Tuesday 24th January 2023

Today’s work environment is going through a metamorphosis. Employees want work location flexibility but have a real need to connect with others.   

How can leaders, managers, and employees cope with all this radical change and still produce results? Working collaboratively to solve problems and generate fresh ideas in person, of course. Sounds simple. But collaboration isn’t easy anymore. It requires buy-in on hybrid policy from all team members.  

The problem is not the method. It’s the location and its purpose for fostering effective collaboration. It turns out our physical presence matters a lot more than we might have thought. In some instances, people work better together when in the same workspace. 

It’s not that productivity suffers from remote and hybrid working models. On the contrary. There are so many excellent collaboration tools at our fingertips (including Microsoft Teams).  

We’ve proven we can work from nearly anywhere. The University of Oxford found that happier workers are 13% more productive than those that aren’t. Plus, the preference for a hybrid work model is overwhelming. We found 85% of employees want hybrid over any other model in our “2022 Attitudes to Hybrid Work” report. 

Sharing ideas with co-workers is also important and adds to an employee’s happiness equation. The problem arises when you go to the office and your co-workers aren’t there on that day. Or if you’re in the office, but all your social connections and meetings on those days are virtual.  

As Microsoft describes in its article “Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?”, showing up at the office now has a “worth-it equation”: 73% of employees and 78% of business decision makers say they need a better reason to go into the office than just company expectations. 

What is the purpose of the office now? Human connection. 

It’s doubtful anyone would have had existential questions about the purpose of an office before 2020. But over the last few years, the world turned upside down and offices became a place to avoid. And there were some clear, unanticipated benefits … We adapted. We were safer at home. Technology allowed us to work and communicate. We saved money. We reduced carbon emissions from commuting five days a week and improved air quality. Plus, we reduced our energy use in large office buildings.  

Now, hybrid work has become more commonplace again, and venturing into an office safely has become a more regular occurrence. In fact, we explored the details of office visits and the challenges of managing workspaces now with increased mid-week occupancy in the Eptura report 2023 Workplace Predictions: 5 Worktech Trends to Watch. 

“Clear hybrid work policies coupled with formal teambuilding will connect people in companies together by strong, interpersonal bonds,” we contend. “In-person office days are on the rise during the ‘mid-week mountain’ peak occupancy days: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. It’s always smart to improve cross-department culture, promote and share innovative ideas, and encourage teams to connect. This year, it’s critical.”  

By the numbers: What data tells us about the value of the office in the US 

We commissioned a global survey of 6,000 workplace leaders and employees. These statistics about how US employees see the office now grabbed our attention: 

  • 45% see the improved ability to meet with colleagues, clients, vendors  
  • 36% believe coming into the office helps improves company culture 
  • 35% say they look to the office for a productive, well-equipped environment 
  • 32% feel coming to the office helps with work/life balance 

Human connection tops everything. And right behind that, look at the value the office plays in company culture — which is absolutely driven by peer-to-peer human connection. There’s no workplace culture without people creating and nurturing it.  

Similarly, Microsoft’s “2022 Work Trend Index” report finds a major interest in being with others in the office:   

  • 84% of employees would be motivated by the promise of socializing with co-workers 
  • 85% would be motivated by rebuilding team bonds 
  • 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there  
  • 74% would go in if their work friends were there 

 The bottom line: We want to work together. Just not every day of the week. 

 Virtual collaboration via video is weak for idea generation but ok for decision input  

Researchers have discovered through a study that there are some important distinctions and limitations to video conferencing 

“From the Greek symposium to Lennon and McCartney, collaborations have provided some of the most important ideas in human history,” writes scientific authors, Melanie S. Brucks and Jonathan Levav, in the Nature article “Virtual Communication Curbs Creative Idea Generation.” 

“Our data suggest that this physical difference in shared space compels virtual communicators to narrow their visual field by concentrating on the screen and filtering out peripheral visual stimuli that are not visible or relevant to their partner.”  

What does it mean? Video screens narrow our focus and “hinder idea generation.” It’s harder to participate as creatively as we might need or want. The experiments discovered “videoconferencing groups generate fewer creative ideas than in-person groups” but there was no evidence that video groups had any issues with idea selection.  

Listen up, workplace strategy, HR leaders, and team managers: Better ideas will happen when we’re together in the office. Decisions about those ideas can happen virtually. Plan accordingly. 

How to nurture collaboration in the workplace and manage the mid-week mountain  

A close look at data sets across board have found employees prefer to come in mid-week. Makes sense, right?  

We want to lean into the weekend on Friday and ease into a new week from home on Monday. We’ve learned we no longer need to spend time in traffic or on public transport during peak commuting hours. But there are ways to help balance the desires of employees to avoid costly and stress-inducing traffic with the needs of the business.  

Eptura customers tell us some of the smart methods they are using including:  

Fun Fridays 

Commute times are quicker with mid-week shifts, and it caps off the week with an opportunity for happy hours and socializing. Team members continue to flex into the office during the week, but Friday has started to become a space for planned collaboration and much-needed human connection. 

Motivation Monday 

A few of our customers want to kick off the week strong and mix it up. Here, human resources teams are heavily involved in making it a true, memorable experience. Some partner with local restaurants since Monday has significantly declined as a revenue-producing day that depend on the working lunchtime crowd. 

Microsoft’s WorkLab offers some guidance in “How to Make In-Person Time Count.” It covers everything from team building and bonding, strengthening weak ties and in-person brainstorming to the value of one-on-one time and flexible office design. It also calls for experimenting with on-site team time and offers a few specific ways including:  

  • Two days in the office per week, with one day optimized for team bonding, and one day optimized for one-on-one connections between teammates and broader networks.  
  • A team on-site day followed by a meeting-free workday or work block. This model can help people focus their on-site time on team building, collaboration, and connection since they know they’ll be able to catch up the day after.  
  • Several on-site days, with in-person meetings built around core hours so that people can avoid rush hour and schedule their workday around school pickup and other commitments.  

 How are you making in-person time work better for your organization? 

 Go deep with Eptura. Learn about this year’s trends and predictions. Download “2023 Workplace Predictions: 5 Worktech Trends to Watch.”

Research report: Attitudes to Hybrid Working.

Attitudes to Hybrid Working Report

The impact of hybrid work on employees and employers.

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