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While the debate over returning full-time to the office rages, one thing is worth further consideration: The five-day commute may be harmful to your people and the planet.
There’s certainly value to being in the office, particularly as you look to the future. Employees under 30 are the least likely to favor fully remote work, which has come with a cost. Gallup shows that Generation Zers and millennials are now as disengaged as their elders, in part due to the lack of social connection and encouragement the office provides.
Yet overwhelming research says a full return spurs turnover, saps creativity, limits the talent pool and lays waste to productivity — all when you could have the best of both worlds.
Related: Welcome to the Hybrid Work Era
Begin with the simple math of a five-day commute. Add the average time spent in a car or bus to the many minutes burned on interruptions and watercooler distractions, and your employees automatically start the week with a 10-hour deficit. This is just the beginning of the harm inflicted by command-and-control management, where you need to see people sitting in their seats to know they’re working, and where attendance counts more than output.
To put it bluntly: It’s lazy leadership. Watching people “working” is a poor replacement for clear performance outcomes and accountability. If you insist on this arrangement, you’ll have to forgive employees for feeling like you’re operating a daycare.
This outdated form of leadership is based on the assumption that the old way of working boosts culture and productivity. On the contrary, as the Harvard Business Review notes, the Great Resignation began well before the pandemic. And in a recent survey by Mercer, 94% of companies with remote workers said productivity was equal to, or greater than, pre-pandemic levels.
Cisco took a deeper dive. In a survey of 28,000 people, 61% of the networking company’s remote employees reported improvement in the quality of their work. Nearly the same found self-improvement in job knowledge. Half saw leaps in working relationships and attitudes.
It’s not hard to understand why. While a one-size-fits-all approach works well for machines, it’s disastrous for humans. Pillars of health including exercise, sleep and stress levels improved when the world went remote. In other words: Give employees the flexibility to navigate their own circumstances, and they’ll be happier, more motivated and less likely to leave.
Related: How to Balance Employee Happiness and Business Expectations
Getting the most from your employees
Hybrid is the optimal model for workers, the organization and the Earth. The ideal office time, based on nearly two decades of research and practice, seems to be two to three days a week. Humans need that sense of connection and collaboration at the office. But they also require uninterrupted time to focus, to create and to think deeply. Grant them the flexibility to work in a way best suited to them, and better performance is the natural result.
In this new age of inclusivity, hybrid work is more respectful of different types of workers, including mothers, single parents and persons with disabilities. By thinking outside the idea of the prototypical worker, company executives can create a more inclusive environment for everyone.
Rather than issue a company-wide mandate, scheduling decisions should be made on a team-by-team basis. Accounting, for example, doesn’t have the same in-person needs as human resources. This allows teams to optimize their intentional time together while showing employees the trust to do the same with their focus time.
We know that healthy workers make more productive workers. Especially in a knowledge economy, they need time to think. Take away the waste of pointless commutes and office interruptions five days per week, and build in the ability to work remotely on certain days. In doing so, you can reap the best of both worlds — focus and deep thinking balanced with collaboration and connection at the office.
You’ll also be addressing what McKinsey calls the “purpose hierarchy gap.” Only 18% of employees feel a sense of purpose that gives their work meaning, compared with 85% of executives.
Related: 5 Steps to Implement the Ideal Hybrid Work Model
By stressing the environmental savings of pulling all those cars off the roads, you give purpose through a shared mission of doing less harm to the environment. All the better if it allows you to reduce your office footprint. Interestingly, buildings account for nearly 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. The largest source of emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, is the transportation sector, led by cars and pickups.
Finally, there’s an extra bonus in all this: You’ll become a better manager. The hybrid system ups the game on communication. That’s because you can’t rely on chance encounters to interact. When you’re working at a distance, you have to be more intentional with one-on-ones. So, those who do this well will be on their way to mastering one of the most fundamental skills of great leadership.