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Our Experts Explain: How to Develop Hybrid Work's Best Practices

In last week's piece, I recounted some takeaways from the Enterprise Summit general session at Enterprise Connect 2023, where our panel of enterprise decision-makers discussed the challenge of keeping up with a constantly changing hybrid work environment. We followed that session up the next day with another main-stage panel focused exclusively on hybrid work. Near the end of this conversation, I asked our trio of enterprise execs: When it comes to supporting hybrid work, what works?

Mark Grosvenor, executive vice president and CTO at insurance broker NFP, focused on one of the biggest challenges many companies face: Getting employees to come into the office consistently. Earlier in the discussion, Grosvenor described the dilemma: "If you don't have enough people in the office, they're asking themselves, 'Why am I here? The rest of my team didn't make it in.' And if that mentality goes for the next day when the next person comes in, then nobody comes in the next week."

The office doesn't need to be at capacity for people to find the commute worthwhile, Grosvenor added. One thing that can work in a hybrid scenario is if employees think, "'Hey it's not a crowded office like it used to be, I have better exposure: This individual I wouldn't normally have a chance to interact with, I can walk by, see them in their office, stop in, say hello. They'll do the same on their way from their cube." Acknowledging that employees made the effort to come in is also key, he added: "When they do come in, recognize it. Make sure they don't feel like they came in and nobody knew they were there."

One important element: Leadership can't have a double standard when it comes to showing up at the office, Grosvenor said. "If the leaders aren't in the office, it's awfully hard for the rank and file to understand: Why do I have to be in the office? The leaders aren't here, why am I here?"

Stacy Foster, vice president at MasterCard, echoed the importance of fairness and deliberation in determining who comes into the office. MasterCard has created team agreements that govern what types of positions are required to come into the office, and how often. The team agreements also cover best practices (though not necessarily requirements) around things like turning on your video camera.

One critical element, Foster said: "The team agreements are all fully transparent, so everyone has an opportunity to see what our other teams are doing. So, if you're wondering what the team across the hall is doing, what their in-office expectations are, everyone can have access" to that information.

Foster also endorsed many of the quality-of-life adjustments that enterprises have made to work routines since the onset of the pandemic and subsequent move to hybrid work, such as meeting-free days and holding fun activities at the office. But she added that work-focused activities can also enrich the experience; her office recently held a hackathon that was well attended: "That was a really impactful event and got a lot [of people] back in and a lot of discussion and in-person collaboration," she said. MasterCard has also had success with "stacking" events on a single day-- "Maybe an employee resource group meets on same day as an all-hands," she suggested.

Our third panelist, Gary LaSasso, senior director for Global IT at New Jersey-based Amicus Therapeutics, came out strongly in favor of video deployment. "Our strategy is video-first, and it's been: Equip as many spaces as you can with video, whether it's workstations or conference rooms, but allowing that seamless interaction so that you really can connect all employees." He made a light-hearted comparison of "video everywhere" in an office to the classic New Jersey diner that has a jukebox in every booth.

Getting the rest of the office configuration and deployment right remains a work in progress, LaSasso said. At Amicus, "some office spaces are flexible, some are not flexible. Some are bookable, some are not bookable. And that mix has even changed in the last week - I think we need to add more desks for stuff we've learned. So, we as IT people need to remain flexible."

The panelists agreed that, ultimately, hybrid work is continuing to evolve. Grosvenor said his 7,000-person company--which went from 90+% in-office pre-pandemic to 95% hybrid post-pandemic-is starting to be a bit more prescriptive about coming into the office: "We've started to say hey, we would like you to be in to match the days on your persona," he said, adding, however, "I think summer's going to throw a little wrench into it as people have kids home and more activities, vacations. By fall we expect to be fully underway as far as having people back to the office to match their personas."

Which leaves open the question: What really is the future of hybrid work? If those employees come back to the office in greater numbers this fall, will they see return to office as yet another "new normal?" Or might the rhythm of hybrid work become more seasonal, with employees expecting summers to be a little more laid back, the way some companies offer adjusted summer hours?

Thinking about this issue that way suggests that hybrid work remains a work in progress, and that a lack of consistency or predictability of employee behaviors could remain a challenge for IT planning.