A successful hybrid work model requires setting clear expectations and potentially making adjustments to corporate culture and performance assessment.

Boyden's perspectives on the news and trends that are transforming industries

Most white-collar professionals prefer hybrid work, offering some combination of remote work and time in the office. Research from Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University who focuses on management practices and uncertainty, suggests that employees liken hybrid work as a perk akin to an 8% pay increase. But most executives would prefer to see employees revert to 100% on-site work. They stress the benefits of connecting with colleagues and assimilating into the corporate culture.

In all likelihood hybrid work is here to stay, and senior executives are increasingly resigning themselves to this fact. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, America’s biggest bank, said in his annual letter to shareholders that he believes about 40% of his staff will be hybrid. It is safe to say that executives everywhere, particularly those in human resources, will need to consider not whether to adopt a hybrid model permanently, but how to make hybridisation work for both employees and employers.

A recent editorial piece in The Economist makes the case that the single most important element is clarity, specifically in making sure that everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. One fundamental expectation concerns the structure of the workweek itself. If the value of spending time in the office lies in collaborating and bonding with colleagues, then human resources and other leaders need to be clear about which employees should come in on which days.

Clarity can also help ensure productivity during remote work. This requires focus above all. In order to allow employees to focus, the onus is on leadership to keep their distance. This can be formalised by designating a specific day for employees to work without interruption. Anne Raimondi, COO at Asana, a work management platform, says that her firm has a “no meetings” day on Wednesday. The occasional exception to this rule can be accommodated by having clear protocols in place. If an email legitimately needs a reply, for example, it should be clear which employee is responsible for it.

Many executives fear that when employees are left alone as a rule, they will not always use this time productively and could become inaccessible. Leaders are in a position to make rules that prevent this and, as The Economist posits, “burnout is as much of a risk as slacking”. As most human resources specialists are aware, there tend to be peak periods of activity twice a day, in the early morning and after lunch. New research from Microsoft found that in addition to these, about 30% of its employees experienced a third peak in the late evening, creating what the tech giant calls a “triple-peak day”.

This can be viewed positively or negatively: Either employees who work best in the evening are making the most of flexible work hours, or they are being squeezed by a workday that almost never ends. The latter leads to burnout, but measures can be embedded into corporate culture to help prevent it. One simple remedy is to set clear expectations on how quickly notifications need a response. If it can sit until the following morning, then it should. The mental health of employees is worth the wait.

Finally, performance assessment should be based not on the employee’s location at specific times of day, but by what they accomplish, which Stanford’s Professor Bloom calls “managing outputs, not inputs”. This is a matter of deciding exactly what constitutes a productive activity, and evaluating whether this activity is being adequately performed̶—as opposed to when or where it is performed.

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