Let's Take A Closer Look

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The first cliques most of us encountered were in school, where the cool kids hung around in one bunch, the jocks in another, and so on. I pronounced it “clicks” for years and then someone told me it’s “cleeks.” Whichever way you say it, cliques are small groups that gravitate together because they share attitudes, interests, and personalities. For members of a clique, there is the social benefit of being insiders, which means outsiders are ignored, excluded, and even shunned. 

One type of work clique is formed when productive people seek out other productive people to work with because they are tired of having to work with the posers, careerists, and lazy people someone else invited. Cliques will be much more likely to form in offices when workers are there for only two or three days a week. Clique members will agree to be in the building the same days so they can work together, leaving outsiders to fill in the rest of the days.  

It’s time for a hybrid office. 

The assumption that (those who were once called) office workers have to be in the same building every day has gone out the window after more than a year of working remotely. What many businesses want to put in place is a hybrid work style that has people working some days at home and some in the office.

Four days working at the office and one day at home isn’t much of a hybrid and neither is four at home and one at the office. That leaves having all workers come to the office either two or three times a week.

OurCo’s grand experiment. 

Like most companies, OurCo has HR and Customer Service functions. OurCo designs, builds, and sells consumer products and services, so they have research, engineering, product development, distribution, sales, media, legal, and marketing departments, too. 

OurCo will begin their experiment by having employees come to the office three days a week and work from home the other two. Later they may find they need more people here some days and others less, but to get the ball rolling, everyone will work three days.

They don’t want every employee in the building the same three days and have the building empty the other two, so they’re going to need a schedule. Like most businesses, they never thought much about scheduling. At OurCo, they’ve always had one schedule for everyone. Employees marched in Monday morning and marched out Monday night. They did this every day until TGIF, when someone closed the office for the weekend after everyone had gone home.

OurCo did the math.

They decided they want balanced coverage five days a week, which means roughly 20% of their people in the office on any given day. Because they want OurCo employees to have a say in which days they come to the office, they will ask all of them to rank the days they most want to work from top to bottom. It won’t be possible to give everyone exactly what they want (fewer people may want to work on Friday, for example), but OurCo wants to make sure employees get as close as they can to an ideal schedule.

An eager executive said the easiest way to put together a schedule is to use free scheduling software.

“We can approve requests, review timesheets, and fill shifts all from our phone!” said one, “without having to know anything about it!” Cooler heads prevailed, suggesting they start by doing some simple math. The experienced planners reminded the others that this is a fantastic opportunity to test OurCo’s real-world artificial intelligence capabilities. OurCo’s data scientists agreed, saying the algorithms will easy to write and easy to adjust with ongoing feedback.

OurCo’s executive committee thinks it is important to have one day that everyone comes to the office.

They agreed Mondays are a logical choice for everyone to get together. They will use every Monday to recap what happened last week (old business) and as a kick-off point for what everyone has planned and scheduled for the week ahead (new business). They will also have an open Q & A session, because they know everyone’s going to have some, especially in the beginning. Their plan is to start with a soft opening, because they know that people who haven’t seen each other in a long time will need time to catch up on a year’s worth of news. No one will be expected to be fully productive until they have settled in to the new routine.

OurCo’s execs will announce the new schedules a week in advance so people can make plans.

They’re telling employees this is a temporary schedule and they will solve problems as they encounter them. They’ll try this new schedule for a few weeks, solicit feedback and recommendations, and see what kinds of improvements they can make to the next schedule and the one after that. Their plan is to continue to fine-tune things until they reach their most productive state with the least possible disruption to people’s lives.

Why stop there? 

OurCo is excited to give workers the opportunity to choose which days and hours they work and where they work. They believe time clocks are for factories. OurCo is committed to judging employees by output and productivity and no longer by attendance.

They’re already thinking about disrupting the notion of work only happening between 9 and 5.

Some of OurCo’s employees are morning people and others are night owls. With the office open from 6AM until midnight, people will be able to choose early, middle, and/or evening shifts and see how that works out. OurCo employees will be challenged to talk openly about what’s working well, what isn’t, and how to do things better.

OurCo believes if they’re challenging assumptions, they should go ahead and challenge them all.

They’re also thinking about breaking the Monday-to-Friday mold by welcoming people to come into the office and work Saturday and/or Sunday if they wish.

To get everyone involved, OurCo is bringing back Brown Bag lunches.

People will meet over the lunches they brought with them to chat informally, encounter some new people, and share ideas on how to make things more enjoyable and more productive for everyone. During their Brown Bag beta test, all agreed they would designate space for quiet rooms, much as commuter trains designate quiet cars where people can get away from loud conversations, others yakking on the phone, and interruptions. Preliminary plans favor a mix of comfortable arm chairs and cubbyholes, with no food or drink allowed, like a good library or bookstore.

Changing the physical space.

With only 20% of their employees in the office most days, OurCo will need fewer desks. They know they will need to reconfigure the office layout to have more meeting spaces, project rooms, and team rooms. Rather than doing this arbitrarily, their plan is to encourage it to evolve from the ground up.

Think like OurCo. 

Challenge your assumptions. Make sure your changes come from the bottom up. The only time you want want top-down thinking is on a pretty day in your new convertible.

OurCo is a pseudonym used to avoid mentioning client companies by name. It is not a single company going by an alias, but rather a mixed-breed blend of several different companies and people. Planners use OurCo as an ideal type that allows them to see the world in a clearer and more systematic way. They also use it as a standard against which to measure their ability to blaze new trails.

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