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The Rules for Hybrid Work Were Always Made Up

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Unlike fully remote or in-person work arrangements, hybrid models have unfolded differently in every office, sometimes entailing two or three days a week of attendance and in other cases leaving employees to pick when they come in at will. A Robin survey of more than 10,000 offices globally found that nearly 20 percent of American office workers are back one day a week, about 10 percent are back two days a week, just five percent are back three days a week, even fewer are back four or five days a week and more than 50 percent do not use the office consistently every week. Wednesday is the most popular day for going into the office, according to data from the workplace security firm Kastle.

Then there are plenty of company leaders still scratching their heads: Nearly a third of employers surveyed haven’t decided on their return to office plans, according to data from ManpowerGroup. And those in the process of setting or tweaking expectations realize that there is a lot at stake, including how employees form relationships with one another and how they view their company leadership.

“Zillow has not said, and will not say, ‘Tuesdays and Thursdays you need to be in the office,’” said Meghan Reibstein, head of product management and flexible work at Zillow. “Our employees are adults. Call this a millennial type of thinking — I am a millennial — but we believe that if they are happy and fulfilled in their lives, that will help them show up at work.”

Many companies have held firm to their R.T.O. expectations even as Covid rates spike. BlackRock hasn’t made any changes to its protocols, nor has Meta, formerly Facebook, which opened its U.S. offices in late March but offered the option for many employees to keep working remotely. Some workplaces reinstated mask requirements and others have said they do not anticipate requiring attendance anytime soon. (The New York Times, which had told its employees that most should plan to be three days a week in the office by June 6, announced a pause on the expectation last week because of New York City’s high Covid levels.)

But company leaders are also wrestling with office attendance questions that go well beyond health and safety. Many entertainment and leisure activities have come roaring back in recent months. N.B.A. game attendance is at 95 percent of its prepandemic level, T.S.A. checkpoints are at 89 percent and Open Table dining is at 87 percent. Office attendance has lagged. And executives have realized that when attendance isn’t required, and workers aren’t guaranteed to see their teammates, managers have to be creative about articulating what benefit they see in a commute.

Jefferies, an investment bank in New York, has tried out various incentives to get employees more excited about the office, and asks managers to set expectations about how often employees go in. The head of the firm, Rich Handler, regularly posts on Instagram inviting employees who are in the office to direct message him for a chance to be invited out to dinner. Earlier this month, Mr. Handler and the firm’s president Brian Friedman sent out a memo urging employees to start improving their attendance levels for the sake of their junior colleagues craving community.

“For those who have not been in the office regularly yet, we understand that it might seem daunting combined with a sense of comfort that has set in for many to work primarily from home,” they wrote. “Yet, we strongly believe the negatives of these realities are far outweighed by the magic of being together in person.”

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