting an in-person model will best foster your teams’ creative mindset. Lastly, it is important to note that if your company has a lot of younger or older employees without kids at home, adopting a fully in-person schedule will be less of an inconvenience and hassle for many of your employees.
The case for hybrid:
Perhaps the most popular model among companies in the United States, this model allows employees to have the most flexibility. For larger companies with many teams and departments, employing a hybrid model allows you to return to work and develop connections and culture among different departments and teams. Furthermore, companies with employees that have kids will be able to schedule around their return to office days. Finally, employees that need extra attention or more supervision can come into the office more and receive the support that they need.
Example Companies: Adobe, Zillow, Prudential Financial, Toyota
The case for remote:
Throughout this remote period, many employees have been more productive and have finished projects and deals more quickly in comparison to being in the office. If your company has many employees that are at high risk or have kids with hectic schedules, maintaining a remote culture indefinity will be the best fit. Moreover, if your company is an industry that is not based on creativity and the arts, maintaining a remote work model can increase productivity and cut back on your office expenses.
Example Companies: Mastercard, Uber, GitLab (remote since their founding in 2011)
We have been working with clients throughout the pandemic to support work from home and return to office strategies. Our team can help you evaluate the options above or craft a custom plan to keep your employees happy, healthy, and productive. To learn more, contact us today.