Credit: 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.

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 is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity:

You've been experimenting with hybrid for about six months now?

We started back in September, but with the surge in December and January, we pretty much went to work from home. From September to November, I would say we got in three solid months of experimentation, but Covid is continuing to throw wrenches into our plans.

And what is your current plan in terms of return?

We are encouraging people to start coming back. We encouraged people to work from home starting in early to mid-December. As of last week, we started encouraging people to start coming back to the office. It's taking people a little while to feel comfortable again, honestly, so numbers haven't gotten back to where they were in the fall, but we're encouraging people to go back into hybrid ways of working.

Why is it important to focus on the specific details of the hybrid approach and what some examples of that?

Most of the conversation within my network, and even with you read in the press, has been about ‘when do we go back?’ They note that people are pushing back their dates or that it's now 2022 for a lot of companies, but not a lot of people are talking about the, ‘how to bring people back.’ As we thought about this, that's where we wanted to invest—the how we should do this, not when we should do this. It felt like a really important moment for us as a company. We invested a lot behind it because no matter when you do it, if it doesn't work well, what was it all for when people actually get to that moment? We spent a lot of time thinking about what challenges and pain points might come up as we go from mostly being remote to hybrid. We ended up creating a ‘how to hybrid’ manual with four chapters. Each of those chapters addressed a specific pain point.

The first chapter was, ‘How to use the office,’ because 50% of the people at Harry's hadn't been to the office. The chapter was basics, like where is the office? What restaurants are around the office? How do we think about who sits where on our two floors? How we think about conference rooms? It's some of the very basics. Then we also invested in what we called orientation week, the very first week we were back. We brought people to the office in very small groups and did office tours for every person. We talked through all of the technology required and all the safety protocols required to make this plan work. It was a very deliberate experience to get people comfortable with being in an office again. That was our first chapter.

The second thing we realized is that all of a sudden, how people use their time was going to be really different. You've structured your calendar in a certain way, and now you have to think about commuting, being in the office certain days, and balancing time in the office versus outside the office. What we've been hearing from people is, while a lot of people are excited to be back in the office, productivity was not as high in the office for heads-down work.

Chapter two focused on helping people think through how to orient their calendar for hybrid work. What types of things do you want to be doing in the office? What types of things do you want to be doing when you're working from home? We actually created an exercise for people where they mapped out their calendar during the week with different responsibilities. We created a whole bunch of norms around calendar signaling so that people could figure out who was going to be in the office when we realized that was going to be a pain point. It's like, great. I want do these meetings in person, but who's actually going to be in person at different times?

Another pain point, as teams started to move into this world, was understanding how teams actually work together and knowing who was going to be where at what times to decide what meetings should operate in which modes. Is this a remote meeting? Is this a hybrid meeting? Should we move the days that meetings are on to make sure that we're operating in the right way?

We created a module about re-kicking off your team. It was a 90-minute experience where teams would come together, cascaded throughout the organization, to talk about how they wanted to work in this new hybrid way. They set collective norms around who's going be where at what times, talking through every meeting and how you wanted to run every meeting. That was a really powerful tool to make teams feel like they had the ability to create the experience they wanted. It was really enabling them and giving them tools.

The last chapter was around inclusive hybrid meetings. We realized meetings are where the rubber was going to hit the road, from a hybrid perspective. That's where there could be the most feelings of exclusion and the most awkwardness with people in different locations. We created a 60-minute session where we trained every person in the company on our new hybrid meeting norms. There were tools, there were experiences, and there were trainings that we invested a lot of time in associated with those four chapters.

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, as we were designing all of this, talking to our team about what they wanted, what was important to them. Then, we spent a bunch of time getting a lot of feedback from our team, even as we were experimenting in this test-and-learn phase in the fall. The thing we heard most often was flexibility. People would say, 'I want flexibility. Flexibility is so important to me.' The challenge with flexibility, in and of itself, is inherent in flexibility: It means something different to every single person. That is what flexibility is. That's challenging in and of itself. 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.

There are a lot of things that we've tried to do to figure it out. 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. It's really helpful within your day to feel like you have that flexibility.

