Courtesy Harry's

Harry’s is offering a look into its detailed plans for bringing employees back to the office. The New York shaving company has posted online the 81-page “How to Hybrid” guide it has distributed to employees as its 1,100-person staff shifts to a predominantly hybrid approach to working.

The guide, designed with consultancy SYPartners, is impressively specific, including drafts of suggested emails for team leaders to send to their staff, detailed meeting notes, and handouts and slides to use. We’ve been asked by readers for best practices from the field—and this is likely a helpful model for many organizations to work from.

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Harry’s launched its hybrid approach in September but paused amid the virus resurgence and has just recently resumed encouraging staff to come back to the office. It expects roughly 70% of staff to adopt a hybrid schedule, which is two or more days in the office each week, with the rest remote-first. (Staff need their team leader’s approval to be remote-first.)

Katie Childers, chief people officer at Harry’s, says that the company decided to focus on the details of how employees returned even more than the date at which it happened. “No matter when you do it, if it doesn’t work well, what was it all for?” Childers says.

Major sections of the manual cover how employees block out their work week, how teams can decide together on norms for how they work together, and how to run inclusive hybrid meetings. The first part of the manual given to staff, not included in what Harry’s released online because it’s very specific to the company, covers office basics like where different departments sit and what restaurants are nearby.

We spoke this week with Childers about Harry’s approach. Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for space and clarity:

What has been the hardest to figure out and the least intuitive?

Two things: One is the balance of flexibility and connection. We spent a lot of time talking to our team about what was important to them. The thing we heard most often was flexibility. People would say, ‘I want flexibility. Flexibility is so important to me.’ The challenge with flexibility: It means something different to every single person. That is what flexibility is. We also were hearing from people that they really valued connection. Giving people flexibility, but also enabling connection, requires some level of coordination. Figuring out the right balance between those things has been pretty hard.

We instituted this concept of ‘golden time,’ which was part of the designing your time module. People book ‘golden time,’ or GT, on their calendar to block off time on their calendar, and no one books over it. That gives people the flexibility to go to a yoga class, go to the dentist, or take a walk—whatever it is. That gave people a feeling of empowerment to take what they needed from a flexibility perspective.

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It also lets other people know by signaling to everyone else that you’re going to be offline. We also tried to get team-level coordination as opposed to doing any mandates from the top down as a full company. We never said, ‘Okay, we’re going to be coordinated, and everyone’s going to be in the office Tuesday through Thursday.’ In those team re-kickoffs, we got teams to talk about how they want to be coordinated based on what days make the most sense for teams.

We are still working on that balance between flexibility and connection. We realized that the days people were coming into the office were the days with the most perks. For example, we do free lunch on Thursdays. Not surprisingly, a lot of people are in the office on Thursdays. As opposed to telling people when they need to be in the office, we leverage existing behaviors. We’re adding another team lunch to encourage people to be in the office. If you do two team lunches, you’re going to have a lot of people on those two days. That’s going to facilitate coordination and connection, but people will feel like it’s a choice that they’re making to come in on those days as opposed to feeling like it’s mandated.

Meetings are another thing that have felt hard and the least intuitive. We spent a lot of time designing how we wanted to run our hybrid meetings. This would be my advice for anyone who’s designing them for their company: Do it yourself first quite a few times and try a bunch of different ways to figure it out because it’s awkward. We landed on a certain set of norms, but it’s because we tried it a lot of different ways before we rolled it out for the company.

For example, we had a bunch of people at home and a bunch of people in conference rooms. We’d have one person, one screen, but we’d have the TV on in the conference room and everyone would be facing the TV. We were like, ‘That feels awkward. Let’s turn off the TV.’ Then, all of a sudden, people were facing their computer, which felt better. It was really those small changes that helped us figure out what those meeting norms should be. It was truly trial and error to figure out how we wanted to run hybrid meetings.

What did you conclude were the most important hybrid meeting norms?

What we decided was most important to us from a meeting perspective was that feeling of inclusivity, because what we realized was that with people in different places, meetings were not going to feel as inclusive. There have been studies that have shown that people who are remote are half as likely to speak up than people in person.

You could solve for very different things as you were designing hybrid meetings, and I’m going to be honest about these hybrid meetings. The way we’ve designed them are less good for people who are in the office. People in the office would much prefer not to have computers. They much prefer to look at other folks in the room and forget all those people who are remote. Part of why we went through an hour-long training with everyone was to explain why it was important because they’re not behaviors that are going to feel great all the time.

As we designed our hybrid meeting norms for inclusivity, we landed on four principles for hybrid meetings.

The first is ‘one person, one screen.’ It really levels the playing field when everyone shows up as the same box on the Zoom call, as opposed to having 10 people be very far away on one camera in a conference room. If you’re joining remotely, you can’t see their faces and you can’t figure out who’s talking.

Digital-first experiences is one of our other hybrid meeting norms. We had gotten into a lot of these practices when we were fully remote as a company, so this was a little bit easier, but we set this norm to be clear that materials should not be presented in the Zoom. Instead, you email the link to everyone so they can look at the materials themselves. We started experimenting with new collaboration tools, as opposed to whiteboards in the room, which people joining remotely wouldn’t have access to.

The third hybrid meeting norm is a moderator mindset. Depending on what the meeting is, either everyone has that moderator mindset or we designate someone as the moderator. They monitor the chat to see if there are comments from people who are remote who are trying to jump in, notice who’s talking, and encourage remote folks to chime in. It’s much easier for someone who’s in the meeting room to say, ‘Hey, let’s pause for a second. Does anyone who’s remote want to contribute to that?’

Then the last one is around ending the meeting when the meeting ends. This is a set of rituals to get people to not have that small talk that ends up happening at the end of the meeting, which can make remote people feel like they missed out on something. Some of those rituals are having everyone stand up, counting down and saying a word together (a tradition at Harry’s), or putting something in the chat. The people in the meeting room would stop talking about the content and remote people would feel like, ‘Okay, I was there for the actual end of the meeting.’

Read a transcript of our conversation, including discussion of how Harry’s thinks about job performance in the context of greater flexibility, how it’s handling geography-based compensation, and how it’s juggling having a mix of hybrid-first and remote-first staff. Check out Harry’s 81-page “How to Hybrid” guide.

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