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The State of Remote Work in 2024: 6 Best-Practice Tips from Talent Leaders


It’s arguably one of the most pressing questions of the post-pandemic era: “Where should we work?”

 

Four years out from the first days of the global shutdown and industries are still wrestling with when and how to reintroduce in-office policies—if they reintroduce them at all. Currently, US office occupancy rates hover at around 53% for major cities as employers attempt to straddle the space between making good use of office real estate on the one hand and honoring our new “remote work” culture on the other.[1] At the same time, many working professionals have gotten so used to doing their jobs at home, they consider mandated office hours a serious dealbreaker.

 

And hybrid solutions? They’re often tenuous at best. So, with existential concepts like workplace efficiency, employee morale, and company ROI on the line, what’s the optimal answer to our workplace woes? Here are six best-practice takeaways from a recent CSHRP survey of companies across a wide variety of industries (from life sciences to high tech to non-tech), each provided with the following questions:"What are your firms doing about bringing employees back on site? Are you requiring a minimum number of days in the office, or have you closed offices and moved to fully remote?"

 

#1: Choose policies wisely and “mandate” with caution.

 

Before settling on a fully remote, fully on-site, or fully hybrid plan, consider the kind of organization you represent. What type of workforce does it need to function now? What kind of schedule is the most practical for your purposes? How open would your employees be to working at home or on site, or both? Bear in mind that, though one policy might initially appear more attractive than the others (i.e., “Everybody’s going remote! It’s how we work now!”), the trendiest option may not always be the most realistic for your business. For example, one survey respondent announced they’ve gone 100% remote, but took care to note that, as a pharmaceutical startup with employees spread out across the globe, this system makes the most logistical sense for the company, at least for now. Conversely, another, much larger respondent managing five separate tech company locations has broken workforce policy down according to function, with some branches requiring more on-site days than other, more administrative divisions.

 

Clearly, what’s best for one team isn’t always feasible for the next. And then there’s our post-pandemic culture to think about. In today’s somewhat uncharted post-COVID territory, strict on-site mandates can sometimes spark backlash, particularly as we grapple with a new reality that demands a healthier work/life balance. One software company participant even reported that in-house discussions on mandated four-day calendars had received decisive “push back”—and from members of leadership, no less. Similarly, a biotech firm said that, with so many outfits offering flexible work schedules, organizations who insist on enforcing a heavy in-office calendar run the risk of losing employees to companies who allow for more personal freedom.

 

The upshot? Choose your RTO policy carefully. Go fully remote and you could rob your company of essential on-site functions required to keep business afloat. Go fully on-site and you could alienate a workforce that’s still reeling from a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic as well as a global shift in perspective on compassionate self-care.

 

#2: Be clear, honest, and upfront.

 

If you do opt for a hybrid schedule, be definitive about it. Flexibility is great, but only up to a point. And if you fail to codify your RTO rules, you could be in for a world of hurt.

 

As the Korn Ferry Institute recently observed, ad hoc on-site schedules, combined with post-pandemic downsizing of company space, can sometimes lead to days with more employees in office than there are desks to accommodate them.[2] (Indeed, one biotech company surveyed noted Tuesdays and Thursdays have naturally become their busiest on-site workdays, even without an official policy in place.)

 

But a looser schedule can also result in near-empty office days with too few employees on site to get any real collaborative work done: a phenomenon that can be just as unproductive as a packed house with limited resources. (Case in point: The same biotech company cited above actually encourages busier in-office days, as they feel this ensures colleagues get a steady dose of facetime.)

 

TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read). If you don’t employ a specific policy, wires are bound to get crossed, and workers will invariably stay home on days you’d prefer they come in…and vice versa. One simple way to combat this problem is to be clear about when you expect staff on site and when you don’t. With this in mind, many respondents have established mandatory “core” or “common” in-office days to avoid unnecessary confusion (FYI: Tuesdays and Thursdays seem to be the most popular choices). However, if the word “mandatory” puts you on your guard as per my previous warning, you can take a page from another participant who offers two required on-site days and one “flex” day that workers can select for themselves.