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. We know that distance triggers social exclusion. There's the exposure effect, where people in the office are treated differently because they have more access. It's really hard for remote people to speak up. There have been studies that have shown that people who are remote are half as likely to speak up than people in person.

So as we thought about how we wanted to design hybrid meetings, we focused on this idea of remote inclusivity. 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 the why behind some of this and why it was important because they’re not behaviors that are going to feel great all the time. We also encourage people to participate in hybrid meetings on the flip side of what you normally do. Being remote for some of these hybrid meetings, you get why it feels so much better to have these norms versus defaulting to the way that we ran meetings before.

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

The first is 'one person, one screen.' That's the headline. There's a lot underneath that, like room set up and meeting logistics, but the most important 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. There are cool tools, like the online white-boarding tool Miro, that we've started experimenting with at Harry's. We're giving people new tools and ideas for creating digital-first experiences.

The third hybrid meeting norm is a moderator mindset. This goes back to the idea that remote people are half as likely to contribute versus people in the office. 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?' This norm is about cultivating that mindset with everyone for certain meetings that are too big to designate one person as that moderator.

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. We gave people lots of different ideas of what those rituals could be, so that the meeting would actually feel like it came to a close. 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.'

How did you figure out what you would offer in terms of hybrid versus remote?

We have two models: a hybrid-first model and a remote-first model.

Since you have both options, how are you making sure that they work the best possible way together?

If you make your hybrid model very inflexible, more people are going to choose to be remote. How we thought about this was to think of a hybrid model that we thought could work for a lot of people, the majority of the company. We want to be a hybrid-first company for most of our teams—not every team because there are some that should be remote-first—but as a company we want to be hybrid-first. To do that, we need to build a hybrid model that can actually work for most people and is not too rigid. To figure it out, we thought, 'let's just roll it out.' We learned a lot in the fall. We didn't come out and just say, 'here's our hybrid model.' We learned a lot in the fall based on people's behaviors and what actually works for people.

We had a lot of debates about our hybrid model. Is it two days or is it three days? Do we dictate days? Do we not? We just observed what people were doing in the fall, and the majority of people were doing two days. Our hybrid model is two to three days, with two days as the baseline expectation. That's really quite flexible. We also realized most people were coming into the office Tuesday through Thursday. We haven't mandated Tuesday through Thursday, but we've said, 'Hey, most people are coming in Tuesday through Thursday. If you want to maximize coordination, think about coming in those days. And by the way, we have free food each of those days,' to increase the number of people who come in. In terms of coordination, we really let teams do that coordination themselves. When teams feel like they are making those decisions for themselves, about when they want to come in all together, it feels much less inflexible. It feels like we're giving them a little bit more control. A key part of it is building a hybrid model that has enough flexibility in to make people want to be hybrid-first as opposed to remote-first.

Do you know roughly what percentage of your workforce is opting for hybrid-first?

In the fall, it was a little more than 60%, but people were still quite concerned about Covid. When we've asked people what they want to do in the long run, about 70% of people have said that they want to be hybrid-first. In the fall, we let everyone just do what they wanted to do. Going forward, there's going to be more of a request process if you want to be remote first to talk through what that looks like to make sure that everyone's aligned. For example, remote-first doesn't mean you never come into the office. We'll still want those folks in the office periodically.

For remote-first workers, is your expectation that they come to the office with some frequency?

For hybrid-first, we built a model that was flexible enough that people would want to do it over remote-first. Our approach is very much an individual approach. There's not hard and fast criteria about who can be remote. We're empowering leaders to make decisions for their own teams about who can be remote because they're closer to it. They understand who can be successful, based on their role and on the individual, working remote-first when now the majority of the company is hybrid-first. It's a very individualized approach where we're having conversations with people about what they need. What flexibility do you need? How do we help you actually get what need? How much travel is required for your role?

