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The 4 office schedules that will power hybrid work

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, you could find most employees settling in at their desk around 9 a.m. and packing up come 5 p.m. that evening. Workplace teams kept an eye on traffic but otherwise had little need to control how many people came in and out. 

Flash forward to today and now all companies must keep their workplace occupancy low or risk their employees falling ill (or a visit from the local health authority). With many schools and daycares closed, employees often need to shift days and hours they work on-site to make ends meet. 

One of the best ways to manage workplace traffic, provide flexibility, and make the shift to hybrid work is to create office schedules for your employees. Having a schedule of which days and times people will work in the office helps you and your employees to plan ahead. Your workplace team can monitor office traffic to prevent lines at the elevator and order enough lunch that day. Employees know when they can collaborate in-person with their project team and access equipment or support available in the office.

So what are the different types of schedules and which is best for my company? In this article, you will learn about the four basic types of schedules, their pros and cons, and which works best for different companies. 

But first, ask yourself these key questions when weighing your decision

Every change has its implications, which is why it’s important to approach setting a schedule with a few questions top of mind.

What’s the maximum number of people my workplace can safely accommodate?

If you don’t already have your local health authority’s website and guidelines committed to memory, refamiliarize yourself with any occupancy-related requirements. The maximum number of people you can have on-site will likely change as the pandemic starts to fade. Consider how your schedule may change at each point in your reopening.

What people or departments need to be on-site at the time to be effective? 

Some teams or roles will need to be on-site concurrently in order to perform their job. Check with team leads to understand who needs to work on-site the same day to be productive.

How much time will it take to manage this process? 

Depending on what type of schedule you land on, setting and maintaining schedules in a hybrid work environment will demand some time from your workplace team, your employees, or your people managers. Think about who will carry the load and how you can automate this work to free up people’s time.

Will this schedule sufficiently support my employees’ desire for flexibility?

A Gensler study shows that 52% of people want to work from the office 2-4 days per week. The remaining 48% want to work full-time in the office (29%) or full-time remote (19%). Where your company falls on this spectrum should inform how much flexibility your office schedule offers. 

Now let’s look at the four main types of office schedules workplaces can employ and the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

1. Cohort schedules

What it is: Employees work certain days or weeks on a regular basis. The most common method is to schedule one cohort to come in Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and a second cohort to work on-site Tuesday and Thursday. Another approach is to schedule half of employees to work the first and third week of the month, and the other half to work the second and fourth days of the month.

Pros: 

  • Predictability: High. Employees and the workplace team know exactly who will be in the office and how many people will be in the office each day so that they can plan ahead. 
  • Time investment: Low. Because the same people work in the office each day or week, this approach takes minimal time and oversight to manage.
  • Equal access to the workplace: High. Anyone who wants to work on-site has a set number of days they can work in the office, so there’s little to no competition for spaces.

Cons: 

  • Flexibility: Low. Although cohorts provide more flexibility than a five-day, all in the office work week, the days they have off (or on) may not always work with their schedule.
  • Collaboration: Low. Employees have limited opportunities to see or collaborate with people in other groups. This creates inefficiencies for people who work in cross-functional roles.

Who it’s best for: Companies whose employees need to be in the workplace but don’t need to engage with other departments to accomplish their work. Manufacturing companies that can’t operate unless employees are on the factory floor find this method works well. This method can also work well for agencies or professional services firms with independent teams.

2. Staggered schedules

What it is: Employees must come in at a set time to prevent lines from forming at the elevator or security stand.

Pros:

  • Predictability: Moderate. Like cohort schedules, it’s clear who will be in the office and how many people will be in the office each day. However, it’s not always clear when someone will be on-site that day. 
  • Time investment: Moderate. Once you assign someone a time, it takes little oversight to manage. However, your workplace team will need to do upfront work to understand what “shift” works best for each employee.
  • Equal access to the workplace: High. Anyone who wants to work on-site has a set time they can work in the office; however there may be competition for more desirable shifts.

