A one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to apply to hybrid work, writes Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Many companies have embraced hybrid work as the most viable work arrangement to even out the pros and cons.
Last Updated : 12 September 2023, 14:05 IST
Last Updated : 12 September 2023, 14:05 IST

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Though children have been herded back to schools for in-person learning, the world of work has continued to support working from home. For employers, it means cost-cutting in terms of rent, greater productivity demonstrated by workers and the flexibility to hire people from different parts of the country or globe. Employees don’t have to contend with tedious commutes; they will have more control over when they work and can be around for kids, elderly parents or when the repairman comes calling.

However, remote working also leads to isolation, a lack of conviviality among team members, an inability to experience and imbibe a firm’s culture and a dearth of creative solutions that tend to emerge only when people meet face-to-face.

Many companies have embraced hybrid work as the most viable work arrangement to even out the pros and cons. Whether work-life balance or maximising productivity without compromising creativity or camaraderie, hybrid work is considered an optimal solution. That said, is there an ideal ratio of number of days at work versus home? Do bosses and workers see eye to eye on this?

In an interview in Harvard Magazine conducted by Christina Pazzanese, Harvard Business School Professor Ethan Bernstein avers that we don’t yet have adequate data on which model works best. Companies cannot let individuals decide for themselves, as people often work in teams. Whether or not a person comes to work impacts the entire team. Seeking consensus on the issue is also not the best strategy, as people have different perspectives.

Bernstein thinks each organisation must experiment and evolve what works best for them. A one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to apply to hybrid work. He recommends that bosses not just go with their own intuitions but consider diverse viewpoints before zeroing in on the most optimal model.

In another article by Ben Rand, published in Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School Professor Prithwiraj Choudhury thinks there might be a “sweet spot in the middle” regarding hybrid work. He has studied hybrid work practices in many organisations worldwide, including Tata Consultancy Services, where workers must report to the office only 25% of the time, with the days varying “from group to group.”

According to Choudhury, the best way to determine the ideal ratio is to allow each team to establish “the co-location schedule.” While that works well for individuals who work solely in a team, it becomes more complex for people, including bosses, whose work straddles various teams.

Facilitating 3-D encounters

For Aarti Ramakrishnan, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Crayon Data, a big data and artificial intelligence company with offices in Chennai, Singapore and Dubai, hybrid work is not a new concept as the company used to allow employees to work from home five days a month even before the pandemic.

The company is now encouraging employees based in Chennai to return to in-person work at least once or twice a week. According to Ramakrishnan, younger employees who entered the workforce during the pandemic and have not experienced the benefits of working on location are more reluctant to come to work. However, they are more likely to embrace hybrid work once they understand how in-person interactions may jumpstart collaboration and facilitate brainstorming and serendipitous encounters. Building social equity is also much easier during face-to-face interactions. 

Likewise, Anshu Mittal, Director of Putnam Associates, a strategy consulting company in Gurugram, agrees that some in-person encounters are essential to building social capital. After all, two-dimensional digital interactions can’t entirely capture the dynamics of three-dimensional face-to-face meetings.

Her company, too, is nudging people to come to work two days a week if they live in the National Capital Region. For those who live in other cities, individuals in senior positions are requested to come to the office around once every three months. Mittal believes that new recruits absorb a firm’s culture better when trained in person for a few days at the beginning. 

However, her company is adopting a very gentle approach to encouraging people to report to work in person. As the company does not want to risk unnecessary attrition, its policy regarding the ideal ratio is currently very flexible.

Similarly, Ramakrishnan concurs that a top-down approach to human resources mandating a certain number of days at work is not the best strategy. Rather, employees must realise that the office is a collaborative workspace. Managers and teams must figure out how to harness the ‘best’ of both options.

(The author is a counsellor)

Published 12 September 2023, 14:05 IST

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