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Enterprises Must Balance the Human Load on Offices


Picture of team members working together in open office
Image: gstockstudio -
Load balancing is a familiar concept to most IT people. In networking, load-balancing equipment takes in a set of aggregated traffic traversing a network, and distributes it evenly across multiple destinations, so that no single destination is overwhelmed while another sits underutilized. When it comes to offices in the post-COVID world, the most important load balancing may come to bear across the dimensions of people and time.
This article from the head of employee experience analyst firm Leesman describes the load-balancing challenge that almost every enterprise is grappling with at the moment. The widespread assumption is that enterprises are moving toward a “hybrid” concept in which employees use offices for collaborative efforts, and work from home on “heads-down” projects. But that creates a problem, as Tim Oldman, founder & CEO of Leesman describes. Pre-pandemic studies, Oldman wrote, “repeatedly revealed that those employees granted choice of when to base themselves at the office or home would rarely be seen in the office on Mondays or Fridays.”
“If this flexibility is extended to all employees, the office will be a buzzy and vibrant hub mid-week but likely deathly quiet either side,” Oldman continued. “Organizations contending with pandemic-imposed economic upheaval will doubtless struggle to justify the costs of seven-day-a-week assets optimized less than half of those days.” He described this as a load-balancing problem — and one that, if neglected by enterprise leadership, could leave the whole hybrid-work project vulnerable to the realities of enterprise budgeting.
Oldman’s solution isn’t particularly satisfying —he suggested that each enterprise must “deeply understand the nature of work in their organizations” in order to address the load-balancing dilemma. Understanding is one thing; but acting effectively on that understanding is considerably more difficult.
In fairness, I don’t think a satisfying answer to this challenge exists yet. If it’s human nature for people to want to ease in and out of their workweeks with a commute-free Monday and Friday, the enterprise has to provide incentives that outweigh that desire. One incentive is: Them’s the rules; if you want to work from home on Friday, you have to come in on Monday or vice versa, no exceptions. But such rules are not likely to get enforced uniformly across different teams, giving rise to resentments and challenges to the system.
The carrot approach might be to offer more appealing amenities like lunches or happy hours only on Mondays and Fridays, and encourage teams to treat these days as “on-sites,” where teams gather as much for socialization as to accomplish work tasks.
With collaboration products like Microsoft’s new Viva emerging, enterprises are starting to look more seriously at how analytics capabilities of workplace software can give them a window into employee behavior. That has its creepy, Big Brother aspect, but with a lighter touch, it could be used in this “load balancing” scenario as a kind of gamification: The more your team members comply with company guidelines on office use, the more points your team earns toward special amenities or extra days off or whatever.
Whether it’s this or some other approach, enterprises need to find ways to implement effective human load balancing for their offices, or the hybrid-work experiment will fail. It’ll be interesting to see if enterprise HR and departmental leaders are able to think creatively about how to make it work.