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What’s the best use of in-office time?

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The office has emerged as something of a lightning rod for work discourse. But amid various studies examining whether there’s value in returning to in-person work, a question remains: What is the best way to use in-office time?

Microsoft sought to answer that question via internal data on how its employees use structured office time. In the process, the company discerned three moments when in-person time seems the most useful:

  • Building team cohesion.
  • Onboarding someone, be it to a new role, team or company.
  • Starting a new project.

Various surveys seemingly show that employees do not want a full-time return to office. Nearly half of those surveyed by the Integrated Benefits Institute said they’d quit over such a mandate, while a recent Conference Board study found that mandating such a policy could prompt retention problems.

Microsoft uses a “structured flexible work model” that leaves the decisions over who comes into the office and when to teams, so long as they work within company guidelines, according to the blog post. Those guidelines indicate that most workers should come into the office about half the time.

Within Microsoft’s study, employees said that they were pleased with their flexibility — but that they also craved more team connection, which remote work made more difficult, the company said. Many suggestions about which activities should take place in person focused on social and team-building activities.

“You have to think of your social capital like a battery,” one Microsoft team leader said in the post. “The longer you go without having in-person interaction, the lower the charge gets on your battery. These moments that matter—like a team week—allow us to recharge the battery.”

Meeting in person also has benefits for new hires, the data showed. Employees that met their manager in person during onboarding were more likely to ask for feedback about how they were doing, ask for input to solve problems and feel generally more comfortable with speaking to their managers.

In-person time, particularly guided by an onboarding mentor, also can give workers the opportunity to “observe company norms and team dynamics—subtleties that are difficult to pick up on virtually and that can be especially important for early-in-career employees,” according to Microsoft.

Starting a new project in person, also, can help people feel more heard and thus prompt stronger idea sharing, Microsoft said.

“Rather than considering the office as a one-size-fits-all solution, teams should consider the type of work they do and determine key points in time or reasons to gather in person,” the company said. “What’s more, the benefits of in-person time—whether it’s for a weeklong on-site or a day here and there—should be weighed against things like travel and expenses, commuting, and creating space for deep work.”

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