Covid-19 set a new standard when it comes to working at home or in an office. Most corporations are still trying to figure out their work-from-home or return-to-office plans for their employees. But you are starting to see that more corporations are doing a hybrid work schedule, which means a few days in office and a few days at home.

As reported by Wall Street Journal on July 5th, 2023 by Jennifer Williams-Alvarez.

“It Can Be a Bit Polarizing” – Finance Chiefs Weigh Return-to-Office

The return-to-office discussion has upended the workplace.

Sparsely populated workplaces are affecting corporate cultures and workers’ ambitions, bosses say, leading some to step up their return-to-office mandates. Rank-and-file workers, meanwhile, are reluctant to give up the flexibility gained during the pandemic, with long commutes, caregiving duties and high costs among the motivators keeping them at home, at least some of the time, they say.

“It can be a bit polarizing, because you get those opposite ends of the spectrum of 100% time in office or not,” said J.M. Smucker Chief Financial Officer Tucker Marshall, adding that the maker of Jif peanut butter and Folgers coffee has so far opted for a hybrid back-to-office approach. “I think what’s important is, how is your company performing, how is your culture evolving, and where is the development of your teams and your people. And that should be a bit of the guiding post.”

So far, most U.S. companies—51%—are opting for some kind of hybrid-work arrangement, according to a report covering more than 4,000 companies conducted by hybrid-workplace software company Scoop. The share of people in the office under a so-called structured-hybrid work arrangement, which requires workers in the office a set number of days, increased to 30% in the second quarter of this year, up from 20% in the first quarter, according to Scoop. Fully flexible work arrangements, which are defined as remote working all of the time or letting employees decide if and when they are in, dropped 3 percentage points, to 28%, in the second quarter.

The hybrid model at Orrville, Ohio-based Smucker differentiates between core and noncore weeks, Marshall said. “Our core weeks are a little more defined,” he said. For core weeks, which generally occur twice a month, employees are expected to be in the office around three days, whereas in noncore weeks, there is no specific expectation to be in the office, he said.

If there is a good reason for an in-person meeting or another purpose for being in the office, he said workers are asked to come in.

At collaboration platform company Zoom Video Communications, CFO Kelly Steckelberg said choice for all employees is paramount—including herself. Some workers are coming in one day a week, others once a month, she said, but there is no mandate across the company that workers be in an office a set number of days.

Steckelberg said she personally welcomes the flexibility. During the pandemic, the CFO moved to Texas, where she grew up, after nearly three decades in California. “I decided that it was a nice opportunity for me to be able to go back,” she said, adding that she returns to California once or twice a month.

Many finance chiefs are stuck somewhere in the middle, toeing the company line on issues such as the effect on workers’ morale, productivity and the potential bottom-line impact of unused office space. Yet on a human level, many empathize with workers’ view on the return-to-office question and what’s more, welcome the ability to work from home themselves.

Having choices has been good for San Jose, Calif.-based Zoom because the company has more flexibility in where people are hired. Zoom has also let go some of its underused office space, the CFO said, including workspace in Atlanta and Kansas City. Zoom still has significant office space in San Jose, Denver, Amsterdam, London and Singapore, she said, but in other locations, such as Austin, Texas, the company is piloting a program where employees can drop into shared working spaces.

Zoom workers may one day be in more regularly, Steckelberg said, but that would be a gradual development. “I think we will return to more of a regular cadence, but it is going to happen more organically, over time.”

“Being able to work from home has been a game changer for me and my family,”

— Claire Bramley, Chief Financial Officer, Teradata

Teradata’s CFO, meanwhile, said the cloud analytics and data company has embraced flexible working arrangements. “As a mom of two kids and a husband who has wanted to go back to work after being a stay-at-home dad for six years, being able to work from home has been a game changer for me and my family,” said the company’s finance chief, Claire Bramley. “I would not have been able to join Teradata two years ago if I had to move to our HQ in San Diego.”

That said, company leadership recognizes the importance of in-person work when needed, according to Bramley, adding that she and other Teradata C-suite members have committed to a monthly face-to-face leadership meeting.

“If companies truly believe in diversity and inclusion, they need to reconsider overbearing, back-to-the-office policies,” according to Bramley. “However, time together is important, so we also need to ensure we carve out the budget and time for in-person meetings on a consistent and regular basis.”

Still, some managers are eager to have workers be in the office more regularly.

The share of companies planning to keep office attendance voluntary as opposed to mandatory is dropping, according to a survey released in May of more than 200 corporate real-estate executives conducted by property-services firm CBRE. Meanwhile, the share of people in the office full time, at 42% in the second quarter of 2023, is down 7 percentage points from a quarter earlier but is still above the share of worker arrangements that are either fully flexible or structured hybrid, according to the Scoop data.

Digital infrastructure company Equinix is asking hybrid workers to be in two days a week, said CFO Keith Taylor. The company started giving indications of the policy early last year before fully rolling it out in September, he said, adding that it was a gradual process.

“I’m not sure we’re going to look back and go, ‘Boy, that was a good experiment.’ It doesn’t feel like it is going to be great for our company.”

— Keith Taylor, Chief Financial Officer, Equinix

Taylor recognizes some of the challenges that can be alleviated or reduced because of flexible-work arrangements, such as tending to other responsibilities and lessening time spent commuting. But he’s wary of a hit to productivity and collaboration when workers are too separated from colleagues. “I’m not sure we’re going to look back and go, ‘Boy, that was a good experiment,’” Taylor said. “It doesn’t feel like it is going to be great for our company.”

But Redwood City, Calif.-based Equinix is unlikely to be going back to five days in the office, the CFO said, though he tends to be there that often. “But that’s me. I want to be there,” Taylor said.

2023 is halfway over, and more companies are making their decisions on where their employees will work from. What are your thoughts on how 2024 will look like for employers – will it be work-from-home, hybrid, or back to normal?

Additional Return-to-Office Resources

6 Considerations for Returning to Work

Building a Hybrid Work Environment for the Return to Work

Return to Work: Three Attributes to Instill in Employees