Company's return-to-office plan not only wins hearts but boosts productivity, creating a harmonious and effective workplace.
The recession of the pandemic has been beneficial for most people. It allowed economies to start functioning again and allowed people to move about more freely. However, many companies began insisting that their employees return to working in the office and ended remote work models. Most employees were understandably frustrated with this decision and the result was that a lot of people either quit, or companies were forced to come up with alternatives.
Interestingly, J.M. Smucker Co. pioneered a new working model for employees that other companies should take note of. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has come up with a policy that only requires employees to show up at the office for six days a month. The new policy also involved having 22 "core weeks" in a year, that would be decided the previous year. Most months only have two of these core weeks, whereas July and December have only one to allow employees to travel for holidays.
This innovative working model was put in place by Jill Penrose, who became the Chief People and Administrative Officer in November of 2019, after being in the company for roughly two decades. The company's mandated 22 weeks is a luxurious offer for most people, considering just how many more in-office hours other companies are insisting on. In an interview with Fortune, Penrose shared the ideology behind the policy, saying, "We didn’t start with how many days [are required in-person], or with rules and requirements."
She continued, "We started with what we want to accomplish: developing people and capabilities and maintaining a vibrant culture." While many other offices also have something similar in mind when coming up with hybrid work policies, it did not really reflect in their final plans. Other companies insisted that employees show up for a certain number of days within a given week, rather than a month. Penrose spoke about how the pandemic had completely changed how people viewed work and how her team wanted to approach their hybrid policy keeping that in mind.
Penrose's hybrid policy is based on a simple phrase: "Presence and purpose." The team wanted to have a better understanding of what employees really wanted, so they conducted a dozen interviews. This allowed them to realize how freeing it was for most people to work from home, as it allowed them to be more involved with their families and take better care of themselves. The reason the policy worked so well is that the company understood that employees had other priorities beyond their work.
She doesn't criticize other companies that have stringent policies when it comes to going to the office. Penrose explained, "We just want to show what we do, and how it’s a reciprocal relationship. People may need more flex at certain times of the year, or they have certain things in their life that need more time.” The team was also careful to give employees plenty of advance notice before they implemented the new policy, so they could make adjustments in their lives.
The reason the policy works so well is because the company provides employees with a framework to work within and trusts them to improvise. She said, "People want to meet expectations and do the right thing, so there’s a natural inclination and desire to follow rules. But we’re not giving them that; we just give a framework for [in-office attendance] over time, and people were able to implement whatever made sense for their team.” Her model has been very successful so far and will hopefully be adopted by other companies in the future.