Showdown Time: Juggling Hybrid and Summer Schedules

For the first time, managers are overseeing both summer vacations and back-to-office schedules, a situation that’s sowing confusion.

The manager tried to gather his eight-person team no less than half a dozen times this summer. Wednesdays didn’t work for the project manager. Thursdays didn’t work for the team leads. Come July and August, all but two team members would be taking vacations, making the summer calendar a patchwork of absences. Another teammate emailed to inquire whether he could work remotely from his beach house—couldn’t he just do the same thing he did in 2020 and 2021?

As summer approaches, the conundrum of hybrid work is about to get even more challenging for managers. After years of work-from-home summers, employees have gotten used to working from their vacation homes, and they are not keen on returning to the office: office occupancy is at just 43%, and new data shows that location flexibility is the hill employees are willing to die on, with 52% saying that they’d take a substantial pay cut to maintain that flexibility. All of this has been confusing for managers. “It's already tough for managers to schedule in-office team meetings. Should they try to lure employees back from their summer excursions?” asks organizational psychologist Miriam Nelson, senior client partner in assessment and succession at Korn Ferry.

Some organizations will simply lay down the law and insist that employees maintain their in-office days throughout the summer. But many employees are pushing back. They’re eyeing the country’s 11.5 million open jobs and thinking they might be able to find one that will allow them to work from home. Experts say the stakes are high—for years, firms have dabbled with hybrid systems with little success—and worry that more confusion this summer could slow the post-pandemic momentum toward hybrid arrangements.

For now, experts say, the best answer is planning. Intricate, day-by-day summer planning needs to start now, they say—if it hasn’t started already. Kamma Braham, head of assessment and succession in Copenhagen for Korn Ferry, suggests that managers carefully sort out who is on backup for each client or project so that no employees are contacted during their holidays. “It is crucial that summer breaks are sacred,” she says, to allow employees to rejuvenate. “Model this by not sending messages out during your own holidays,” she adds. Gatherings, including parties, can help reinforce your team’s solidarity—for instance, a summer fete to celebrate spring results, thank team members for their contributions, and reiterate collective purpose.

Rather than set a certain number of hours at each location, Nelson says, leaders should consider the outcomes they’re seeking when employees are in the office. This will help dictate how and when both employees and gatherings are scheduled in-office. “It might be about connecting, or it might be about access to an employee, and there is a wide array of ways to do each,” says Nelson. She suggests clearly expressing summer expectations to employees, including any non-negotiable requirements, such as in-office attendance.

Gathering and human contact can be a purpose in itself, says Radhika Papandreou, sector leader for Korn Ferry’s North American Travel, Hospitality and Leisure practice. “We have forgotten how important it is to be connected with our colleagues as we look ahead to a seemingly bumpy ride.”