How the 30% Rule Can Help Employers Navigate the Coming Months

by brunchwork

Start by sorting your employees into one of four workstyles, to determine how they will split their time between the office and home.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the return to some kind of normal appears to finally be in sight.

More than 300 million vaccine doses have been given so far, and states like New York and California have lifted restrictions now that their vaccine rates have surpassed 70 percent. The CDC has rolled out new guidelines saying that it is likely low risk for small groups of fully vaccinated adults to gather, indoors, without masks or physical distancing. And across the country, employers are starting to wonder what these developments mean for their employees and the future of the office in the months ahead.

“In many ways, working from home went better than people thought it would, especially for heads-down tasks,” says Eivind Karlsen, VP of Product at Industrious, the leading workspace-as-a-service provider. “But being remote has also shone a light on how critical sharing a space is for collaboration, creativity, and company culture. When it comes to bonding or working together as a team, there’s no great digital substitute for sharing experiences in-person. That’s what’s bringing teams back to the office — and what’s driving a new phase of the office centered on collaboration.”

To meet those needs, employers will once again be tasked with setting up a new way of working. But there’s a big difference from last spring, when the pandemic caught all of us by surprise — forcing many businesses to move their day-to-day operations to fully remote almost overnight. This summer, it’s clear that there’s time for businesses to bring employees back to the workplace gradually. In fact, businesses that don’t want to be left behind should start planning for their return to the office now.

The 30% Rule

We surveyed workers last summer and found that, even then, the majority already missed the office and wanted to get back to it,” says Karlsen. “That doesn’t mean that everyone wants to go in five days a week, at least not to start. Companies are adopting hybrid work models, in which workers split their time between home and the office. This kind of approach requires a great deal of flexibility since you’re managing more unpredictability. When done well, though, it allows each employee to work in the way that’s best for them, which creates big benefits for companies in terms of both employee performance and talent retention.”

Karlsen recommends that businesses manage their hybrid work models by employing the 30% rule, a rule of thumb for back-to-office planning detailed in Industrious’ latest guide, “The 30% Rule: Planning Your Team’s Return to the Office.” The rule provides companies with a starting point from which to iterate, so that they can establish a mode of working that best suits their needs. It applies to:

• Team Distribution: By sorting team members into different workstyles, businesses can determine who’s ready to work mostly in the office (30% remote) and who wants to work mostly at home (30% in-person).

• Team Performance: Businesses should evaluate their team every 30 days to see what is and isn’t working for employees during this period of transition.

• Return Timing: When 30% of team members are vaccinated, businesses likely have enough critical mass to ramp up their return-to-office plans.

• Office Purpose and Layout: Since team members will be primarily coming to the office to work together, businesses should restructure their existing workplaces to create 30% more collaborative space.

Establishing Employee Work Styles

The biggest X-factor in setting up a hybrid work model is determining the right balance between working from home and coming into the office.

It’s clear that employees want more control over their workday. Eighty-five percent of workers said they would prefer to continue working remotely at least two or three days a week in CBRE’s recent “Workforce Sentiment Survey.” Similarly, Gensler’s latest “U.S. Work From Home Survey” reveals that only 12 perent of employees wanted to work from home full time, with 74 percent of respondents noting that being with other people is what they miss most about the office.

Still, employers need a way to estimate how many people will be coming into the office on a given day so that they can ensure that everyone has the space and tools they need. 

“Employers can use the 30% rule to create a framework around how often different teams work remotely and in-person,” says Karlsen. “Start by grouping your employees into one of four workstyle categories to determine whether they’re best suited to working primarily from home or the office.”

These four categories are:

The 30% Rule Graphic

To figure out which employees fall into which category, have them take the Workstyles Quiz. This short, simple assessment will quickly sort them into one of four work styles: Collaborators, Connectors, Residents, or Nomads. Start by having Connectors and Collaborators work 30% remotely while Residents and Nomads spend 30% of their time in the office, then iterate from there to see what, in practice, works best for specific teams and individuals.

Remember: Even workers who are primarily remote need to spend enough time in the office to bond with their colleagues and create the serendipitous encounters that are critical for innovation. Cushman and Wakefield’s recent “Workplace Ecosystems of the Future” study found that having an unrestricted remote work policy means that the whole team — or even half of a 49-member team — virtually never ends up in the same space on a given day. By encouraging all employees to spend at least 30% of their time in the office, you can help ensure enough density to garner the benefits of having a shared workplace while still giving employees greater control over their day.