Hybrid schedules are becoming increasingly the norm as companies across the globe start to mandate a return to office in some shape or form.
There are multiple routes to go, leaving employers to ask: what’s the best hybrid work structure? Most immediately that means nailing down what days to mandate each week. Tuesday through Thursday in the office seems a popular route, allowing still for some employee flexibility. But there are actually a myriad of options, some of which are potentially being overlooked.
One such hybrid underdog is the mandated one-week-a-month in-office model. That’s when the entire company unites for a full week of in-person collaboration across departments, and works the rest of the month remotely. As such, it takes some proper planning.
During this one week numerous internal town halls, social events, and important meetings are scheduled. The other three weeks during the month are significantly more flexible, with employees able to choose if they come in any of the recommended three days. Some employees have described that one week where everyone is in the office as a booster shot for creativity.
Companies that range in size have adopted this model including corporate catering company ezCater and makeup brand Benefit Cosmetics as well as smaller companies, like airport management solutions company AeroCloud and insurance company Assurance IQ.
But even for those companies adopting the same flexible working principle, there is no one-size-fits-all. As such, each are going about it a little differently, depending on the unique needs of their businesses.
Benefit didn’t officially reopen its offices for the long term until March 2022. Before that reopening, the company’s leaders spent time speaking with colleagues internally within different offices across the country, to figure out the right model, according to Benefit’s chief people officer Beverly Morgan. That meant assessing employee sentiments and the needs of people’s specific jobs, instead of a sweeping mandate that didn’t take into account different job functions.
It broke down job functions into three buckets: remote jobs, that can work from anywhere all the time, flex jobs, that can largely be remote but employees should be able to travel to the office on a moment’s notice if needed, and then hybrid jobs. Over 50% of its staff is hybrid. Naturally, Tuesday through Thursday ended up being the busiest days in the office, but there is significant flexibility for three weeks out of the month.
However, the fourth week of every month is the mandatory “Think Pink Week,” where flex and hybrid workers must be in the office Monday through Thursday.
“We have a couple of things that happen that week,” said Morgan. “All of our town halls always happen during Think Pink Week. All in-person learning and development happens that week, like all of the exploration or coaching workshops. We also do our ERG [employee resource group] takeovers that week. There’s lunch-and-learns, and a cocktail social that happens every Thursday. Sometimes they have speakers and panelists. It’s also when we do all of our CSR [corporate social responsibility] initiatives.”
The schedule of Think Pink Weeks is distributed at the beginning of the year to minimize vacation time during those weeks, and then the schedule of events goes out a week before for specific programming. It launched in 2020 as a pilot, but has been highly successful, which Benefit has measured through pulse surveys.
While it boosts collaboration, Morgan admitted it can still be a big adjustment for workers. “If I’ve heard any feedback, it’s about the commuting into San Francisco,” she said. “A lot of people migrated further out, and the metro system in the city isn’t the best. If there’s any negative sentiment, it’s the ‘OK, one more day I have to change my routine.’”
It’s a reminder of why the company wouldn’t mandate the full four days in the office the other three weeks of the month, but how it can be helpful in boosting productivity.
ezCater calls its one week in the office “ezTogether weeks,” where all staff are invited to collaborate in the Boston or Denver offices for the week. In contrast to Benefit, these weeks aren’t mandated, but they are highly encouraged.
Janine Allo, chief people and culture officer at ezCater, said the company has avoided mandates at all costs. The remaining three weeks of the month, people are welcome to go into the office if they want to. Free food is provided on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as a sweetener, but it’s largely up to departments to decide what they want to do. In 2021 the catering company hosted its first annual “Summer Sweetness” event, where anyone who wanted to come in was invited, with travel costs covered by the company, and it was a huge success.
“We have more than half of our folks that are remote in 40 states,” said Allo. “We didn’t mandate it, but we had a large percentage of the company come in. Then we said ‘jeez, we need to do this more often. So how do we do that more often?’”
The leadership team went back and forth about how often they should host a collaboration week. Should it be once a quarter? Or once a month? They settled on the latter, and it’s been a hit ever since. Mondays and Fridays are largely travel days, but otherwise the office is bustling with more people than the rest of the month. This past July, they had 600 people in the office, out of their 850 employees. Other times of the year it ranges from 75 to 200 people at any one time.
Liciê Leite, senior public relations associate, said in the five months she’s worked at ezCater, she’s been to the Boston office three times, traveling from North Carolina.
“It’s such a great experience to have the flexibility to work from home but [also] being able to go to the office and meet people and sit down with them and have lunch,” said Leite. “I’ve met Janine, I’ve met our CEO, and a number of my colleagues. We connect and bond and to me [it] is a great benefit to have.”
And Allo said they will stick to this model for a while. With RTO mandates dominating new headlines still, there is always at least one ezCater employee who asks if there are any plans to mandate a full return.
“It’s about listening to your employees along the way,” said Allo. “Our employees are very, very clear around not wanting mandates. We don’t have any plans to change our strategy. Of course, we can’t guarantee because we don’t know what the world is going to look like in the next five years. But there is no strategy other than making us the best remote hybrid workplace we can be.”
Elsewhere, AeroCloud, which has 52 employees, also sees the benefit of a collaboration week. For the rest of the month, different departments tag teams on when they come in, depending what works for different teams. But the collaboration week is valued as an opportunity for cross-departmental sharing.
“We have AeroCloud experience events on the Wednesday of each collab week,” said Damian Fairbrother-Jones, COO at AeroCloud. “It’s a big social event, so we might go 10-pin bowling, or have someone come into the office to do cocktails, or go out for dinner, or for a country walk. It’s an opportunity for people to socialize outside of work as well. It works really well holding it then.”
The feedback? Happy employees. Fairbrother-Jones knows “every week can’t be collab week,” but this hybrid flexible model suits everyone. And they’ve been open with people during the hiring process about this too in an effort to build the culture that makes sense for their company.
“Being really open with people during the hiring process is really important,” said Fairbrother-Jones. “Great candidates haven’t joined AeroCloud because they couldn’t get on board with our collab week and wanting people to come into the office more. People have gotten very used to working remotely. People can now find in the workplace the flexibility that works for them so that they can be the most happy and engaged employee.”