Katy George, McKinsey & Company

Katy George

The Future of Work

What are your views on the future of work and what will the office of the future look like?

The office of the future will be considered a natural place for both physical and virtual interactions. This is especially true as more work environments transition to hybrid working models, but the question still remains: what works and doesn’t when creating a successful hybrid strategy?

At McKinsey, we’ve developed a science-backed approach to answer this question and better understand how to leverage the flexibility of hybrid while maximizing team performance.

Through analysis, including internal sharing of best practices, surveys, behavioral data, across our 4,000 teams working around the world at any given time, we’ve developed a preliminary view of the benefits and weaknesses of each working model. This has enabled us to make more purposeful choices about when teams are remote, in-person, and hybrid. Early insights demonstrate that while a hybrid working environment retains employees significantly more compared to fully remote or fully in-person working models, how individuals spend their time in-person and together affects a variety of individual and team outcomes.

For organizations in any industry, managers need to maximize hybrid work at the team level, and make better informed decisions on what employees can most productively work on at home, such as research projects, or when coming to an office is more effective, such as mentorship or creative problem-solving.

Beyond this, office experiences can lead to social and emotional connections that draw employees in which can help employees feel the office is part of their day-to-day.

How can companies maintain culture and a collaborative environment in a remote work structure?

In this new working world, successful organizations deliberately create a flexible culture by developing leaders who foster outcome-oriented performance, trust and togetherness, and team engagement and problem-solving.

Traditional methods like walking the company floor, chatting at the coffee machine, or taking employees to lunch are less readily available. In a hybrid environment, technologies (e.g., digital tools, advanced analytics techniques, and artificial intelligence), bring global capabilities together and have created unprecedented levels of collaboration.

There’s also a need to rise to the occasion to actually create the time to get together as a team. Our research finds that employees who feel more connected with people in their networks are one and a half more times likely than their peers to report being engaged at work. Leaders can ensure that their employees have the right access to the tools they need to collaborate, and the right employee champions for the culture that can draw teams in together.

As an HR leader, is it necessary for employees to be in the office to build employee engagement?

Broadly, McKinsey research has found that the hybrid working environment – defined as spending roughly 50 percent of working days onsite – works better than all-or-nothing approaches. This does not mean a two to three days per week mandate – it means intentionally decision-making about when tasks or projects would benefit from in-person time or virtual.

The sweet spot is blending development and connectivity with flexibility and time for focus, which we’ve seen lead to better employee retention. To use this to their advantage, employers can build flexibility into traditionally inflexible roles to attract employees while also viewing flexibility as a standard way of working rather than an ad hoc benefit.

Building engagement in a remote or hybrid environment signals to employees that they are trusted to determine when and how they want to engage. One approach is to experiment with and train managers and colleagues to use new micro-habits, which are practical tips employers give employees to enable them to build a sustainable work-life balance, work productively, collaborate effectively, and connect meaningfully.

Micro-habits provide a simple way to start unlocking talent wherever it resides, strengthening organizational performance, and improving stakeholder satisfaction. Like any habit, it requires a process of trial and error, especially with new stakeholders, to discover what works best for them. Potential micro-habits can include:

  • Setting end-of-day rituals (e.g., daily reflections or check-outs) to reinforce work life boundaries
  • Logging and tracking emotional well-being via daily check-ins (e.g., scoring from 1-5 and noting how scores change over time)
  • Building breaks into the day for people to eat, take walks, etc. with clear expectations on a timeline for deliverables
  • Creating unstructured 1-1 conversations for managers to check in on their team members, and to provide informal feedback and coaching.

When productive micro-habits become the norm, colleagues often report feeling more satisfied, empowered, and resilient – both professionally and personally.