Employees overwhelmingly favour a hybrid work model, but there is an ongoing debate about the ideal number of days to spend in the office.
According to recent findings by McKinsey, the optimal arrangement for hybrid work involves dedicating half of one's working time to in-office activities. This setup provides employees with the desired flexibility while avoiding the isolation associated with full-time remote work.
For McKinsey professionals whose roles often involve extended client-site visits, this might entail spending one week working in an office followed by a remote week. For others following a traditional 5-day workweek, it could mean being in the office for 2 or 3 days each week.
Throughout 2022, McKinsey conducted an extensive analysis of its approximately 4,000 global teams, utilizing behavioral data and anonymous surveys. The results indicated that a 50% in-person presence, whether at a client's location or an office, outperforms an all-or-nothing approach.
Katy George, McKinsey's Chief People Officer and a Senior Partner, explains, "When over 50% of time is spent in-person, we see trade-offs begin to emerge. Individuals and teams have less flexibility, time for recovery, and opportunities to do focused work."
It's worth noting that the 50% in-person commitment doesn't necessarily mean employees have fixed office days each week.
McKinsey doesn't impose mandatory in-office requirements; instead, it encourages employees and managers to meet in person for team-building activities, one-on-one meetings, client presentations, and other project-related needs.
The research underscores that spending at least half of one's time in person significantly enhances mentorship, collaboration, trust among colleagues, retention, and overall team performance. George terms this the "hybrid sweet spot."
Conversely, working remotely for two to three days a week provides employees with more focused work time and boosts feelings of psychological safety and belonging within teams.
This approach benefits a broader spectrum of employees, catering to both extroverts who thrive in group settings and introverts who value solitude for deep thinking.
However, any work arrangement must establish clear boundaries and expectations for employees to be effective.
In George's words, "You shouldn't require people to come into the office if everyone is going to be heads-down in their cubicles all day. You need to be intentional and anchor those office days around activities that are most effective in-person, whether it's career workshops, feedback sessions, or team brainstorms."
Successful return-to-office strategies go beyond merely determining the number of in-person days. They should include defined operational norms and objectives for in-person interactions, regular check-ins, and precise productivity measurement.
One of the significant advantages of a true hybrid setup is its capacity to prevent burnout.
George reflects, "Before the pandemic, many of us operated on autopilot—efficient at putting in extra hours when needed but less deliberate about incorporating recovery time into our workflow. My hope is that we're now becoming more astute in our approach to work, optimizing performance by aligning work with individual needs."