What 3 Vistage CEOs say about returning to the office
Last fall, business leaders were optimistic about a “return to normal” that included a return to the office for business reasons and employee preference. The reality was starkly different — employees did not line up to come back.
What has become clear is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. The mix of strategies being used varies based on industry, company size, geographic locations and talent pool to accommodate for the workflow unique to a company.
We asked three Vistage CEOs how they have approached a return to the office and how the strategy works for their company.
Offer employees different options
Mike Zani | CEO of The Predictive Index, Westwood, Massachusetts
“We massively underestimated the energy around people hating being home,” says Zani.
The company offered three options — field (100% remote and a stipend for home office), flow (two days on-site and a smaller stipend) and studio (dedicated desk in the office). He expected the “studio” option to become the new normal for a Boston office that has won awards for its design and is considered a “Crown Jewel” in terms of design.
“It turned out not many people signed up,” he said. “I think we’ll have this blue collar/white collar dynamic we saw in the 50s. In-person vs. remote or hybrid is that social dynamic of 2022 where we have the ‘have and have nots’ and the joys and frustrations of that.”
Zani predicts that elevated gas prices could hinder interest in coming into the office. Zani says he and the company’s SVP carpool on the days they work in the office to cut their fuel costs.
“We’ve tracked all the numbers of productivity and it is through the roof. We’re hiring better coders because we’re not just looking in Boston and there is the benefit of less commuting time,” he says. “We’re taking steps to convert our office into more meeting rooms so that when a department comes in, they have what they need and want.”
Allow leadership to create workflows that work for their departments
Bill Priemer | CEO, Hyland Software, Westlake, Ohio
With 4,500 employees worldwide, Hyland Software was well-versed in operating “remotely.” It simply looked different before the pandemic — about 80% worked “remotely” from within physical offices in other locales. Today, about 20% work full-time in the office.
When select roles learned they needed to return to the office, questions of fairness surfaced.
“We had metrics that showed that during the first year of the pandemic when that group was remote, our quality of work was still good, but we weren’t able to handle as many issues and the average resolution time was elongated,” Premier says. “We also had quantitative feedback from clients and partners who shared increasing frustration and we were seeing abnormally high turnover rates among new employees indicating those functions needed to be done on-site.”
Team leaders and individuals were given wide-ranging flexibility to create a workflow that worked for their departments. Bolstered by redesigning office space, bringing back dining services and the opportunity to connect with colleagues has slowly increased the popularity of the hybrid option. In-person departmental meetings are also being scheduled with greater frequency.
“We’re trying to figure out how to define critical mass. If you come in and nobody is here, what’s the point?” he says. “So, if the team says a specific day is Tuesday or Wednesday, it attracts people to come in.”
Bring teams in on the same days rather than stagger
Danielle Harbison | Executive Vice President, Gemini Bakery Equipment Company, Southampton, Pennsylvania
The family-owned and operated manufacturing company specializes in baking equipment for processing plants. Its role in the food industry has qualified it as an essential business since day one of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As such, employees on the manufacturing line continued to work regular schedules. Administrative staff worked remotely until the fall of 2021 when they returned to the office twice a week.
“I don’t ever see a plan where we bring all staff back 5 days a week,” she says.
The company employs 125 people across 3 locations, with about 40 involved in manufacturing and assembly roles while the others staff the office.
To keep operations running smoothly, Haribson brings her teams in on the same days rather than stagger them. Still, she feels more in-person meetings are needed to break up the volume of virtual meetings.
“We need to change the way we think about work and the employees,” she says. “More individual conversations are needed. Some people need to be there all the time because it’s a hands-on career, but that is not going to work for everybody. Hybrid work is changing the way the world works, and you have to change with it to stay competitive.”
For Harbison, the idea of hybrid working has been a long time coming. She first floated the idea of flexible hybrid work schedules in 2014 while preparing for maternity leave. When she was ready to return, she negotiated with the company’s CEO — her father — to work one day a week. After having her second child, Haribson increased it to two days a week.
“The concept was so foreign to him at that time. He is the kind of guy who tried to drive in four feet of snow,” she says. “COVID forced him to work from home and has helped us break through that. Now he works from home three days a week. It’s been interesting turning the forced work from home of COVID into a positive.”