Based on the Interview with Professor Nick Bloom at the Wharton Confererence
Hybrid work is here to stay
- 40% of Americans said if they were forced back to the office 5 days a week they would look for other work/quit.
- ¼ people never want to work from home again (hate it, depressing, isolating)
- ¼ of people want to permanently work from home (loved it, more productive, better work life balance)
- ½ is shared between WFH 1/2/3/4 days a week
We know that people are not always good at understanding what will make them happy in the future. This is why asking people prior to their coming back to the office before the move may not actually help us to find what people want. On the other hand it is very clear that mandating workers to come back 5 days a week will be terrible for organisations – with up to 40% of employees stating they would quit if faced with this decision. The advent of digital tools will help us increase our ability to work from anywhere and the “sweet” spot of hybrid work seems to be the 2/3 or 3/2 model (to start with).
Where to start
To start the move on return to the office, organisations and leaders should give clear directives on the number of days in the office, after which Professor Bloom recommends surveying employees, assessing the data, and making ongoing changes based on that data.
When communicating any change from full WFH it is important that organisations acknowledge the benefits of working from home. People were more productive, and WFH is better for many people (lower commutes, better for the environment, better work life balance, more flexible working times).
Now you’ve started what next?
Once you have implemented your return to the office (in whatever state you have chosen), it is now time to make sure this initial implementation follows up with explicit surveys to your employees to find out how it has gone, what they want, and then use this new data to make decisions on any pivots.
This helps you as an organisation to check in if you get it right, but also to back up your decisions for those who may be disappointed with the working arrangements. When you can clearly explain that you surveyed the whole company and the decision comes from that data. People may not LIKE the decision that you have made, but when explained and presented with this information they will understand WHY you made that decision.
The importance of continuous feedback and agility in working practices
One of the quickest and easiest ways to create a toxic culture, kill trust and psychological safety is to ask for people’s opinions ( surveying them ) and then do nothing with that information – or do what leaders wanted in the first place – irrespective of what the data says.
Ignoring the workplace imperative to look at hybrid, or making caveats that you can WFH, just not on a Monday or Friday will continue to erode trust in organisations, and ultimately lead to turnover.
“Work from home Hybrid keeps employees happy and improves productivity. It’s a red hot labour market, it’s not possible to ignore this.” – Professor Nick Bloom
The average employee is reporting that they value WFH hybrid on par with an 8% pay increase. In the interview Professor Bloom advocates “If you can help employees be more productive and they value it the same as an 8% pay rise this is a no-brainer decision. ”
There are many layers of complexity to consider
The changing landscape of work has a big impact on the DE&I conversation. The drive to go back into the office full time has a reflects a larger impact on diverse employees. The data shows that there is a higher preference of work from home amongst BAME employees, higher rates among women as opposed to men, workers with small children, and people who live further away, so return to the office becomes a major diversity issue with the biggest impact being on those individuals.
You also need to be aware of division of labour in your organisation – where you have frontline workers who do not have the option, if you do not acknowledge this, discuss it openly and point out that not everyone has been working from home, this can lead to a more divisive “us vs. them” culture.
The research showed that there were people in a senior leadership position who valued working in the office, some of this is due to “how management do their job”, talking to people or “walking the floor”, but demographics are also at play here. People who run companies don’t tend to have young children, have easier commutes, and a lower preference to work from home overall.
We also need to look at and support this change process with the understanding that what we have been doing throughout the pandemic is not actually working from home
“Remember the last 2 years of working from home – that is not what working from home is. You will not be stuck in your home, unable to get out, terrified of a virus with no childcare options. ” – Anne Helen Peterson
So how do you get this right?
- There is no substitute for starting. Put a stake in the ground, and then iterate your implementation based on real feedback from all your teams.
- Be open, honest and clear. Share the reasons, the direction, what you hear, and what you know. Let people know when you don’t
- Be ready to pivot. The world of work is changing, and you risk being left behind if you are not willing to consider this.
A great example of how to do it right came out from Airbnb at the end of April 2022. https://news.airbnb.com/airbnbs-design-to-live-and-work-anywhere/
- Productivity: Acknowledging the past few years AND how much great work people did WFH
- Trust is the (non) issue (and the likelihood of managers feelings “how can i know what people are doing”)
- Outliers: Calling out those whose jobs are not able to be remote (and having told them in advance)
- Relationships: Noting the importance of meaningful connections in person.
- Discussing HOW the teams will get together, and WHAT is important for those off-sites : Deepening relationships, creating work and collaboration.
- Clear guidelines for when, where and what flexibility for working means, with a clear understanding of working towards even more flexibility in future, while stating the limitations and where they sit.