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Companies struggle to develop perfect hybrid work model

A number of corporations in the United States are finding it difficult to figure out what their “hybrid” work model will look like following the COVID-19 pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reports. Some of the factors that need to be ironed out include scheduling, where people should sit in a redesigned office and how to ensure remote workers don’t feel left out of impromptu office discussions or miss out on opportunities.

For example, Prudential Financial plans to have its 42,000 employees work in the office half of the time beginning after Labor Day. The insurer doesn’t want all of its workers to telework on Mondays and Fridays and come into the office in the middle of the week. Meanwhile, Expedia executives are trying to determine how its remote workers won’t be put at a disadvantage during in-person meetings.

Software company Twilio forecasts that a new era of work is on the horizon, where employees could move towards bosses who embrace their preferred work style. Meanwhile consulting firm West Monroe CEO Kevin McCarty believes that hybrid work “is going to redefine expectations, rules and permissions.”

Hybrid work will be an adjustment for employees, too

Businesses are not the only ones who will have get used to this new era of work. A lot of employees have spent the last year working 100% remotely. Executives have said it would probably be easier from a management standpoint if every employee returned to the office or remained working remotely. That thought conflicts with employees’ preferred work model though, especially as more people are getting vaccinated. According to a February LaSalle Network survey, a majority of the 1,000 respondents said they were open to adopting a hybrid model.

Internal polling shows a similar sentiment. Prudential polled its employees and found a majority liked to work from home, but missed some of the things that come with working at an office like planning and collaboration, according to company Vice Chair Rob Falzon.

The hybrid work model will take getting used to for employees who are working from home or at the office. Prudential is addressing that fact with a floor-by-floor office space redesign. Most of the company’s office space has been repurposed to include more meeting rooms and collaboration areas to encourage employee interaction. Falzon also pushed for video capacity in small meeting spaces too so remote workers wouldn’t feel left out.

There’s also an issue of space. Many employers have decreased their office space square footage, leaving less room for workers to operate on the days they’re at the office. Prudential for example likely won’t always have desks for employees who prefer to work at the office more often.

“We don’t have a desk for you every day,” Mr. Falzon told The Wall Street Journal. “We have a desk for you three days a week.”

Every company will handle their hybrid work model differently

There will be no “one size fits all” solution to how businesses deal with their hybrid work model, or the difficulties that come with it. Tech company Adobe plans to let employees work remotely two to three days a week and workers can reserve office desks, company Chief People Officer Gloria Chen said. Other execs have said factors like commute times, job function and employee seniority will play into how long an employee needs to work in person.

“We won’t prescribe” from a company level, Citrix Systems CEO David Henshall told The Wall Street Journal. “Based on the type of role you have, you’ll find that right balance.”

The flexible model could create logistical difficulties at times. Expedia CEO Peter Kern noted that if a team gathers for an in-person meeting, but everyone can’t make it, the people not in the room aren’t getting the same experience. He also wondered if employees sitting in on meetings via Zoom will get the same level of learning, encouragement and career growth as the people who are physically at the office. The other challenge—finding a time when everyone’s available for a meeting.

“(Managers may need to) set up group meetings according to some crazy algorithm of: ‘Who’s available when? Who’s got a flexible day, when?’” Kern said. “There’s a lot of friction in all of that. It’s a lot easier to say, ‘Everybody go to work.’ Now someone calls a meeting, and you’re all there.”

Employee retention could be another challenge companies face as they create their hybrid model. Too much inflexibility could drive employees elsewhere as many workers have shown during the past year that they can work from anywhere.

“The employer before just could say, ‘Our culture is this,’” Tara Wolckenhauer, a human-resources executive at the payroll processor Automatic Data Processing Inc. said recently. “Employers have to take a step back and think about it very differently.”

Joe Dyton can be reached at joed@fifthgenmedia.com.

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