 

Remember though, being clear about your hybrid policy also means being upfront about your schedule when hiring. Take care not to lure in new team members with the promise of a self-determined schedule only to surprise them with a “core” calendar system once they sign on. And if you think your policy is subject to change as your business grows, be upfront about that, too.

 

#3: Try segmenting your policy by employee role or location…or both.

 

Not sure which RTO schedule is the most efficient for your organization? Maybe it’s time to think about a hybrid strategy for your hybrid schedule. Approximately 57% of our respondents have adopted a segmented calendar with different policies for different employees––a solution one enterprise software participant called “a blended approach by functions.”

 

I recommend taking a long, hard look at your team and deciding who absolutely needs to be in the office each day (e.g., lab technicians or IT troubleshooters); who can perform some functions off site (field operators or R&D personnel); and who can serve your company while being fully remote (admin or contact center representatives). One respondent even suggests going the extra mile by “refram[ing] what productivity means in order to highlight what can best be achieved at home, or with [colleagues] from an office.” This way employees have role-appropriate guidelines for what success looks like at home and on site.

 

But keep in mind “individual role” doesn’t have to be the only determining factor in your segmentation process. In fact, my findings indicate it’s excellent good-faith practice to make distance a part of your “blended approach.” Of the 57% surveyed who mentioned segmented scheduling, around one third of those make exemptions for employees living outside a certain radius (usually around 60 miles or so).

 

#4: Don’t give leadership a pass.

 

Finalizing a fully on-site or a remote hybrid schedule? Don’t let leadership off the hook. Optics would be less than ideal if you forced lower-level employees into on-site requirements but allowed management- or senior-level teammates to phone in their work week. Some surveyed companies told me they insist on having leadership roles be present in office Monday through Friday. And while this policy might sound a little too stringent for some, I’d submit it’s best to have leadership in office for the same number of days as other team members (or more). If nothing else, this policy can help boost morale and ease roadblocks if and when workflow challenges arise.

 

#5: Provide incentives where you can.

 

Re-establishing office hours is hard. Lots of employees who got a taste of remote work during pandemic lockdowns will have a very difficult time transitioning back to the ‘daily commute grind’. So, if you desperately need workers in office, it’s now up to you to make it more worth their while than ever before. Try offering some fun incentives whenever possible. Methods can vary from company to company here, but the point should always be to let employees know their presence is greatly appreciated in a newly remote world. Around 31% of survey participants said they organize company lunches during mandatory in-office days, while many respondents reported these meals are offered entirely for free. Other perks mentioned include team-sponsored happy hours, company bus access, complimentary seminars, and free expert talks. Again, the incentives might differ depending on the organization, but the message remains the same.  

 

#6: Remember: “Fully remote” doesn’t mean “no human contact ever.”

 

We all know human contact is demonstrably good for the soul as well as the psyche. Luckily, there’s no rule that says a remote workforce is a workforce that never gets together in person. Even if your organization has gone fully remote, you can always encourage regular “IRL” hangouts––which don’t necessarily need to have anything to do with work. One biotech respondent actively supports monthly employee meetups, supplying funds for space and a meal to facilitate genuine human interaction. Another participant described an informal satellite system for their blockchain company in which smaller groups gather at designated WeWork stations to help “promote culture and community.” Other notable entries in the battle against loneliness and isolation were the “In Person Week” as well as the quarterly “connection day event,” both of which enable mostly remote workers to clock on-site hours in one fell swoop while simultaneously catching up with colleagues’ face to face.


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Robert David brings 40+ years of academic, operational, executive management, and board experience to his current role as Executive Director for the Community for Strategic HR Partnership (CSHRP), a consortium of talent executives. Robert is also CEO and Founder for Silicon Valley Executive Education. He advises on ExecEd best practices by defining, then implementing Executive/Director/Manager-focused programs. He’s certified as an aPHR by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). Robert also serves on the board of directors for The Gratitude Network. Robert was previously the Executive Director, Corporate Education at UC Berkeley. He graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Want more best-practice tips for implementing either a remote, on-site, or hybrid workforce strategy? If you’re not already a member of the CSHRP Community - contact CSHRP at robert@cshrp.com or 925-202-6554 for details.

 

 

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