The perfect ratio?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been involved in a several conversations about the ‘best’ office/remote ratio in a hybrid work environment.  This week we’ve seen Google asking their employees to return to the office; their version of a hybrid model appears to require employees to attend work in person three days a week. Is this going to be the default approach?

Early in the pandemic the 2/3 or 3/2 model seemed to be the one that most people were gravitating towards.  Pre-pandemic research had previously suggested that three days in the office was optimal for maintaining relationships.  However, so much has changed in terms of the ways that we work during this last two years, we would have to seriously question any BC (Before Covid) data. 

Future research will no doubt try to draw some conclusions about a good hybrid ratio.  However, the answer, if there is any such thing, is likely to be highly contextual.  It will be influenced by industry, organisation, available technology, organisational culture and the specific role in question.  Within larger and more complex organisations there may be multiple versions of a ‘good’ hybrid ratio.  The specific manager, their competence, attitude and willingness to embrace flex will also be at play.  So will the extent to which the organisation has adapted to new ways of working during the pandemic, or simply operated in a holding pattern, waiting for things to return to ‘normal’ (whatever that is). 

With hybrid, the good practice is yet to emerge. With hybrid ratios, there may never be such a thing. Only what works, at our place, for our roles, in our specific situation.

We should take great care in following what other people do. Google for example, are an influential organisation, in some good ways and some less good ones. In the same way that not every organisation needs a slide in the office, neither should we assume their hybrid model is good for us too. They have made a business decision, not set some new best practice.

As a general rule, we should be aiming to provide as much autonomy as a particular role allows when determining the office/home split. This is when we will see maximum benefits for wellbeing, engagement, motivation and productivity. Few people will want to come into an office for a set number of days without a clear reason, because some manager or HR person said so, or just in case. Organisations face a balancing act between potentially competing organisational needs and employee working preferences. US remote work specialist and research Nick Bloom refers to this issue as compliance v choice.

Whatever decision is made, transparency and rationale are key. Where there is a genuine need for a rota style system or a certain amount of personal presence, coupled with a clear explanation, this has a reasonable chance of being accepted by employees. A required days mandate significantly less so. Talent retention implications may well follow.

Searching for the perfect hybrid ratio might just be the workplace equivalent of looking for a unicorn.

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