Professor Peter Gray on Optimizing Return-to-Office Strategies in MIT Sloan Management Review

Gray and co-author Rob Cross say data about employees’ needs, gathered through organizational network analysis, can show leaders the path forward in the transition to return to work.

Peter Gray outside

Peter Gray

Despite variants and ongoing outbreaks, the state of the pandemic in the U.S. has been met with many organizations raising expectations—and demands—for a return to the office. In a recent research highlight piece for MIT Sloan Management Review, McIntire Professor Peter Gray and co-author Professor Rob Cross of Babson College explain how organizational network analysis (ONA) offers a new approach to most effectively guide return-to-office decisions.

In the article, Gray and Cross detail how ONA, a methodology that maps the working relationships of employees, uses an evidence-based lens to assist leaders as they strive to better understand which employee connections are best suited for in-person versus virtual interactions. The analytical method also attempts to give employees motivation to resume to some face-to-face interactions by showing how properly planned hybrid work promotes the efficacy of their individual roles.

Detailing the benefits of an organization-wide ONA survey through an example of a midsize biotech company about to return to the office, the authors explain that data reveals clusters where in-person interaction is much more in demand. In the case of the biotech firm, employees tended to exhibit a greater need for in-person connections (“rich qualitative exchanges”) when it came to receiving feedback and having purposeful conversations versus the effectiveness of a virtual meetup (“lean transactional interactions”) for more formulaic aspects of collaborations, such as project updates, receiving approvals, and sharing general information.

This moment in time and the months to come remain crucial for organizations and their leaders who are trying to roll out feasible and hybrid work ideas. As such, the ONA approach helps managers and employees to understand the value of in-person collaboration while cultivating positive attitudes about returning to the office.

Gray and Cross speak directly to leaders in promoting the unbiased use of network analysis: “Why risk the many negative effects that can come from a poorly thought-out approach, when the data about your employees’ needs can show you the path forward in this transition?”

Read the full article in MIT Sloan Management Review.

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