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Maximize In-Office Time for a Happy Staff

Microsoft is sharing its homework on required in-office time, and it found that most of its staff crave being in person, to an extent. The caveat? You’d better have a darn good reason for requiring them to come in.

Threatening remote workers with mandates to get them to return to the office is so 2022. So why is it still happening? Even Zoom, which literally exists thanks to remote work, has whipped up controversy by insisting employees who live within 50 miles of a Zoom office start coming in at least twice a week. Some Amazon remote workers have been given a notorious ultimatum: Move closer to an office and be in-person three days a week or give up your job. 

“After more than two years of trying to coax workers back into offices, bosses are losing their patience,” the Washington Post reports. But is the animosity worth it?

Microsoft decided to do what Microsoft does and meticulously study the issue. The company wanted to determine if it was hitting the right notes regarding in-office time vs. remote, specifically within what it calls its “structured flexible work model.” Pre-pandemic, 61% of teams at Microsoft were together in the same location; today, that number is 27%. And while over 90% of its employees enjoy their work-from-home flexibility, they were craving more connection.

“When we looked at the comments from employees who did not rate their quality of connection with co-workers as favorable (only neutral or unfavorable), 29% of those comments said that remote work has made it difficult to create meaningful connections and relationships,” the Microsoft WorkLab team summarizes. “We know that people come into an office for each other—whether it’s once a week or once a year—and in the same engagement survey, employees made it clear they’re looking for time together spent connecting, not just co-working. When asked what in-person activities Microsoft should offer to support teams’ success, 37% of comments were about social and team-building activities—the number one theme overall.”

In a separate external survey, Microsoft found that 85% of workers were motivated to go into the office to socialize with co-workers. The return-on-value for in-office time also measured high when onboarding new staff and kicking off a new project.

Microsoft’s findings echo our own, albeit informally researched, conclusion: When you ask, insist, or require in-office time, you’d better have a good reason.

“First of all, we have loved moving to a more hybrid arrangement and embracing remote workers more than we did pre-pandemic. Being able to hire staff that’s remote has greatly enhanced our job candidate pool because we can find quality people where they are, not the other way around. But for our people in Austin, which is about 75% of our staff, we’ve found that increasingly returning to in-office time has been necessary to maintain our strong culture,” says The HT Group Founder and CEO Mark Turpin.

That in-office time began as team lunches and team-building events, including monthly “kudos” celebrations to applaud employee successes, every other Tuesday. Those few hours turned into two full days each month to create space for both social time and working together face-to-face.

“It was a deliberate decision, and the time is filled with valuable collaboration, so it’s been a hit,” Turpin adds. “It’s become a productive, problem-solving day that our staff overwhelmingly looks forward to every month.”

“Remote work has benefits, and in-person time does, too,” the folks at Microsoft conclude. “Every team is different, but one thing is clear: finding this balance must be approached with intentionality. Rather than considering the office as a one-size-fits-all solution, teams should consider the type of work they do and determine key points in time or reasons to gather in person.”