Cons:

  • Flexibility: Low. The time slot you assign to each employee might not always work for them or align with when they’re most productive.
  • Collaboration: Moderate. Employees have some opportunities to collaborate if their shifts overlap, but the window may only be for a few hours. 

Who it’s best for: Workplaces that need to control how many employees arrive at one time to prevent overcrowding or long lines. If you work in a building with multiple tenants who all use the elevator or stairs, this model prevents a deluge of people from arriving at once.

Custom schedules

More flexible but less predictable than group and staggered schedules are custom schedules. These are schedules that change week to week depending on the employee’s or team’s need to work together on site. Either managers can set their employees’ schedules, or employees can set their schedule—both have their pros and cons.

3. Managers set their team’s schedules

What it is: Managers coordinate with project teams to set their schedule each week.

  • Pros:
    • Collaboration: Moderate. Ensure teammates are on-site at the same time to maximize in-person collaboration
    • Equal access to the workplace: High. Ensures that the people who need to be in office to be productive get a spot
  • Neutral:
    • Flexibility: Depends. If each manager takes the time to customize their employees’ schedules, this approach could offer more flexibility than A/B shifts. However, if managers don’t take the time to customize schedules or only schedule certain people to work on-site, this option could offer the least flexibility.
  • Cons:
    • Predictability: Low. Employees won’t know what days they’ll be on-site until they hear from their manager.
    • Time investment: High: Takes the most time and oversight of any method to manage. Managers must approve schedules, and employees must request days to come in.

Who it’s best for: Companies whose employees work in shifts and must be on-site with the same people to do their jobs, such as manufacturing, service work, and film production.

4. Employees set their schedule

What it is: Employees set their own schedules without any oversight from their managers or a workplace team.

  • Pros:
    • Flexibility: High. Employees have full control over what days and times they work from the workplace.
    • Collaboration: High. Employees who work with multiple departments can choose to work the same days as the teams they need to collaborate with
    • Predictability: Moderate. Employees set their schedule and work in the office on their terms, so there aren’t any surprises. Employees who want more structure can plan to work on-site every day, every Friday, or whenever they schedule an in-person meeting.
  • Neutral:
    • Time investment: Moderate. Employees don’t have to wait for a manager to approve their schedule. However, it may take employees some time to coordinate with teammates and other departments to see who’s working when.
  • Cons:
    • Equal access to the workplace: Moderate. Because employees don’t have a guaranteed spot in the office until they add it to their schedule, there may be competition for available spaces or certain days of the week. For instance, Envoy data shows that the most popular days to work in the office are Tuesday and Wednesday, and the least people want to work on-site on Friday.

Who it’s best for: Companies whose employees expect flexibility and can be productive when remote, such as tech companies. Employee-set schedules are also the best option for companies whose employees need to collaborate in person across many departments.

Rolling out your new schedule

Once your team has decided which type of schedule will work best based on the company’s needs, it’s time to create a roll-out plan. First, find a tool to help you facilitate office scheduling for employees. No matter what approach you take, overseeing requests to work in the office, confirming they’re healthy and approved to come in, and recording who comes on-site can quickly eat up someone’s day.

Roll out your schedule to a test group to start. This could be one team or one shift, depending on your business. This group of people should also feel comfortable returning to the office if they are currently working from home.

Get feedback from each group involved in the process, including employees, managers, security team, and HR team. Are they able to be productive? Do they feel safe? Is the process intuitive? Are they able to meet their needs at home (childcare, dependent care, etc.)? Use their feedback to fine-tune your schedule or decide on a different method, then roll it out to a larger group.

As more people receive the COVID-19 vaccination and anticipate spending more days in the office, you will likely need to alter your process. Keep an eye on how many people request to come in each week and provide a way for employees to share feedback. If you start to hear complaints that people can’t book a desk in the office because it’s full or that people want more flexibility, consider shifting to another model.

Envoy can help you keep track of which employees plan to work from your workplace each day—whether that be a corporate office, production site, or manufacturing plant. Learn more about how you can manage occupancy and empower employees to create their own schedules with Envoy Protect.