Flex is next: The need for perspective as RTO evolves

Britta Schellenberg
Britta Schellenberg

In yoga, we sometimes stand on our head, a pose called sirsasana. The headstand pose enables people to view the world from a different, inverted perspective. 

In a business landscape of rapid change, assuming a different perspective helps build inclusive, innovative solutions. 

Employers, for example, need to see the world from the eyes of employees in order to build great employee experiences. While employees have also stood on their heads, finding new ways of being productive during an ongoing pandemic. 

As VP of Marketing here at Robin, I read a lot about the hybrid workplace, and every two weeks I share my favorite articles with you. 

Feel free to let me know what YOU think. 

Let’s start the conversation.

Robin RTO Data: U.S. RTO Rocketing Ahead

Robin tracks global return-to-office/RTO data in order to share insights with you. Our June RTO data shows the U.S. surging ahead of the world. 

In May, by contrast, the U.S. ranked 17th globally in the percentage of employees returning to the office. Here’s some of the key June RTO findings:

  • The percentage of employees returning to the office in the U.S. increased 50%. In Australia and NZ, by contrast, the number of returning employees dipped to 16%.
  • The U.S. reached 20% average office capacity. Up more than 10% since March, showing a steady climb as we near the Fall (when many offices will resume in-person operations). 
  • Bounce rates in the U.S., defined as employees going into the office once and not returning, was 16% in June. Up 4% from May, but still lower than the global average of 19%.
  • Utilities, hospitality, government, and manufacturing are the industries that lead in June office returns.

New Yorker: Important History Lesson for RTO

Between 2005 and 2007, Minneapolis-based retailer Best Buy was losing talented HQ employees and launched a pilot program to boost retention. 

The program, fully detailed in a recent New Yorker article, “allowed [employees] to choose which days they worked in the office and which days they worked remotely.” Best Buy managers and execs were initially nervous that employees might not work at all some weekdays. 

Managing Best Buy employees soon transitioned away from “time in the office looking busy” to “are you actually making progress and getting measurable results on the tasks assigned to you?” Where the work happened didn’t matter. 

Then in 2013, a new “tough-talking” CEO came in and cancelled the program. While giving employees flexibility succeeded in boosting productivity and retention, leaders were less comfortable with the program.

Command-and-control management returned, as did employee engagement problems. 

“If you want to radically change when and where work happens,” the article concludes, “you also have to change the very definition of work itself,” moving toward defined outcomes and trust. That takes training and culture change, including (maybe, especially) for leaders.

ThriveGlobal: Why Do So Many Biz Leaders Botch RTO?

Business leaders often choose sounding “tough” over actually improving employee experience and preventing turnover. 

A CEO can demand that employees return F/T to the office, explaining “it’s my way or the highway,” but (as we’re witnessing) employees are increasingly “hitting the highway.”

A Thrive Global article describes the push and pull happening now between employee demands for flexibility and the “tough-talking” leaders who want a full return to the office. 

The article makes it clear who’s winning: “Google recently backtracked from its plan to force all employees to return back to the office . . . Amazon also backtracked on its plans and allowed employees to have a hybrid schedule. Apple’s plan to force its staff back to the office has caused many to leave Apple and led to substantial internal opposition.” 

New Questions and Evolving Answers 

My colleague Sabrina Dorronsoro wrote a must-read blog post about how the pandemic and hybrid work have triggered new questions about employee experience. 

Businesses are now asking

  • How can we create an equitable experience for remote, hybrid and in-office workers? 
  • What kind of workplace tech stack do we need to manage employee experience? 
  • How do we determine what kind of space we need? How are we using workplace analytics to inform our office decisions? 
  • Are we prepared to remain agile and succeed regardless of future crises?

Sabrina explains that savvy companies are creating new roles to help build sustainable solutions. AirBnB, for example, has a Global Head of Employee Experience, while LinkedIn has a Vice President of Flex Work

Success in building employee experience will take new roles, new investments, and an experimental mindset that collects data/employee feedback and continually addresses evolving needs in contexts of uncertainty. 

As Sabrina concludes: “These new job functions will play a critical role in what the new normal looks like. And with the help of the right technology, every company will be empowered to address employee experience in a more targeted and dynamic way.”

Thank you for reading, and see you again in two weeks! In the meantime, do a sirsasana (headstand) pose -- we’ve all got to find new perspectives!


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