Credit: Mimi Phan
Ideas Made to Matter
A 4-step framework for returning to the office
Whether a multinational corporation or a small business with a half-dozen desks, the question many companies are asking is: How do we go back to the office?
The managers who oversee the 1,300 Massachusetts employees working for Gillette are asking themselves that question. And a trio of MIT Sloan Action Learning students have an answer in the form of a four-step framework they developed in a project with Gillette, the shaving brand owned by Procter & Gamble.
“It gives managers a clear, easy-to-follow plan for how departments or teams can best engage when some employees are in the office and others are virtual,” said MIT Sloan lecturer the faculty mentor for the student team — part of Enterprise Management Lab.
The four steps to the framework are:
- Identify the key metrics that are vital to a company’s success.
- Identify the optimal in-office days to maximize the efficacy of every metric.
- Rank the metrics for every step of the product lifeline.
- Use a weighted average to determine the optimal number of days in the office for each step of the product lifeline.
While not every team or company is focused on a product launch, there is some type of deliverable to meet, which can serve as the “product” in the third step of the framework.
Students Jon Conway, Nae Ravisara Grover, and Jarron Lord set the four steps after a combination of primary and secondary research on subjects like performance metrics and physical proximity and industry practices within and outside the consumer product industry, as well as feedback from weekly meetings with Gillette as the company remotely launched its King C. Gillette product line in 2020.
And while the point is to follow the four steps, within each step is the opportunity to tailor the framework to any company using it — P&G or otherwise.
“We wanted to provide managers a tool to make a deliberate decision, to not just randomly choose based on what they think is right,” Lord said. “It’s not ‘This is how you should run your firm,’ it’s ‘This is how you should allow managers to make the decisions of how they run their teams.’”
Using Gillette as the example, here’s a closer look at the framework steps.
Identify the key metrics that are vital to your success
Based on the team’s research and company feedback, the key metrics used for Gillette were: agility, creativity, collaboration, employee satisfaction, initial socialization, and ongoing team trust.
Other companies, even different teams within the Gillette brand itself, might have some of those same metrics — or none at all. And that’s okay. This is a step where any manager and team can customize the steps based on their priorities and metrics.
“It gives us a qualitative starting point for some of these more quantitative decisions,” Conway said.
Identify the optimal in-office days to maximize the efficacy of every metric
After you’ve identified those key metrics, consider each one in the context of a 5-day work week in which each particular metric is the only priority for your team.
For example, collaboration requires people to work together, Grover said. If collaboration was the only metric Gillette’s product team cared about, they would be in the office five days a week in order to prioritize that metric.
Depending on where a team is in their product launch or in meeting a deliverable, those metrics and in-office days will change. Which leads to the third step of the framework.
Assign a value to every step of your product lifeline
Not every company or unit makes a tangible good. For this step, use whatever your deliverable happens to be, and its corresponding timeline from start to finish. To illustrate this part of the framework, the student team used Gillette’s Successful Initiative Management and Product Launch model, which has four phases: innovate idea, discover, prepare for launch, launch.
For each of the phases, the students asked Gillette to assign values to the key metrics identified in the first step of the framework (like creativity and collaboration) on a scale of 1 to 6. The higher the value, the more important the metric.
Use a weighted average to determine the optimal number of days in the office for each step of the product lifeline
The students calculated Gillette’s ideal weekly days in-office by finding the weighted average of the optimal number of days from step 2 of the framework, with the assigned values determined in step 3.
“The interesting thing [for Gillette] that came out of the framework was that for all the different steps, even though we rank the importance of the different metrics, it came out to approximately three days for all the steps,” Grover said. “That was interesting to us, that no matter what metric [Gillette] prioritized, in the end it comes out to approximately three days. Then the question becomes, if we know it’s three days, when exactly and for what purpose should they be going in then.”
Recommendations and 25-minute meetings
Once you’ve calculated your optimal in-office days, set a plan for a pilot program.
In Gillette’s case, the students suggested that one day in the office be a functional team day during which employees plan, brainstorm, and engage with their teammates.
The second day would be a cross-functional day, in which critical activities requiring cross-functional engagement are decided and reviewed. This day is also helpful for “water-cooler” conversations between teams, and is determined based on space and availability in the workspace.
The third pilot day for Gillette would be more like a decentralized, social Friday where there’s a brief all-hands meeting or scrum presentation and then the rest of the day is used for employees to talk and reestablish broader relationships across the department.
The remaining two days would be remote work.
The students also recommend a company:
Establish daily meeting hours. Important for remote days, but could apply to in-office days. This gives predictability to employees and protects individual time used for completing tasks.
- Provide an order of preference for communication. Applies for in-office and remote days. Employees can share their personal preferences and the company can standardize a format to streamline connections. Employees are also encouraged to put this information in their email signature block.
- Practice 25-minute meetings. Applies mainly for remote days when employees lose the ability to drop by someone’s office or desk to get a question answered. This results in large blocks of virtual meetings. Break up longer meetings into shorter chunks. Set intentional five-minute breaks in between to decompress and prepare for the next meeting.
P&G Human Resources Director Monya Fiore said the brand’s grooming executive board is already practicing shorter meetings.
“As we talk about hybrid return to work, we will also take their recommended structure into play with modification, to enable additional flexibility,” Fiore said.
The framework and recommendations were presented to Gillette as a resource for managers to consider as they decide when and how employees and teams will return to the office. The framework can be used by any manger and company leader, though the students said there will be complexities in any organization. For example, Gillette employees can work on more than one team, meaning the 3-day pilot wouldn’t be uniformly implemented at Gillette if that is the approach chosen by managers.
“All firms are faced with balancing employee satisfaction, productivity, and the real costs and constraints of physical space,” Lord said. “When looking at the future of work, it is vital that firms consider the implications of different plans holistically on their operations and employees, and the framework helps to ensure that those decisions are made deliberately.”