Innovative Strategies to Cure Your Hybrid Work Headaches

Given the current employment landscape and evolving work styles, many employers have struggled to find an effective means of easing the return to at least partial in-person work. However, according to a recent piece from SHRM, the J.M. Smucker Company has found success by implementing an innovative schedule known as "core weeks." This unique approach requires employees to come into the office in Orrville, Ohio for 22 specific weeks each year, while allowing them to work from home for the remainder of the year. According to the company's employees, this strategy not only promotes in-person collaboration but also provides them with the flexibility they need in their schedules.

In a Microsoft survey, it was found that 52 percent of employees express a preference for remote or hybrid work for the remainder of their careers. Additionally, office usage in many cities remains below pre-pandemic levels. Given this new landscape, the adoption of core weeks by employees is a promising indicator for employers on the hunt for effective work management strategies.  "Core weeks" is one among several new emerging models that could be game changing.

The concept of core weeks has also gained traction at Making Science, a marketing and advertising agency in Chicago with a national employee count of 1,200. "We have sales teams distributed across the U.S., and we make a point to get the entire U.S. team together for core weeks throughout the year," said Mallory Bradford, chief customer officer. "This is for team building, skill building and to ensure we are listening to each other and holding ourselves accountable to maintaining a team mentality."

According to Bradford, the balanced approach adopted by Making Science allows them to leverage the advantages of both in-person and remote work, providing employees with flexibility and support in any work environment.

Depending on differences in industry and company needs, core days may serve a similar purpose to core weeks. At Marvin, a leading manufacturer of windows and doors with a workforce of 7,000 employees, the majority of nonmanufacturing staff are expected to be present in the office for two to three designated core days per week. This strategic policy was developed after conducting thorough internal surveys and gathering valuable insights from employee focus groups.

"Employees need consistency and predictability, but also a strong 'why' rooted in the company's culture in order to see the value of in-office work," said Marvin's senior director of communications and culture, Renee Rice. "We continue to check in to discover how the hybrid model is going and what could be improved." 

An Opportunity for Engaging In-Person Events 

At Datasite, a software company in Minnesota with a workforce of 1,000 employees, departments have the autonomy to determine their own core days that align with their team's needs, according to CHRO Deb LaMere. For instance, one team has designated Wednesdays as an in-office day to cultivate stronger relationships and encourage deeper collaboration. On these days, Datasite organizes all-hands meetings, enriching learning opportunities, and engaging events.

"At our headquarters in Minneapolis, at which about 400 employees are based, we've held several fun and educational events, such as a Minnesota Vikings party and a taco lunch with leadership and board members, to give employees a specific date on which they can come into the office and likely reconnect with colleagues," said LaMere. "Having in-office days and events can foster camaraderie, build connections and give employees a chance to celebrate."

TechSmith, a software company based in East Lansing, Mich., is another organization that embraces the concept of core days and goes the extra mile to foster connection among employees. According to Amy Casciotti, the vice president of human resources, TechSmith organizes a variety of in-person events on these core days, including guest speakers, informational sessions, catered lunches, "bring your kid to work" day, and even basketball tournaments. The ultimate goal of these events is to create opportunities for employees to connect with one another and strengthen their relationships within the company.

"We strongly believe that a combination of in-office and remote work is ideal," Casciotti said. "In-office time provides opportunities for relationship building and connecting with others across the organization outside of your standard working group and gives people new perspectives and opportunities they may otherwise not experience. Those collisions are important to have, but they don't need to happen all the time. It's why we let most of the decisions around remote and in-office work happen at the team level." 

Prioritize Building a Local Team

Bynder, a digital asset management company located in Boston, has implemented a hybrid work model for its 550 employees. Local employees have the opportunity to work in the office for two to three designated core days each week, while the rest of their work can be done remotely. This flexible approach allows employees to balance in-person collaboration with the convenience and autonomy of remote work.

"As a company, when we're looking for new talent, the preference would be to find someone living near one of the Bynder offices so they can go into the office on a regular basis to meet up with others," said global director of people and talent Ruben Vermaak. "It is important to us for our employees to form connections, which can be difficult with fully remote roles."

Vermaak observed that employees who had the experience of working in a Bynder office before transitioning to remote work developed stronger and more meaningful connections with their colleagues. "If a company or individual prefers a remote-first approach," he cautions, "it's important that the whole team meets in person at least a few times a year for brainstorming sessions, training and team bonding." 

An Appealing Environment Draws Employees to the Office

To entice employees back to the office, employers face the challenge of competing with the comforts of working from home. However, by creating a more inviting and comfortable office environment, employers can motivate more employees to return for their designated core days or weeks. For example, Making Science recently unveiled a new workspace boasting a well-stocked kitchen with free snacks and beverages, as well as weekly in-person training sessions to enhance employees' skills.

"We want it to be an inviting, collaborative space that employees enjoy working from when they head into the office," said Bradford.

Casciotti, Vice President of Human Resources at TechSmith, describes their headquarters as meticulously designed to foster connections. The office features two kitchens on different floors, each with its own purpose - one for specialty drinks and the other for snacks - to encourage collaboration and interaction among employees. Additionally, there are numerous hangout rooms throughout the office, as well as a spacious atrium where people can gather and engage in conversations. TechSmith even provides adult beverages to create a relaxed atmosphere for impromptu happy hours.

Regardless of which strategies employers elect to adopt to encourage a return to the office - from core days and weeks to in-person perks - it is evident that involving employees in the decision-making process is key to success.

"Ultimately, there needs to be mutual respect and compromise to ensure both parties are content with their working situation so they can remain happy and productive," Casciotti said. "Flexibility is a two-way street. Companies need to be flexible if they want employees to be flexible, and vice versa."