According to Placer.ai, a technology company that tracks foot traffic in workplaces, total visits are still only about 60 percent of what they were in 2019. However, the number of visitors is close to 80 percent of what it was three years ago—meaning that most workers appear to have returned to the office, even if they don't come in as often as they used to.
These metrics appear to reflect the growing popularity of hybrid work arrangements, in which individuals come into the office two or three days each week and work remotely the rest of the time.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the most popular in-office days, with respective employee visit shares of 24.3 percent and 23 percent, according to Placer.ai.
Companies around the U.S. and Canada are creating policies and guidelines to get the most from hybrid work schedules.
[See related article, "Fitting Hybrid Work Policy to Company Culture"]
'PurposeFirst' Strengthens Role of Offices
Maral Kazanjian, chief people officer at Moody's in New York City, said her company doesn't see in-office presence as the only way to get work done.
As pandemic restrictions eased, Moody's worked with its employees to think through their relationships with the office, customers and one another. It conducted a six-month pilot to identify the right balance between the needs of its people and its business.
This collaboration led to a new approach called "PurposeFirst," which entails thinking about the office as a tool to strengthen purposeful connections when the work warrants it.
With PurposeFirst, employees make intentional decisions about where and how they operate individually and collectively, based on the type of work that needs to be done and what is required to do it.
Lucy Lemons, chief people officer at ButterflyMX in Boston, said "happy people" are the key to the property access company's success.
With a distributed, mostly remote workforce, ButterflyMX prides itself on being passionate, collaborative and down-to-earth, Lemons said.
"The culture emanates from the strong management team," she said. "Since ButterflyMX's founding, leadership has set the tone for all to live the corporate values, to lean in and make mistakes, to learn from those experiences, and to support one another as they grow.
"Support means different things to different people, so ButterflyMX has created a flexible environment and is open-minded regarding the needs of individuals and how they get their work done."
With ButterflyMX's distributed work model, Lemons said it's crucial that employees feel they are connected and part of a team. New employees regularly report feeling encouraged and welcomed—and long-standing team members feel the same and often volunteer to speak in support of the company.
ButterflyMX offers virtual office hours with the leadership team on a regular basis so remote employees can get questions answered quickly, build connections and feel included. The majority of ButterflyMX's people leaders have regular check-ins with team members, often daily, to build trust, connection and collaboration.
No Mandates for When or Where to Work
Simon Phillips, regional principal and head of business partnering at Unispace's Boston location, heads up the workplace design firm's People and Culture Department. With offices and studios scattered around the globe, he said his company's formal hybrid work model isn't just a nice perk—"it's critical to how our business operates and a key factor in our ability to attract and retain talent."
Unispace's work model is centered on in-studio time for a specific purpose.
"While we encourage our team members who live near a studio to come together between two and three times a week, it is not a formal requirement," Phillips said. "Our people must balance many priorities in their lives, and we have not found it helpful to mandate when or where they conduct their work."
When in-person meetings are necessary, such as during a project kickoff or in department collaboration sessions, team members can come in for the meeting itself but are not expected to stay the entire day, Phillips said.
Encouraging 'Individual Energy Management'
Natalie Archibald, vice president of people at Clio in Vancouver, British Columbia, described her company's culture as "human and high-performing," noting, "We do not believe that the two concepts are mutually exclusive."
She said it's the company's responsibility to design a work culture that allows employees to be both at once.
Clio instituted a "distributed by design" philosophy that prioritizes employees' needs by allowing them to work where they want while equipping them with the social and physical resources needed to do the best and most purposeful work––whether in person, fully remote or a mixture of both.
This approach encourages "individual energy management," Archibald said, because "the concept of work/life balance is largely a myth."
Some days and projects are more onerous than others, she said, so it's important that employees have the autonomy to work where, when and how it makes the most sense for them and their clients while also having the right structural supports to manage their energy effectively. "This helps make work an aspect of their lives, not an interruption to it," Archibald said.
At Clio, success is measured by impact, not by where someone logs in from or how long they spend at their screen, she added. The company's flexible paid-time-off program enables employees to take time off when they need to re-energize without having to worry about a scarcity of vacation days.
Doubling Down on 'Rigidity' Won't Work
Jeetu Patel is executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration for Cisco in San Jose, Calif. "Hybrid work is different and harder than when most people worked in the office, or when most people worked remotely," he said.
Disagreements between employees and employers will likely impact hybrid work this year, Patel said.
"A major disruption to hybrid work will be the countless employees who will not want to go back to rigid, in-office work schedules," he said. "Many organizations may choose to double down on workplace mandates in 2023, but they'll ultimately lose."
In contrast, "[p]rogressive companies will work cross-functionally to create a flexible, secure hybrid work experience and a great physical workspace that people will want to visit, but only when they choose to work or when the assignment calls for it," Patel said. "Such organizations will win on talent, agility, sustainability and worker satisfaction and [will] see long-term success."
Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.