Avoid These 3 Hybrid Work Anti-Heroes to Maximize ROI

March 19, 2024
Hybrid Work
Avoid These 3 Hybrid Work Anti-Heroes to Maximize ROI

TL;DR Article Summary

Hybrid work is a successful strategy for many companies, with 62% of U.S. companies offering flexible work arrangements. Here's how to avoid being a hybrid work anti-hero:

  • Don't scapegoat remote work for performance issues. Companies attributing poor performance to remote work may overlook deeper issues.
  • Gather employee feedback before implementing a hybrid policy. Let teams decide their schedules when possible.
  • Focus on output, not presenteeism. Optimize office time for interaction, while heads-down work can be done remotely.

“It’s me. Hi.” Nods to Taylor Swift aside, hybrid work has emerged as a compelling strategy for organizations aiming to maximize their return on investment (ROI) while meeting the evolving needs of employees. 

96 of the Top 100 Fortune Companies offer remote work options. And it’s not just high-performing companies embracing hybrid work. By the end of 2023, 62% of U.S. companies had adopted some form of work location flexibility, a significant increase from 51% at the beginning of the year (Flex Index). Meanwhile, the number of companies insisting on full-time office work dwindled to 38%.

Hybrid work can yield significant returns across various facets of business operations. Yet, some companies still insist on a full return to office (RTO) or impose mandates that cast aside employee feedback—especially when their business performance takes a nosedive. Companies whose RTO plans have misfired should revamp their RTO strategy and consider these winning tips to help them improve their workplace experience

Anti-Hero #1: Use Remote Work as a Scapegoat for Lack of Growth

Nearly 70% of companies with negative or no growth do not offer hybrid options (Accenture). That may be playing out in recent news with UPS and Boeing, companies that are seemingly scapegoating remote work for their low performance.

UPS saw a 9.3% decrease in revenue in 2023 compared to 2022. Soon after, the company ordered a return to office five days a week. Around the same time, Boeing reversed its hybrid policy to require workers to RTO full-time—even though Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun had positive things to say about hybrid work just a few weeks before the policy change. Boeing’s stock prices have been consistently dropping since the beginning of 2024, which may have been reason enough to prompt the RTO orders.

We see companies returning to the previous state of five days in office when they underperform. That’s a mistake. The Scoop Flex Index found that companies with flexible work arrangements are not just surviving—they’re flourishing. From 2020 to 2022, companies with full flexibility led their peers by a remarkable 16% in revenue growth. The trend wasn’t confined to the tech world, as non-tech companies with flexible policies still boasted a 13% growth advantage. 

“The fear of the unknown and the wish to stay in the comfort zones of the last 20 years makes managers call people back to the office. Successful managers will embrace remote work as an opportunity for improvement and find smart solutions for the benefit of the company and the employees.” - Dr. Andreas Ditsche, CEO of iGmaming.com & Angel Investor 

Just look at Nvidia, a company that has grown by almost $1 trillion in the past year to nearly $2 trillion at the beginning of 2024. And it’s made no move to get its employees back into the office for any set amount of time. When interviewed by VentureBeat, Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang says he has “no trouble letting employees work out of their homes forever” while underscoring the office as a place employees still want to go to voluntarily for social reasons, collaboration, and access to resources. 

How to win: Use pulse surveys, focus groups, or other means of getting feedback to better understand employee sentiment and plan out a more effective hybrid work strategy. Knowing your employees’ needs and how they fit into your overall business is critical to determining how to structure hybrid work for better engagement, collaboration, and productivity. Simply forcing everyone in person is not the magic wand to solve these issues. 

Hybrid employees are the most engaged at work compared to their remote and in-office counterparts (Quantum Workplace). Additionally, workers with the most flexibility rate workplace culture the highest, while full-time in-office workers rated culture much lower (Scoop and BCG). Hybrid workers not only report having the highest levels of enjoyment and effectiveness at work, they are also the most engaged with their company’s culture, which translates into lower attrition rates. The correlation between the level of work flexibility/culture and business results cannot be ignored. 

Watch: How Airbnb Implemented Its ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ Program To Support Flexible Working

Anti-Hero #2: Mandate RTO From the Top Down

Companies that mandate RTO from the top down are more at risk of losing talent. According to a new Gartner survey of 2,080 knowledge worker employees, intent to stay among average employees was 8% lower with strict RTO mandates. High-performing employees are the ones most likely to leave when RTO mandates are imposed, with their intent to stay at 16% lower with RTO mandates, double the rate of average employees. 

