If you’re heading to an office a few times a week, you now need to plan your workplace experience. Why? Because you’re bound to encounter challenges in sharing desks and competing for meeting room space. As hybrid work policies evolve, the experience on the ground at the office couldn’t be more crucial — especially during surging office occupancy during mid-week days.
Workplace strategists and facilities managers (FM) along with their counterpart peers in human resources (HR) have many hybrid work arrangements to contend with … They have to balance the need for ample, collaborative meeting room space and desk sharing with the needs of employees to have choice and flexibility in scheduling their own time.
If most departments commute to work on the same days – on what Eptura dubs the “mid-week mountain” of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – then expect there to be some space sharing and occupancy conflicts between departments. You’ll need a commuting strategy that matches your hybrid schedule.
“Fridays and Mondays are the least popular days to be on-site both in terms of voluntary attendance and employer-required days on-site,” according to research from Gallup. “Tuesday through Thursday are the days of the week hybrid employees work on-site most often and are also the days when on-site work is most likely to be required by employers.”
No one wants their office experience to be a waste of time. Managing all of these hybrid work variables requires patience, cooperation, and strategic organization. At the same time, employees are dealing with the high cost to commute during a period of elevated inflation in housing, food, energy, et al.
Commuting into an office has to be worth it for everyone. According to recent Eptura data, 45% see the improved ability to meet with colleagues, clients, vendors as the top reason to go to the office.
Go deeper. Check out: “Why Effective Collaboration Is Needed Now More Than Ever.”
For organizations we surveyed in our 2022 global study of 6,000 respondents, many firms are not using technology to their advantage. In the US, the survey found:
- 43% don’t have a way to reserve individual or collaborative spaces in advance
- 41% don’t have a way to reserve spaces on demand
- 31% don’t have a way to ensure their workspace has the right equipment
- 26% can’t work the IT equipment to connect with remote colleagues
Here’s the rub: If employees are in the office and their team members are WFH (working from home) on that day or there are too many virtual meetings, the office experience can feel pointless. Per Microsoft, being in 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.
Workplace and FM teams are also under pressure to optimize underutilized office space and help cut real estate costs across global property portfolios. According to a JLL survey, 73% have planned or are planning to make all office spaces open and collaborative without any dedicated desk spaces. The shared model has major implications for managing hybrid work schedules.
What can be done about mid-week office surges amid these shifting conditions?
First, identify all of your hybrid work scheduling pain points from a committee of workplace stakeholders.
These pain points in the office will be different for the wide variety of departments in your organization. Many roles require more independent, asynchronous work and rely less on team collaboration to fulfill duties. Others, require more collaborative space for larger swaths of time. Every team will have technology needs – and every team will need to feel safe and healthy when in the office.
Here are questions to think about, but develop your own custom details for each office or coworking space you use or plan to use:
- What equipment does each team require?
- How many employees are there are in each department?
- How many are fully remote or live too far away from a regional office to commute regularly?
- What cadence of office visits will you have from contractors and freelancers?
- What teams have to have dedicated, private space, and locked areas?
- Do you need the ability to reserve or close office and meeting space on demand?
- How will you share reservation information with employees?
- Can employees book space from a phone?
- How do you gather data from technologies to see what’s really going on?
To understand all the potential pain points, it’s best to involve a committee from:
- Workplace strategy
- Facilities management
- Human resources
- Information technology
- Department leads
- Employee representatives*
*Managers and department heads alone may not be enough to capture employee sentiment in this committee. If employee adoption of hybrid policies is the goal, it can be immensely important to involve employees from the outset. We learned this firsthand in workshops we lead at the Future Offices conference. Some organizations are intent on leveraging ‘change champions’ from the ranks to help advocate and capture the voice of employees. There are no better advocates than your own people.
Next, develop a pilot program to define a hybrid work scheduling process.
Hybrid work policies are one thing. Employee participation is something else. Successful adoption will only come from testing what works. Enter, a pilot program. It’s the next logical step after identifying pain points.
“First, figure out how many days a week or a month constructively would it be good to have people face to face, and that depends on how much time you spend on activities that are best in person,” said Nick Bloom, economics professor at Stanford University and researcher of hybrid work, in an article for Vox.
Blanket days-in-the-office mandates only work if employees adhere to them. Enforcement may change but over the last year, it only works when there is strategic intention.
“For me, coming in to do teaching and to go to research seminars, that might be twice a week,” Bloom said. “But for other people, like coders, it may just be a big coding meeting and a few trainings once a month. For people in marketing and advertising, mad men, that’s very much around meetings, discussions, problem-solving — that may be two or three days.”
If you’re looking for something more prescriptive, Microsoft’s WorkLab has some helpful organizing guidance on how to structure the in-office experience:
- 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.
If your company is large, your hybrid work scheduling model may require you to stagger or mix up in-office days besides the mid-week or change it up every few weeks to make it as equitable as possible. There are no hard and fast rules.
Several of our customers are using Mondays and Fridays to help bring people in on less trafficked commuting days. They are finding employees respond well to these days since the commute feels easier because there are less people on the roads and on trains. Some are labeling these days “Motivation Mondays” or “Fun Fridays” and creating space for social events like happy hours and connecting with teams.
Test the pilot, capture and analyze the data, refine the program, then roll it out to company at large.
The key is to be open to testing and experimenting – and using survey feedback from pilot participants and data from reservation and scheduling software (and other metrics-driven facilities software such as IWMS and other space planning and optimization tools) to inform decisions that will affect the entire organization.
Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough.
It may be helpful to pilot this program with two or three very different departments to learn the nuanced differences between them. There is an important balance to be struck between the needs of different teams and to understand what legitimate compromises or new investments are needed.
In 2021, Microsoft found that 58% of people cited focused work as a reason they wanted to work in the office, but the same number cited focused work as the reason they wanted to work from home. Your systems and policies need a way to help support both … This will affect the kind of space and software needed.
Many organizations are using quiet rooms to help ensure there are spaces for focus time. But it’s to be balanced against the human need for connection with others and the importance those connections have on business outcomes, employee retention, and company culture. And remember to communicate, then communicate some more.
Go deeper with Eptura. Learn about this year’s trends and predictions. Download “2023 Workplace Predictions: 5 Worktech Trends to Watch.”