After learning the benefits and drawbacks of remote work, many companies are opting for a partial return to the old way of doing things. Specifically, they are implementing a hybrid arrangement where workers come into the office on some days but not others to create a best-of-both-worlds scenario.
As with any policy implemented after careful consideration and a determination that it represents the best interests of the company and its employees, there is clear value in knowing whether workers are adhering to it. Without this knowledge, companies can’t determine whether it’s working as intended. Moreover, given many companies are implementing hybrid arrangements for the first time, knowledge of adherence rates is critical.
In the pre-pandemic world, where most companies required employees to be in the office five days each week, there was less of a need to implement special measures to determine whether employees were present when they were supposed to be. Employers could reasonably assume that all employees would be in each workday unless notified otherwise.
In hybrid environments, leaders’ ability to be confident in the whereabouts of their employees is undermined for several reasons. First, depending on the nature of the hybrid arrangement, different employees may be required to come in on different days, meaning employers can’t assume everyone should be there every day of the workweek.
To complicate matters, there is more reason to believe that employees may not come in when they know they are supposed to. After years of experiencing unprecedented autonomy and flexibility, workers may think it’s acceptable to stay home without a special reason and without giving any notice.
Collectively, this makes assessing the efficacy of hybrid arrangements much more difficult.
Attendance Tracking Methods
To solve this problem, several companies are utilizing a solution many employees haven’t experienced since they were last in school—attendance tracking. For example, Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg are keeping track of attendance through employees’ badge swipes. Software company SmartRecruiters is using data from desk reservations to determine who shows up, often following up with absent employees to “make sure they are O.K.”
These practices have drawn criticism from employees, managers, and experts of organizational ethics. Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, tells the New York Times:
I’m a busy person, too, and the thought of being a monitor like we’re in junior high again is horrible.
Rob Reich, director of Stanford’s Center for Ethics in Society, emphasizes how this practice can erode culture and dehumanize employees.
The fact that any interaction you’ve done at work is potentially scrutinized by your boss tends to transform how you engage at work. It treats the employees as akin to machines optimized for maximal performance rather than human beings.
While companies like Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs have access to detailed information on each employee, other organizations use a less invasive approach that may avoid some of the ethical and cultural drawbacks associated with more precise forms of tracking. For example, according to Joan Burke, head of human resources at DocuSign, while the company tracks room reservations and badge data, they do not analyze the behavior of specific workers.
The efficacy of hybrid work arrangements can be challenging to evaluate. While some forms of attendance management may be essential, companies must carefully consider whether and how to implement it.
When making this decision, businesses must think about what’s important to them and what they feel they would gain by taking attendance. If their focus is on assessing the efficacy of their hybrid work arrangement, then a strategy like DocuSign’s, where employers only look at aggregate data may be most appropriate.
Companies who feel confident in their hybrid strategies may think that rather than evaluating the setup, they want to ensure employees abide by it. In this case, employers may need to do more than track aggregate level data. However, this does not mean that measuring individual employees’ behavior is appropriate or necessary. Instead, companies should utilize other techniques (e.g., new office perks) to entice workers to come into the office.
Corporate culture can have a significant impact on how an organization’s employees respond to some form of attendance tracking. In more performance-oriented cultures where behavior tracking may be more common, employees are less likely to feel that having their attendance taken violates their values. However, employees may reject attempts to track their behavior in cultures with a greater emphasis on trust, freedom, and autonomy.
Organizations may also want to consider implementing a hybrid schedule where employees are all required to come in on the same days. Though this strategy gives up some flexibility, it largely avoids the logistical headache of determining who is in the office and when.