“Mandated onsite requirements can carry very steep costs for talent attraction and retention. This is especially true for high-performers, women and millennials – three employee segments who greatly value flexibility. Often these costs far outweigh the moderate benefits to employee engagement and effort.” - Caitlin Duffy, Director in the Gartner HR practice

This may be a cautionary tale for companies that are still forcing RTO from the top down without considering their employees' needs and concerns. In the same Gartner research, almost half of employees claim RTO mandates prioritize what leaders want over what employees need to do good work, as Gartner found that mandates did not improve employee performance. 

We see this mistake play out in SAP’s back-to-office policy, which in two weeks garnered more than 5,000 signatures of employees threatening to look for other jobs rather than return. Likewise, Amazon’s RTO mandate last May prompted a company-wide walkout. Most notably, WebMD’s parent company’s leaked internal video mandating an RTO could be the poster child of what not to do when implementing a hybrid work policy. 

Poorly communicated and implemented mandates can foster employee dissatisfaction. This can lead to lower engagement, a reduced willingness to collaborate among teams, and a higher risk for turnovers. 

How to win: There are better ways to implement hybrid work. First off, let your teams decide on their hybrid work schedules. BCG found that team-decided models yield a 13% boost in joy over top-down mandates, and joy at work cuts attrition risk in half. However, only 13% of workers in a hybrid working model could determine their work models together, while 59% say they receive work model mandates from above. 

Secondly, ensure your hybrid work policies are well-defined, transparent, and supported by your workforce. Only 19% of organizations claim to have successful hybrid programs where employee behaviors and leadership expectations align (CBRE). Organizations that have clearly communicated leadership expectations that align with employee sentiment are most likely to see the desired behaviors from their workforce. 

Read more: Transitioning to Hybrid Work? 10 Steps to Manage the Change

Anti-Hero #3: Force Full Time in Office (Presenteeism vs. Output)

Companies with flexible work are adding headcount at more than twice the pace of full-time in-office companies. The difference is most pronounced for companies with 500 to 5000 employees, where companies more than doubled the headcount growth rate versus full-time in-office companies over the last 12 months. Companies lose out on talent when they require workers to be in the office full-time. 

BetterUp surveyed 1,400 full-time U.S. employees mandated to return to in-office work and found higher burnout, stress, and turnover intentions. They also had lower trust in their organization, engagement, and productivity. Hybrid work with two to three days in the office resulted in the best outcomes for employee engagement and wellbeing and reduced job hunting and burnout. Outcomes were worse for those working all five days onsite, no matter their role (Gallup).

Forcing employees back to the office full-time actually has adverse effects on their engagement, productivity, and wellbeing. It’s a huge loss for businesses as well. Organizations that monitor physical presence rather than holding employees accountable to outcomes are more at risk of presenteeism, a term used to describe the problem when employees are physically at work but are not productive. Workers spend more time pretending to work rather than actually working, especially when they feel like they need to look busy at all times while in the office, and it’s expensive for employers. In fact, presenteeism is costing U.S. businesses $1.5 trillion per year in lost productivity (Gympass). 

How to win: Flexible work is no longer a perk—it’s an expectation. At the beginning of 2023, 49% of U.S. companies required employees to work in-person full-time. But by the end of 2023, that share fell to just 38%. Today, 65% of companies offer some workers flexibility in where they spend their working hours (Scoop). 

The strategy now is to optimize the business for hybrid work. According to the U.S. Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, 50.5% of full-time workers with jobs suitable for remote work split their time between onsite and remote work. Knowing this, leaders should maximize in-person collaboration and interaction when employees come into the office and reserve at-home work days for more “heads-down” and independent work. Hybrid work requires new ways of leading that focus on output versus presenteeism. Organizations should invest in hybrid work training so managers can better lead distributed teams. 

“It's really important for organizations to not focus on how many days a week they're in the office, but what types of activities you should do when you go to the office. What you do with that time is what's most important.” - Naomi Titleman Colla, founder of Collaborativity

Read more: How To Structure Hybrid Work To Maximize Productivity and Joy

Hybrid Work is a Win-Win

Hybrid work offers a compelling ROI for both businesses and employees. High-growth companies have already embraced hybrid work and flexible work strategies that align with employee feedback. Based on the research, offering flexibility would be in an organization’s best interest if it wants to grow quickly and attract more talent. By promoting flexibility, boosting productivity, and enhancing employee wellbeing, hybrid work paves the way for a more successful and sustainable future for the modern workforce. 

The transition to a hybrid model requires a high level of humanity, sensitivity, and empathy to ensure that employee morale and belonging do not take a hit. Download our Hybrid Hero Checklist with the ten steps for a smooth hybrid transition. If you’re ready to start scheduling and booking desks and rooms, create your free Skedda account today.

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