A toolkit, a framework, insights, and advice. Whatever you want to call it, we all needed some help this year as we navigated a return to our offices and faced the logistical, technical, and interpersonal challenges that came with figuring out how to work outside of our homes after the better part of two years.
A lot of smart minds — many of them MIT faculty, students, and alumni — have also been considering these challenges. Here’s a roundup of some actionable steps and useful advice to help managers plan a return to the office, stay connected to their hybrid workforce, and ensure employees’ well-being.
As offices reopen and employees return to their desks, workers remaining remote might find themselves feeling lost. During the EmTech Next conference, hosted by MIT Technology Review, architectural and design firm Gensler’s Jordan Goldstein said organizations need to consider outfitting their conference rooms and other collaborative areas for “mixed reality meetings” between colleagues who are in the office and those who are remote.
GitLab moved its more than 1,300 employees to an entirely remote workforce in 2014. GitLab Vice President of User Experience Christie Lenneville recommended companies:
- Document everything.
- Hold remote open office hours.
- Record videos to support asynchronous communication.
- Be intentional about informal communication.
In their book “Remote, Inc.,” MIT Sloan senior lecturer and tech and data writer Alexandra Samuel, offer ways for managers to effectively communicate with and encourage productivity in their remote employees.
“Even experienced managers face new challenges when they first start managing an all or partially remote team,” the authors write. “You need to ensure your team gets its work done, but you also need to put some extra thought and TLC into managing the issues that crop up for remote workers, like personal isolation and trouble communicating with colleagues.”
The authors offer four tools: ground rules, team meetings, one-on-ones, and performance reviews.
A new employer toolkit designed by MIT Sloan professorand Meg Lovejoy of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, includes steps and resources to help managers give employees more control over their work, cut back on excessive work demands, and improve social relationships in the workplace.
The five parts of the toolkit are:
- Overview – Work Design for Health: A Promising Approach to Worker Well-Being.
- Work Design Principle 1 — Give employees more control over their work.
- Work Design Principle 2 — Tame excessive work demands.
- Work Design Principle 3 — Improve social relationships in the workplace.
- Plan and Implement a Work-Design-for-Health Approach.
In October 2020 Dropbox announced a “virtual first” working model in which employees would spend most of their time at home but also schedule visits to a “Dropbox Studio” for in-person work with teammates.
During his visit to MIT, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston spoke with Ideas Made to Matter about some achievements, challenges, and observations that have come from leading a company in the pandemic era.
“There's so many great things about the remote environment,” Houston said. “You have a lot of flexibility, you don't have to commute. But there's no substitute for the in-person experience and technology can only go so far to simulate that. Going remote-only was not an option for us.”
A trio of MIT Sloan Action Learning students built a framework for hybrid work models that offers 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.
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 (or deliverable) lifeline.
- Use a weighted average to determine the optimal number of days in the office for each step of the product lifeline.