It's very different. I have some recruiters on my team who, for the most part, are individual contributor recruiters who are just on the phone all the time. Maybe those people can come up to the office quarterly. Then there are other people who are going to be remote-first on my team who are people managers. They will probably have to come into the office on a more regular basis. Again, there are no hard and fast rules. It's a very individual approach, which is harder. For me, the role of HR has really shifted. I've seen my role much less as creating hard rules and policies and more as giving people like tools to enable them to design things for themselves. We've given some basic guardrails, but we're really trying to empower leaders to make the decisions that are best for their teams and their people.

How do you think about performance in the context of greater flexibility?

We're still learning our way into this, but I have some ideas. I would be most concerned with the people who are remote-first because hybrid-first folks will be in the office, spending more time with their managers. Some of those performance conversations will happen more naturally and organically. That's part of the reason we are—as people are requesting to be remote—requiring a series of conversations with your manager and with your manager's manager about how we set that up in the right way. There's a request form that we ask people to fill out that includes questions like, 'How are you going to make this successful?' That sets up mutual accountability to make sure that people are reflecting on what they're going to need to do to make it successful for themselves and for their team.

We try set it up in the right way to start. Then, we help teams define how they're going to work together and hold each other accountable. That goes back to some of this re-kickoff idea—if there are going be people who are working in a remotely, how do teams set that up to be successful? The last thing is enabling managers to be great managers for those folks. We've adapted a lot of our training programs to talk about how you do things like having effective one-on-ones in a world where you're spending less time with your people. We're trying to give managers tools, tips, tricks for how to work in that hybrid or remote world.

How are you addressing geography-based compensation?

Our philosophy has always been to pay competitively within the markets that we are in. We have folks in the UK and in Canada, and we've always had more market-based compensation. With that as our philosophy, for those who worked in the US, we benchmarked to New York because most of our people were in New York. Now that we're having more and more people live outside of the New York metro area, we are adding in new compensation tiers to account for that. Our comp philosophy has always been to pay competitively within the market that people live in. That's helped us and grounded us philosophically now that we have people living in more places across the US and are moving in the direction of having geographic tiers within the US.

If people have moved—from New York to a lower-cost area, for example—are you resetting their salaries?

We are not decreasing anyone's compensation. Going forward, you're going to be within a new compensation range. As we think about your future increases, we'll think about those differently. Depending on where you are in the compensation range, you might have different compensation adjustments going forward. The counterbalance to that is, for people who are living outside the New York metro area, we're also paying for their travel to come back to the office. We really do value that connection and we want to do everything we can to encourage people to be in the office. While we'll move you into a compensation tier that aligns with where you've chosen to live, we still want to make sure that we are making it easy for you to get back to the office to connect with your team.

How would you describe the difference in what work is as it's emerging, compared to what it was like before?

One of the things that's really important to Harry's as a company is mental health. It's our social mission as a company, and we give a lot of money to nonprofits to support mental health. I want to make sure that our new ways of working are supporting people's mental health. We've talked a lot about that from a flexibility perspective. I do think being more flexible with folks helps from a mental health perspective. It gives them the balance they need in their life and makes them feel like they have control over things. What isn't talked about as often is the role of work in your social connections as humans. We are inherently social beings, and work is a place where people can get a sense of community and belonging if they want that.

I want to make sure we don't lose that now. We have this hybrid model that's two to three days a week, where most people are choosing to do two days a week. There are going to be more people who are remote first. You're losing a lot of those social interactions and social connections. For me personally, I felt very lonely during the peak of the pandemic. I feel quite a bit of responsibility to provide people with social connections in the work context, if they want them, even though we're all really dispersed. What that means is, even though we have less time together, finding ways to invest in those connections. How do we bring everyone together?

Especially for remote-first people—how do we bring them into the office periodically? This is part of why we wanted to pay for travel. We're finding ways to make hybrid events—where some people are remote and some people are in person—really engaging. We're giving people opportunities to really connect with other people on the days they are in the office by providing free food, which brings people together. We want to do monthly happy hours where we bring people together. That's just one of the things that's on my mind: Making sure we as employers continue to provide people not just a salary and gainful employment, but also that sense of community and connection that we lost a good bit of during the pandemic. I want to make sure that stays part of what work means, at least at Harry's.

The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive briefings like this by email.