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Hybrid Work Needs a Workplace Value Proposition

Hybrid Work Needs a Workplace Value Proposition

by Ben Wigert, Kristin Barry and Ryan Pendell

Why do people come to the office? And how can leaders make that time as meaningful and productive as possible?

These questions are more urgent than ever with the majority of office workers now having some degree of hybrid flexibility. Today, 54% of remote-capable workers are working hybrid and finding themselves weighing the costs and benefits of the daily commute. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the average one-way commute to work was 27.6 minutes. That’s 230 hours a year simply getting to work, the equivalent of 29 eight-hour workdays.

If an organization gives employees some amount of discretion and autonomy over when they come into the office, it’s imperative that leaders offer a compelling reason to invest in the commute. We call this reason a “workplace value proposition,” which is not just a promise to make going into the office worth it but also a strategy to improve organizational productivity.

A workplace value proposition represents the organizational culture, benefits and interactions employees experience when working on-site. Essentially, it’s the why behind coming to the workplace.

So, what are the core elements of a compelling and effective workplace value proposition?

The 4 C’s of a Workplace Value Proposition

An inspired workplace value proposition makes the most of what working in person offers:

1. Connection

Human beings are social creatures who thrive on positive relationships with others for encouragement, development and support. In fact, Americans report the highest levels of happiness when they spend six to seven hours per day socializing, according to Gallup.

When we asked employees worldwide last year how they felt about remote work, one U.S. manager replied, “At home, I feel like my job is just work. Like there’s not the, you know, the fun stuff. The camaraderie, right? The relationship building is a little bit harder.”

It might feel counterintuitive, but it’s true: Socializing and building relationships is good business. Gallup’s meta-analysis of 112,312 teams, 2,708,538 employees, and 54 industries from across the world proves that people with a best friend at work are substantially more likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers and produce higher quality work. That’s because strong relationships are the foundation for trust, support and meaningful work.


Relationship building can happen virtually, but research suggests in-person interactions are more effective. For instance, among this growing body of research, an experiment by Sherman, Michikyan, and Greenfield found that bonding between two people was greatest during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat and instant messaging.1

The challenge is that this benefit is weakened when employees are freed to be in the office at different times. Organizations or managers must intentionally build in specific times for connection. Many organizations now have policies requiring employees to be in the office on certain days of the week, but people can also schedule in-office times within their own teams. On-site social events also provide an opportunity and signal to help people structure their workweek around maximizing face time.

2. Collaboration

The productivity benefits of technology are obvious, allowing us to collaborate across distance and time. But we’ve also all experienced its downsides: restrictions on the free flow of communication, inability to sustain focus and energy, and limitations of screen sharing and interaction. Remote work can complicate highly interdependent tasks, leading to a heavier cognitive load for team members. For example, a team member may spend extra time writing an email to avoid confusion when an in-person conversation would resolve much of the ambiguity without much conscious effort.

Some collaborations still work better in person, especially for roles requiring highly complex interactions. In-person collaboration allows for easier visibility, faster communication and increased trust, which can be critical for negotiation and decision-making. Hybrid work may not be as restrictive for other roles that require less daily collaboration, but coming together to keep teamwork flowing is essential to every job.

Even fully remote workers acknowledge that collaboration tends to be more difficult online, with only 35% reporting collaborative work is best done remotely. Leaders and managers further emphasize the point, stating that communication (48%) and collaboration (44%) are the two biggest challenges their teams face in a hybrid work environment.

Hybrid workplaces can also create cultural divides and inclusion challenges, in which employees working remotely can be "out of sight" and forgotten about during important moments. This includes inclusion and equity risks if off-site workers miss key opportunities for participation and development, which could ultimately impede their career advancement.

Creating a plan for how teams work best together and scheduling collaboration with greater intentionality is imperative -- whether that’s specific days people are required to be on-site, the hours people need to be available to one another or thoughtful coordination of meetings. Consider which tasks would benefit from team collaboration and interdependent work while the team is on-site.

3. Creativity

The office environment fosters spontaneous creative moments and intentional collaboration. Hallway conversations, lunch and coffee breaks, and the “meeting after the meeting” all contribute to problem solving and innovation and are difficult to replicate in a virtual workplace. These things can be done virtually, but in-person team interactions allow for more fluid and simultaneous idea sharing and collaboration.

When it comes to creativity, being together in person helps. A study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour found that collaborative idea generation and creativity lessened when random pairs of people worked together virtually compared with random pairs who worked together in person.2

But we also know it’s not enough just to be in the same physical space. The reality is that most employees lack the direction and autonomy to be creative with their work, regardless of their work location. And an organization can’t rely on the chance “water cooler” encounter for inspiration, especially if people are at work at different times. Inside or outside the office, intentional creative time -- set as an expectation from leadership -- is crucial.

What does intentional creativity look like? Encouraging break time together and discussing discoveries or lessons learned. A one-hour monthly meeting with no set agenda to discuss interesting topics and share ideas and personal experiences. Upgrading collaboration spaces so that videoconferencing and virtual collaboration are as natural and seamless as possible.

4. Culture

Culture is the unique way that an organization lives out its purpose, especially through mentoring, friendship, advice and coaching. There are many implicit and unspoken expectations for behavior that are part of any organization; grasping these expectations can be challenging for individuals who have never or rarely spent time in proximity with their teams.

Currently, employees in the U.S. are experiencing a concerning decline in feeling connected to their organization’s mission and purpose. This detachment from the organization tends to be most extreme for fully remote workers who are both physically and psychologically distanced from their coworkers.

When employees have greater workplace flexibility, many of these implicit expectations need to be made explicit at the organizational, team and individual levels. It becomes even more important that leaders and managers alike engage in clarifying conversations about how their team members work together, what they are responsible for and how they will communicate with each other. When teams are involved in creating their own workplace value proposition, it’s a powerful commitment to accountability and performance.

Why We Come Together

Why do we come to the office? For connection, collaboration, creativity and culture. All in support of doing our best work for the organization’s mission.

These four elements have always been important, but never more so than with the disruption of hybrid work and changing workforce expectations. Developing and delivering a workplace value proposition is now a vital part of an organization’s strategy to attract, engage and retain talent while achieving high performance. This approach also provides an opportunity to make the office even better than it was before. There was always a workplace value proposition. Now leaders need to be much more intentional about creating one that shapes their workplace culture.

Build a hybrid workplace that attracts and retains star employees.



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