Optimizing Return-to-Office Strategies with Organizational Network Analysis:

Survey-based approach for organizational network analysis looks to optimize hybrid work schedules.

As the spread of the Corona Virus slows leadership in many companies are working to get rid of virtual work and get people back into the office. As has been discussed in recent lectures of LPA, fostering a sense of community and belongingness is very important to the growth and retention rate of a company and many leaders find virtual environments detrimental to workplace community and culture. Additionally, many business leaders are inclined to believe that people are more productive in an office setting than in an at-home setting with the possibility of more distractions. Pushback from employees who value the benefits of at-home working has led many companies to search for a hybrid solution that limits but optimizes time spent in the office for employees. As with any optimization problem, analytics can play an important job in determining the best solution. The article “Optimizing Return-to-Office Strategies with Organizational Network Analysis” explores strategies that can be used to solve this complicated problem for business leaders.

The key objective of this article is to map employees’ working relationships through organizational network analysis (ONA) to answer three questions: Who should be brought back together in a weekly cadence of in-person and virtual interactions? What work should be prioritized in the now scarcer in-person time? And how do leaders manage the transition to a hybrid model with the least resistance? This methodology answers these questions using an organization-wide survey that asks employees to rate the relative importance of virtual vs in-person interactions for everyone in their network. The purpose of this is to identify how much a certain person needs to be in-person as well as who should be in-person at the same time as them. The results of this organization-wide survey have been used with multiple companies and has been able to successfully identify clusters of employees who need to work together. It informed these companies to make work schedules for a hybrid rotation, to design their office space so that co-dependent employees were more centrally located, and to schedule workplace activities based on what was more effective in-person.

The issue of in-person vs. fully remote working environments is critical to the productivity and performance of a company, and I think the use of analytics is one of the best possible solutions to this problem. I’m a proponent of the use of analytics to optimize work schedules but am skeptic about the data collection described.  I worry about the potential for bias in the methods described in this article. In my personal experience with surveys that could have a large impact on my day-to-day life, myself, and many people I know tend to “game” these surveys. I feel that employees will quickly realize that the survey will be used to form their schedule and form their answers to reflect the activities they want to do in the office and the people they want to work with rather than what is most important for them to be doing in person. I’ve recently discussed the implications of work environment on performance with my dad who manages a team of accountants. He said in his personal experience almost everyone in his team claims to be at least as productive at home, but he notices a decrease in performance in about half of them. Nonetheless, I think the input of employees is important. I feel that the survey should be catered more to allow for managers to input how their team member’s performance adjusts with the environment and these responses should considered with the employees.

SOURCE: Cross, Rob and Gray, Peter. “Optimizing Return-to-office Strategies With Organizational Network Analysis.” MIT Sloan Management Review, 29 June 2021. https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/optimizing-return-to-office-strategies-with-organizational-network-analysis/


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Student comments on Optimizing Return-to-Office Strategies with Organizational Network Analysis:

  1. Hi Jeff, thank you for sharing that wonderful, informative article, which is currently highly topical. The organization network is essential and affects the operation of the organization. Some strong networks and people who are the leaders in that networks can affect the organization’s operation. Organization networks have already been affected by Covid, and the return in offices will not be the same as we already know. Managers should have in their mind to adapt their teams optimally.

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