What makes your organization’s hybrid work policy effective, efficient or otherwise distinctive?

Matt Swanson, principal and CEO, i2Vision: As you know, agency work is hard work. Hours can be long; workloads and timelines can be stressful. We want our people to be able to recharge as they need to, as the only way to take on a difficult project or client is with a full battery. One way we’ve helped with that is by putting into place an unlimited vacation policy. It reinforces trust by saying, “You know what your responsibilities are, so take the time you need to ensure that you can be at maximum efficiency when you are at work.”

Tracey Yonteff, SVP, global operations, Underscore Marketing: We pivoted our U.S. office model long before COVID. The workplace became a collaboration space on an as-needed basis, and less a daily commute-based chore. Our hybrid policy allows us to maintain office space for employees to use when in town, but also helps us find the right talent to service our clients. 

Stewart Gandolf, CEO, Healthcare Success: People can take as many breaks as they want or need as long as they log eight hours daily. We have many parents who have the freedom to pick up their kids from school and work a few hours in the evenings if they need to.

Susan Flinn Cobian, president and CEO, SFC Group: Our model allows moms, dads, aunts and uncles to be where they need to be and breaks the stigma that you cannot be a good parent/family member and a good employee. We also took into consideration the environmental footprint of a brick-and-mortar business versus one that is fully virtual. Beyond the energy it takes to support an office, we’ve eliminated the need for reams and reams of paper and often lengthy commutes. It’s good to be green!

What is your organization doing to ensure that remote employees remain engaged with in-office staff?

Yonteff: We hold two U.S. and two European in-person events every year, which are fundamental to building bonds and camaraderie across teams. And we encourage travel: By providing a simple business case, teammates can use the train or fly domestically and internationally to innovate and collaborate with their colleagues in person. In Poland, we continue to maintain physical office space in Kraków. However, our team members decide daily where they prefer to work.

Cobian: Through constant connectivity and honest feedback, we have turned working from home into a work of art. Every call is on time, on task and on camera. We have monthly happy hours, which have ranged from trivia challenges to Chia Pet coiffing to scavenger hunts. No, it’s not the same as two-hour team lunches, but it goes a long way toward making us feel like we are in fact all on one team.

Swanson: We have a policy that cameras are always on during meetings, which encourages engagement. We also use Teams for informal calls to replace the old “office drop-in.” While not a perfect replacement, it creates a sense of community.

Sunny White, founder and CEO, Xavier Creative House: We prioritize mind, body and spirit by offering live virtual workouts, nutritional counseling, fitness tools and online mental health resources. While we are all remote, we provide monthly reimbursements for co-working spaces for team members to enjoy a change of environment.

What are companies getting wrong about hybrid work?

Megan Driscoll, CEO and founder, EvolveMKD: I don’t understand hybrid schedules that don’t make sure everyone is together. The purpose of being in the office is to build company culture and collaboration, not just to be in the office for the sake of being in the office.

Gandolf: Speaking from experience, one of our mistakes was giving our employees the benefit of the doubt while working from home. When we went remote, it was clear and easy to spot who was working and who wasn’t.

Cobian: Far be it from me to say what’s right or wrong for other agencies, but requiring those employees who have successfully transitioned to working from home to return to the office doesn’t seem right. You can’t stuff that genie back in the bottle. Giving people a taste of freedom to be productive in pajamas, and then taking it away, breeds resentment. Why not give people the choice? We’re all adults here, right?

Swanson: When issues have arisen, it is typically because employees feel out of the loop. Without the water-cooler talk that happens in a traditional work environment, companies need to be disciplined about prioritizing the proactive sharing of information from the top down. When we get this right, our employees feel engaged and valued. When we don’t, they feel isolated.

White: Companies may forget that virtual and hybrid work require the same infrastructure as full-time remote work. The lack of infrastructure frustrates employees and clients, because creative work suffers when infrastructure and technology are insufficient to support virtual interactions and effective communication. The hybrid model requires constant attention with a continuous feedback loop.

What are companies getting right about hybrid work?

Driscoll: I’ve heard of many companies that have no formal hybrid work policy, and the expectations differ wildly from manager to manager, leading to different rules for different people. Companies need to be transparent and consistent with their in-office policies.

Gandolf: What we did right was regularly surveying our employees and honoring the unanimous decision to go fully remote.

Cobian: Absent a global pandemic, allowing employees the freedom to work where they want requires a level of trust that some agencies lack. Many of them are still stuck in cubicle culture. Not only can that dissuade potential recruits, but it restricts agencies to a very limited pool of talent. Without an option to work from home, that rock star creative director living in Jackson Hole won’t move to the city, no matter how much money you throw their way.

How do you see hybrid work evolving over the next year? What could prompt your organization to make changes to its hybrid work policies? 

Swanson: A hybrid model allows for teams to be together in person when that interaction is preferrable, but also provides the financial advantage of not having to pay for huge office space — not to mention the work-life balance advantage of not mandating that people waste time commuting every day. As more companies realize that a hybrid model allows you to hire talent across the country, rather than be limited to a few specific ZIP codes or require people to relocate, they will gravitate more and more to this type of structure.

Cobian: COVID-19 has clouded our collective crystal balls. But if I were to take a guess, I’d say organizations will continue to usher their employees back into the office. They have to make up for the fact that they’re paying the rent, right? Rather than downsize to move forward, chances are they’ll revert back to pre-pandemic practices. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense since, if it happened once, it’s likely to happen again — probably sooner than any of us would like. At SFC Group, we were virtual from the start and will be virtual ever more. Because sometimes progress looks like pajama pants and bunny slippers.