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Hacks for a sustainable work culture: addressing the remote, hybrid or in-person dilemma with a design approach

Aug 10, 2022
Hacks for a sustainable work culture: addressing the remote, hybrid or in-person dilemma with a design approach

“Hybrid work” has been the buzzword phrase of the past year. Google searches for “hybrid work” have doubled between July 2020 and July 2021, and tripled since this time last year.

In our day-to-day interactions with executives and teams, we hear of a whole range of approaches, all with their own advantages and flaws. Trying to make everyone happy is impossible, but sending everyone “back to the office” because companies have long-term, expensive leases on big buildings is not the right answer either. In an effort to reach an amicable conclusion that serves more than just a few – we’ve collated our learnings here.

The challenge: different people, different needs

A team consists of people with very different needs. For instance, Team Member A is a parent who used to commute from New Jersey into Manhattan every day for 2 hours each way, and, since working from home for the past two years, has realized how much time they gain with their family. Team Member B is a single person living in a studio apartment in New York City, eager to get out of their 4 (suffocating) walls. Clearly, these two team members would have very different takes on going back to the office. Now multiply these two scenarios by the size of a full team or a company with thousands of employees, each with their own needs, and you’ll realize you have a challenge at hand.

How have companies handled the challenge? It depends.

We’ve heard and seen many approaches: from fully remote, ultimatums, “everyone back to the office or else,” to a 3:2 Hybrid Model (i.e. 3 days in the office or 2 days work from home). When we polled our LinkedIn followers on which approach they prefer, the majority chose a flexible hybrid (WFH whenever possible, choose when to go to the office). According to The Washington Post, the market research firm, Forrester, predicts that 60 percent of offices will adopt a hybrid work policy this year, and it expects that one-third of them will fail at executing successfully. Not very reassuring.

The only thing we know for certain, is that there isn’t one right answer or one perfect plan. We can’t predict the future, nor turn off the pandemic, the next wave, or geopolitical events. So what can we all do to not wind up on the wrong side of the statistics? Factor in failure, learning, the ability to pivot, and some hacks.

Hacks for success – apply the design process.

Step 1: Do your research

Ask your team for feedback, and collect data that will help you design your approach. Consider creating an internal planning team to lead the process and ask the right questions: what do you appreciate about working from home (WFH)? What are you missing? What does the office represent for you? When and how would you like to be in the office in the future?

Step 2: Synthesize your data

This is not about accommodating every wish. It’s about finding the biggest pain points and the opportunities to design an approach that can work for many.

Step 3: Ideate your options

Maybe you accomplish this with a small team. Ask “how might we” questions; how might we solve the biggest pain points, and elevate our biggest opportunities? How might we spend quality time together while wasting zero time and energy in rush hour commutes? Note: it’s OK to dream big here and not start with the most feasible solutions.

Step 4: Prototype your plan and communicate clearly

This is your proposal to your team. Whatever you come up with, based on your data synthesis, make sure to communicate clearly: what is changing, by when, and when will you re-evaluate. Encourage curiosity but also feedback (which you’ll save).

Step 5: Evaluate after some time and adapt accordingly

This step is often missed. Set a timeframe and make sure to check-in with your team: how are they doing? What is working? What is not?

The first approach may be wrong, and that’s OK, as long as you adapt accordingly. Some things may work (magically) on the first try; let’s celebrate and make sure to keep doing more of these. Cheers to humility and keeping it light – and inclusive. Always remind yourself: “we’re in this together!” Last but not least, throughout the process, make sure to pause and acknowledge people’s efforts, resilience, and collaboration over the past two years of figuring “it” out. All of you have done a hell of a job!

Happy Summer,

Marianne and The Zone Team


Marianne Aerni


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