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The Cost of Getting Hybrid Plans Wrong

Employee leaving hybrid office
Sabrina Dorronsoro
Published on
Apple’s chief of machine learning quits over return-to-office policy
Junior Goldman Sachs bankers threaten to quit over ‘5 days a week’ office rule
Google employees say its return-to-office plan is unfair

That’s just a sample of recent headlines featuring failed workplace policies and outrage over mandated attendance. 

Hybrid work is, above all else, about making employees happy. And, right now, some pretty big names are getting it wrong. Apple employees are quitting in droves, workers are organizing union protests at Amazon, and Goldman Sachs is responding to the backlash after announcing full-time in-office work. 

Getting your hybrid strategy wrong can mean big reputational damage and even bigger retention problems. Your PR and People teams are practically begging you to get this right, but what does right even look like? 

The Horror of Failed Hybrid Work Plans

Reputational damage isn’t just a hit to the ego. It can cause massive financial consequences. The Harvard Business Review, with ICM Unlimited, found that a company with 10,000 employees and a bad reputation could be spending $7.6M in additional wages to counter it. That’s around $4,723 per hire.

Perhaps the most publicized example playing out right now is Apple.

The tech giant decided to approach coming back to the office in a slow-drip, reintroducing the office little by little. The introduction to a hybrid schedule involved adding days in office after April 11, enforcing two in-office days weekly by May 2, and three days by May 23. 

It was a fractured approach that didn't account for employees removing themselves from the picture completely. According to news outlets, an Apple worker reacted to messages about resigning with a laughing emoji. He then went on to say: “I’m gonna do the same.” Another employee rallied, “Hell YEAH my man let’s do this! F--k RTO.”

In fact, one of the employees said they would send in their resignation as soon as they came home. The biggest driver? The commute. “I already know I won’t be able to deal with the commute and sitting around for 8 hours.”

No business wants to be a part of the next public misstep in the world of hybrid work. That leaves us with one big question . . . 

How To Get Your Hybrid Policies Right

There is a lot at risk here. With a shortage of talent and a heightened social climate, both brand damage and employee attrition are areas of huge focus.

Over 80% of employees working at a hybrid or flexible company intend to stay at that company for the foreseeable future. Considering that turnover costs the average mid-sized company $660k to $2.6M per year, that data point becomes a lot more valuable.

The pandemic didn’t introduce us to flexible work. In fact, for a lot of employees, it was another version of them being told where to work. What the pandemic did do, is show people (and their leaders) that they could get their job done in a way that better integrates with their day-to-day lives.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions but we’ve definitely seen commonalities in successful transitions. Here’s where to get started.

1. Flexibly Inflexible Won’t Cut It

You cannot approach flexibility inflexibly. Businesses that do risk sending a message of mistrust, especially after two years of proof points. 

“People struggled to adjust to working at the beginning of the pandemic because, even though we love being at home, we don't love being forced to stay there without a choice” explains Robin’s VP of People, Elizabeth Fierman in our report: Navigating Hybrid Work.

“It’s the same thing we felt about always working from the office. Now that we've learned more about ourselves and our preferences, if our employer even hints at taking the power choice away from us we're saying: ‘No, you’re not, I’ve got options.’ 

When you boil it down, flexible work gives people the power of choice. The power to take an afternoon walk with the kids. The power to walk away from your computer and do a load of laundry. The power to choose what the workday looks like. Don’t over-complicate it, as long as the work gets done let people make their own choices. 

2. Employees Need to Have A Say 

As we navigate what work will look like next, the smartest workplaces will remain open to changing based on the information they are collecting. Beware of skipping the data dive and making best-guess decisions. Businesses can’t claim to know the unknowable and when they do, employees take notice. 

Leaders must have the right systems in place to solicit opinions of the office and act on it. Making the effort to implement employee feedback tools shows your teams that you’re listening while also giving you viable data points to guide office improvements. 

“That's the thing about everyone going through this at the same exact time. Your employees know that you don't know. Any confidence or conviction you have over the right way to return, they know you can't know that,” explains Dunn.

“And so you just have to go in with a beginner's mindset, you know you're going to have to change something. That shouldn't be surprising or frustrating. Your plan needs to incorporate that.”

3. Communication Is Queen 

Communication is at the heart of good hybrid work. When you have a geographically distributed team, you need to get clear on what is expected, what is unacceptable and what is driving the organization each day. 

The obvious recommendation for leaders? Share more with employees, even if you’re unsure about the future, to help improve employee well-being. The not-so-obvious one? Ensure you have the mechanisms in place to share important information, improve tools for employee feedback and check in more than you think is necessary. 

Employees don’t just want communication, they want an abundance of it. 

4. Plans Must Be Fluid, Not Static

People want leaders that can define what hybrid work looks like in THEIR organization while in the same breath admitting that these definitions may change. In a world of unknowns, employers need to walk the tightrope between confidence and adaptability. 

If everything went like we expected all the time, life would be a lot less interesting. The pandemic has gone through its fair share of plot twists with new variants, federal and state mandates, and global disagreements on how to handle this health crisis. 

Companies are now tasked with not only creating an engaging workplace experience to convince employees to come back to the office, but providing spaces that are sanitary, safe and compliant, and where current policies can be easily changed and communicated. 

Bottom Line: Inspire Engagement, Don’t Mandate Attendance

Employers must trust their employees to do the work that is expected of them. But employees must also trust that their workplace leaders have their best interests at heart. As we stumble through the awkward process of re-integrating into some in–office work, some WFH – and maybe even some work-from-anywhere (WFA) – there needs to be a grace period for leaders adjusting current policies to adapt to this change. No one is going to get it right the first time, everyone just needs to put a little more trust into each other.

Employers want people to come back to the office, so they can control work hours and engagement from the front-lines. Leaders want people to come back, so teams can form relationships, learn from each other, and build the connections that power successful workplaces. Be a leader. 

For more insights on successfully navigating hybrid work, check out our latest reports to learn more about hybrid leadership and how to navigate this new professional world.

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