Nerd Productivity

How to create a productive ‘hybrid’ work culture

The Post-Pandemic whiplash has happened. After decades of working from offices, companies were forced to go remote overnight. Now, despite reported productivity gains from remote and hybrid cultures, a majority of large companies are abandoning remote and even hybrid work and are mandating employees to report back to the office full-time.

No more remote work

Notable tech companies such as Meta, Google, TCS, Amazon, Netflix, and Salesforce have all announced back-to-office mandates.

“There is a greater realisation that by coming to offices, more things get done, especially for people who have joined us in the last two years. When they come and see the offices, they see a different perspective of TCS, they see a different perspective of their own position vis-a-vis their peers.”

N. Ganapathy Subramaniam, COO of TCS

OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman, has gone as far as calling remote work a ‘mistake’ and suggested that working from the office is a better model for creating new products.

“The more unclear and early the product is, the more in-person time the team needs to grind together.”

Sam Altman, OpenAI CEO

Meta’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, shared that the company’s internal analysis showed that engineers who joined Meta in-person performed better on average than those who joined remotely.

“This requires further study, but our hypothesis is that it is still easier to build trust in person and that those relationships help us work more effectively,”

Mark Zuckerberg

According to Amazon “It’s easier to learn, model, practice, and strengthen our culture when we’re in the office together most of the time and surrounded by our colleagues. Collaborating and inventing is easier and more effective when we’re in person.”

Salesforce has also taken a surprising u-turn, after criticising other companies’ back-to-office mandates and announcing a permanent work-from-home policy just last year, they are now pushing for a return to the office.

Google has gone so far as to announce that office attendance will be included in performance reviews.

These same companies saw huge profitability and share price increases during the lockdown and had announced indefinite, flexible work-from-anywhere policies. Now these same leaders are going back to the old way, and mandating that employees toe the line.

Hybrid work productivity

Microsoft is taking a more balanced view though and seems to be following a hybrid model currently.

“We have to get past what we describe as ‘productivity paranoia’, because all of the data we have that shows that 80% plus of the individual people feel they’re very productive – except their management thinks that they’re not productive.”

Satya Nadella – Microsoft CEO

These mandates are despite the fact that hybrid and remote cultures actually registered improvements in productivity. A survey by ConnectSolutions showed that 77% of remote employees showed an increase in productivity. Moreover, 30% of them were doing more work in less time and 24% were doing more work in the same period of time.

While big business leaders are citing the advantages of being in the office every day, nobody seems to be talking about the costs. Businesses are supposed to make rational decisions based on analysing all costs and benefits – not just a handful of benefits.

The reality is whichever system you go with, there are trade-offs. Just like any business decision, both approaches have costs and benefits that need to be evaluated within each organisation’s unique context:

Benefits of ‘in-office’:

  • Personal interaction/relationship building/ camaraderie
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Brainstorming/ whiteboarding
  • Working through problems together
  • Serendipity – leading to new ideas/ innovation
  • In-person mentorship

Costs of ‘in-office’:

  • Commute (30 mins to an hour of lost productivity every day)
  • More interruptions and ‘unnecessary’ meetings
  • More politics
  • Women lose out (especially mothers of young kids)
  • Introverts lose out
  • Limited to local talent pool
  • Facetime (waste of time) culture (can’t leave before boss leaves)

Benefits of ‘work from home’:

  • Better individual productivity while working from home.
  • Flexibility/ balanced life for employees
  • Higher employee retention
  • Closer to family (very important for mothers)
  • Access to a larger talent pool
  • Ability to do deep work and get into flow

Costs of ‘work from home’:

  • Impersonal/transactional relationships
  • Genuine friendships and trust take longer to build if you’re not meeting regularly in person
  • Performance management can be challenging for senior management not used to remote work
  • Limited learning from seniors/ colleagues
  • Managing younger/ inexperienced colleagues can be challenging
  • Not everyone’s home is set up for remote work
focused mother working on laptop near disturbing daughter
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Of course, one can try to get the best of both worlds by going hybrid, but more often than not we end up getting the ‘worst of both worlds’. Your typical ‘hybrid’ work setup just tries to recreate the physical office virtually, with the same amount of meetings and interruptions.

Productivity challenges with the ‘Hybrid Model’

  • Home days and office days are not co-ordinated across teams.
  • There are too many online meetings on work-from-home days, which pretty much defeats the purpose of an at-home day.
  • On the other hand, there aren’t enough brainstorming or whiteboarding sessions on office days.

The right way to maximise productivity with Hybrid work

To get true productivity from ‘hybrid’ and really maximise the benefits of both office and remote, you need to:

  1. Have overlapping, standardised in-office days to maximise in-person interaction/ serendipity/ coffee /meetings
  2. Minimise meetings on ‘work from home’ days to allow your colleagues time for focused, deep work without interruptions or even schedule their at-home days around their family.
  3. Have at least 2 ‘work from home’ days per week

“The evidence is clear: people are more productive, collaborative, satisfied, and likely to stay when they’re able to work from anywhere a day or two per week.”

Adam Grant – WFH Research

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