The return-to-office debate has been in the ether for the better part of a year—and change. It seems we all landed on hybrid work as the solve for the flexibility employees demanded and the face-to-face culture bosses clung to. Some people, however, still need convincing.
On a recent episode of McKinsey Global Institute’s Forward Thinking podcast, Stanford economics professor Nick Bloom said companies should not only fully embrace hybrid work, but that it’s time for them to sufficiently organize hybrid plans. That means having anchor days in which everyone comes into the office to make the most out of social work.
“To be very clear: (a) this is not talking about fully remote; I’m talking about hybrid. And (b) I’m talking about well-organized hybrid,” Bloom said. “So it’s not the nightmare of 2021 where you’re in the office, I’m at home; I’m in the office, you’re at home. It’s where everyone comes in on the same anchor days, and everyone stays at home on the same home days.”
He cited the now ubiquitous virtual work meeting tool Zoom as an example: Here, employees go in to the office Tuesdays and Thursdays, where all their social events, presentations, and trainings are designated for those days and there’s good reason to be in the office. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they work from home.
There are two benefits to this well-organized hybrid model, Bloom said. One: Workers save time commuting during their work from home days, which they then spend diving into child care, enjoying leisure activities such as exercise, and working more—which most of their extra time goes to, his research shows.
“So if you are an employer, and you have an employee that works from home two days a week, they work about one hour more a week for you,” Bloom said during the podcast.
The second benefit, he added, is the “quiet or deep work” people are able to focus on when they’re working from home on designated days. “So reading, writing, preparing presentations, writing documents, thinking about stuff, maybe one-on-one,” Bloom said.
Behind every CEO and executive calling for a return to in-office work there’s been a handful of workers arguing that not only are they more productive when working from home, but that often trekking into the office proves pointless: meetings are still on Zoom and they’re doing the same work they could have done with more flexibility and comfort from home.
That’s partly because hybrid work models to this point have largely been haphazardly demanded strategies meant to return to some sense of pre-pandemic work “normalcy.” But Bloom’s organized hybrid work model attempts to make the most out of productivity at the office and at home.
Companies, he says, need to put more thought into why and what happens when workers are in the office and allow them to engage in that “deep” work in quiet environments like remote ones and take advantage of their freed up commuting time.
“Add those two things together, you’re getting something like 3 to 5 percent improvement in productivity,” Bloom said.
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