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Why We Chose an Empowered Hybrid Work Model

July 26, 2022 Digital Workplace
Andy MacMillan
By Andy MacMillan

As the country rolls farther into the “live with it” phase of the pandemic, companies of all sizes must find the work model that best suits them and their employees.

Some are asking employees to return to the office full time. One notable example is Goldman Sachs, which reopened its Wall Street headquarters in February (and saw only about half of the building’s 10,000 workers show up, despite giving more than two weeks’ notice).

At the other end of the spectrum, companies like Dropbox, Shopify and Atlassian have chosen the all-remote or remote-first route.

Then there’s the big middle: Organizations that have adopted some flavor of a hybrid model, which combines home and office working. The degree of flexibility in those arrangements can vary widely by company, from expecting staff to be remote part of the time and in the office at others to leaving the decision on where to work entirely up to each employee.

The pandemic showed corporate America that many people in jobs thought to be in-the-office, 9-5 roles can be effective — and sometimes more so — working from home. It has become harder to ask employees to leave their home offices, more flexible schedules and yes, their comfy clothes, to put in hours in an office without a very good reason. New work models are required.

What Does 'Empowered Hybrid' Mean?

Our company chose to embrace what could be called an empowered hybrid model. What is it? In a nutshell, we have made it voluntary, for most positions, to come into the office. Our policy: Get your work done wherever works best.

But there’s another side to empowered hybrid which recognizes a truth that can get lost in the rapid move to more flexible work arrangements: Some people still want to work in the office. (As an extreme extrovert, I’m one of them. I’m now back in the office four days a week, though I don’t expect others to follow suit.)

Empowered hybrid also reflects another inescapable reality: Significant benefits can accrue when employees are together, even if just occasionally. Relationships, the kind built when people are face to face rather than just connecting online, still matter. People tend to trust each other more when they have an opportunity to look each other in the eye. (Zoom helps, but it’s not always enough.)

So, while our company is giving employees the freedom to decide where they work, we’re also doing some things to make it easier and more appealing when they want to come to the office or get together at an offsite. The essence of empowered hybrid is enabling employees to live their best professional lives, in whatever location they choose.

Related Article: Your Remote Teammate Isn't Disengaged, You Just Didn't Set Them Up for Success

A Deliberate Approach to Face to Face Meetings

As part of this, we have redesigned our San Francisco headquarters. The first floor is for customer meetings and demos, and the third consists of employee office space and conference rooms. The second, though, is new open space for what we call “onsite off-sites.” That’s where our folks in the Bay Area and around the world can gather, at their discretion, when they feel it makes sense, whether that be a sales strategy meeting or a team-building retreat.

When these deliberate get-togethers happen, we work to create a great all around experience from the facilities down to their lunches. Teams arriving at one of these “onsite off-sites” will be greeted with working WiFi, Zoom rooms if they want them, white boards and any other supplies they might need.

Gone are the days when people must work in the office just because. But we have found that when there is a specific reason to come in, and it happens organically, and we make it productive and fun, the effect is powerful.

For instance, one of our teams recently held an onsite off-site, but others with a matrixed relationship to that team wanted to come in and spend time with them. It led to the sort of collaboration and trust-building mentioned earlier that sometimes happens best in person.

Another change: We discourage, as much as possible, mixed-mode meetings — those in which some participants are together in person and others have joined by videoconference. The communication in those meetings often feels so disjointed. Instead, we prefer that all involved choose one or the other. That feels more in tune with our philosophy of encouraging people to gather in person when it makes sense or work remotely when that does.

Related Article: What Makes an Office Worth Coming To?

The Last 2 Years Busted Some Myths

Empowered hybrid recognizes a prime myth-busting lesson of the last two years: namely that people don’t have to sit in an office to do great work and that, in fact, working remotely can increase productivity.

It also reflects organizational empathy by giving the people what they clearly want. Survey after survey has shown that freedom to decide where they’re based is by far employees’ preferred arrangement. For example, Pew Research reported in February that 60% of workers with jobs that can be done from home want to continue doing so.

Such numbers show that an office-centric, butts-in-seats approach to running a company has become hopelessly outdated and almost certainly will lead to employee turnover. But I also think it’s unrealistic to think trust and collaboration don’t suffer a bit when people never see each other. At the very least, it’s certainly not as much fun.

Empowered hybrid goes all-in on two notions that can be surprisingly complementary: full flexibility for people to work from home and rich opportunities to be together. I suspect that if other companies considering such a model ask their employees what they think about it, they’d get a very positive response.

About the Author

Andy MacMillan is chief executive officer of UserTesting and oversees the strategic direction of the company. Before joining UserTesting, Andy was CEO of Act-On software and held several senior leadership positions at Salesforce, including chief operating officer of the products division and senior vice president and general manager of Data.com.

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