- In hybrid workplaces, employees zip in and out of offices, oftentimes with alternating schedules.
- Allowing employees to choose their own schedules risks a lack of diversity in the office.
- At the same time, employees who choose their own schedules have higher job satisfaction and engagement.
Before the pandemic, working from home was the exception—not the norm. Just 5.7% of U.S. employees were fully remote in 2019. With lockdowns, we moved from one extreme to another with the majority of U.S. employees forced to work from home on a full-time basis.
The overnight shift proved to be a success for employers and employees alike: productivity thrived, and despite challenges achieving work-life balance, employees gave high ratings to their newfound flexibility.
Though intended to be temporary, working from home was a profound shakeup to work as we long knew it. And it’s forced companies to reconsider what work will look like moving forward.
Many organizations are looking to marry the best of both worlds into new hybrid work models that are part office-based, part remote. But as companies try to determine what this scheduling looks like in practice, it’s raising a big question: who should determine hybrid schedules?
The scheduling challenge with hybrid work
Before we delve into hybrid scheduling and whether employees should be able to choose their own WFH days, let’s talk about what hybrid work is.
Just as it sounds, it’s a hybrid of two workplace models, consisting of part office-based and part remote work.
Hybrid work might sound simple in theory, it may be complicated to execute. In part, this is because there’s no consensus on a single optimal schedule for hybrid work or ideal split between office and WFH days.
In the absence of a proven formula, companies have lots of questions:
- How do they determine the best scheduling patterns?
- Who gets to choose when employees work from home and when they come into the office?
- What happens if people WFH too much? Or too little?
Here are two opposing perspectives :
Why employees should not choose their WFH days
When workers choose their own WFH and office days, there may be little scheduling coordination within teams and companies. There are two main reasons this can be a problem:
Lack of diversity in the office
While a majority of workers across genders want to work from home, there’s a stronger preference to do so among women. This may be due to childcare and household obligations, which fell overwhelmingly to women during the pandemic.
If scheduling is left to individual preferences, there’s a risk this trend will continue, with men more likely to come into the office and women working from home in order to accommodate their families.
This may take a toll on women’s representation and visibility in the workplace, reducing diversity in the office and limiting growth for those who work from home more frequently.
In-office workers feel more included
No commute time, no need to wear pants—there are lots of reasons working from home is appealing. But there are still some distinct advantages to coming into the office.
Though productivity from home is typically high and teams have found ways to maintain their connection while apart, there are social benefits to working within physical proximity. Working closely together breeds a sense of belonging that helps to nurture trust and strengthen relationships and networks.
In turn, this may improve the influence and advancement prospects of workers who come into the office more often—while those working from home may never notice that they’re at a disadvantage. By mandating schedules, companies can help level the playing field.
Why employees should choose their own WFH days
Conversely, giving workers autonomy over their schedules can also provide some benefits:
Higher job satisfaction
Colleen McCreary, Chief People Officer at Credit Karma, put it best: “If my kid has soccer on Thursdays and I have to be in the office all day on Thursday and can’t get him there, that may be hybrid, but it’s not flexible and isn’t working for me. We’re trying to empower employees and teams to take responsibility for what works for them rather than wait for us to set it.”
In other words, the move to hybrid work shouldn’t really be about where people work. It’s about giving people more freedom and flexibility over their schedules. This sense of autonomy can help to strengthen workers’ feeling of having control over their lives, which in turn is linked to higher job satisfaction and reduced workplace stress
Message of trust
No one likes a micromanager, in part because having a boss peer over their shoulder sends a message that a worker can’t be trusted to get their work done.
But if the pandemic showed us anything, it’s that workers are highly productive on their own. This includes tasks that require them to coordinate schedules and collaborate with teammates. Allowing employees to continue on this basis sends a strong signal that you trust them to do their work.
Hybrid isn’t “one size fits all”
There are compelling arguments on both sides, and at the end of the day, there’s no one right solution. Every organization—and every team—is different, with unique needs and preferences for how to work best together.
As you figure out your approach to hybrid work, it’s good to remember that both have their pros and cons. Talking to employees is a good first step in determining the best type of scheduling for your organization.
Originally published Sep 24, 2021, updated Oct 11, 2021