It’s the question on every executive’s mind: Should they or shouldn’t they bring their employees back into the office? Not surprisingly, the answer is mixed. According to a recent Microsoft survey, half of U.S. leaders either already require or are planning to require staff to return to the office. The same survey, however, found that 52% of workers are either thinking of switching to a full-time remote or hybrid job in 2022. 

Over the last several months, Nutrisystem, the weight loss and wellness company, has been having this very debate, with the company’s president, Steve Mikulak, spending countless hours going over the pros and cons of hybrid versus in-person work. His decision? Bring people back from Tuesday to Thursday, while letting them work from home on Fridays and Mondays. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Mikulak.

Bringing back collaboration 

The hybrid model, he explains, allows for in-person collaboration, which Mikulak says was missing during the pandemic, while also providing the workplace flexibility his employees want.

For Mikulak, creating a positive company culture is paramount. Having people inside the office, at least for part of the week, allows relationships to develop, while “water cooler” conversation helps share ideas and make connections that are harder to forge virtually, he explains.

If people were going to return to the office, though, Mikulak didn’t want it to be business as usual. During the past year, the company created a new space to promote collaboration, creativity, and excitement, which, he says, is essential to Nutrisystem’s success. The office, which opened on September 7, includes informal and casual meeting spaces, such as high-top tables and booths, and configurable furniture that mirrors a living room, giving the space that at-home feel.

“While I can’t recreate someone’s living room, we certainly tried,” he says. “The space embraces our mission statement, our core values, our customers, our products, our relationship with Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, and most importantly, our team members.”

Post-pandemic perks  

Creating a hybrid work environment isn’t the only change at Nutrisystem. Before the pandemic, the company didn’t offer much workplace flexibility, Mikulak admits, but now it’s letting people work half days several Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. They also offered a day off last October for mental health and two additional days off during the year, for a total of nine company holidays. 

The company also provides free catered lunches every Tuesday and a fully stocked free snack bar to help with midday cravings. Each workstation has a sit-stand desk, while the office also has an onsite Starbucks, chiropractor, and basketball court.

“We encourage our people to work hard and play hard, so we have many employee-centric events throughout the year to give teams a break,” says Mikulak. “If we were going to bring people back, we had to give them a reason to be excited about being back, and I think we did just that. We gave them a cool, new space.”

Evolving leadership

It’s partly because of Mikulak’s leadership style that the company felt comfortable adding all these perks. His approach, he says, is casual, open, flexible-;and always evolving. He says he learned a lot about leadership during the pandemic, which didn’t go perfectly.

“I’m not afraid to admit this, but it was a lot of trial and error,” he notes. “Like the rest of the world, we had to figure out what worked best for our teams so that we could continue to be a profitable organization.” 

In May 2021, the company tried to bring people back to the office using a hybrid model, but it didn’t work then. Instead, they implemented a remote approach, while giving people the option to come in person. As restrictions lessened, and people started feeling more comfortable with leaving home, the hybrid model started to make sense again.

“I heard what my teams had to say and how they were feeling about returning to the office,” he says. “In my role, you can’t be afraid to make hard decisions, but you have to acknowledge when they aren’t the right ones.”

As much as Nutrisystem has evolved during the pandemic, there’s more innovation to come, says Mikulak. The company is now a division of Wellful, Inc., a premier omnichannel health and wellness platform. 

Source: Inc.