Employees all around the world had been forced to work from home for at least some parts of the last 18 months. With vaccinations underway and restrictions easing, knowledge workers are now returning to what has been coined the ‘next normal’. And while organisations are rushing to figure out what that looks like for them, the question is, are they keeping the human in mind?
Workforces are at a pivotal moment of change. Employees are asking for flexibility and organisations and leaders are facing a really interesting opportunity to ‘get hybrid right’ and design workspaces AND workplace structures that are fit for purpose.
‘Are we doing hybrid right? With the human in mind?’ is a 2-part blog. There is simply too much to share about this topic. Here in part I, I am focussing on creating physical space that makes hybrid work. Next week, in part II, I will talk about leading in hybrid world. No matter if you are leading a team, are part of a team or are part of creating the new normal for your organisation, there is something for everyone in here as we are moving to hybrid models.
“The future of work is hybrid. It’s growing twice as fast as traditional work and it can’t be automated.”
The World is Going Hybrid
There are now hundreds of surveys available about remote work, the hybrid world and distributed workforces. And one thing is clear. Not one size fits all. Every organisation is unique as are its challenges. No matter what structure you chose, remember this is new to all of us and we probably won’t get it right the first time. Put culture at the heart of every decision and keep your people in mind. Ask yourself the question: what are their fears and motivators? When you have an engaged, supported and motivated workforce, they can work from anywhere, any time.
Whilst some organisations are making 100% of their employees to come back to the office full time, and others have chosen the 100% remote option (e.g. Atlassian), the model most companies are choosing is the hybrid model where employees are splitting their time between working from home and the office.
In fact, a recent PWC Survey shows that 83% of business leaders said remote work has been successful for their company, but only 13% said they’re ready to let go of the office for good. The overwhelming majority said the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships.
- Remote Hybrid: the office is still there when you want it, but attendance is optional
- Flexible Hybrid: you can work from home but consider the office for teamwork or travel to client side
- Planned Hybrid: you have a 2/3 or 3/2 ratio of working from home and office days
- Tiered Hybrid: certain workers depending on their type of work have to come back to the office full time or have the flexibility to choose a 2/3 day structure
‘People want control and freedom in their lives. If companies don’t step up, employees step out and look for new opportunities’ – Dan Schawbel.
Dan Schwabel shares great case studies and examples in this LI article titled Getting Hybrid Right: How Companies are Adapting to the New Workplace Model.
The Office Space Challenge
Organisations all across the world are downsizing and reconfiguring their office space. This means substantial cost savings for companies and reducing our carbon footprint, but it also offers a unique opportunity to design a workspace that supports your work culture AND enables productivity.
‘How are we enticing our people to come back to the office?’ was a question I discussed with a global leader of a Melbourne-based engineering company last week. Workers have been slow to return to the office with under 50% attendance. The company decided to downsize the office floorplate by half, and they have just signed a lease in a new building. He is part of the project team to design the space and he asked me what to consider for their hybrid office design.
‘A hybrid nature of organisation strikes the right balance between ‘virtual world’ and the human connections’ – Peral Zhu
The Hybrid Office Solution
The first thing I said was that simply having a smaller office space but shipping over the old furniture and having an app for employees to register desk space does not represent flexible, hybrid working.
Put your work culture at the centre.
First of all, set intentions for your workforce and ask yourself, what kind of work culture do you want? I would even go as far as not calling it an office if people don’t want to come back to the office. Call it work hub, co-working space, innovation hub, satellite space…something that is in line with the purpose of why people would want to be there.
Then the engineering leader and I talked about purpose. I know his company employs a large number of young engineers. Younger generations have a real need for connecting to a purpose, so I challenged him to get clear on what that purpose is for them.
Design space that is centred around culture and purpose. In his case, I suggested considering creating an innovation hub right in the middle of the space where people have access to some of their new AI technology, where people can collaborate and innovate the engineering of the future. There is so much interesting stuff going on in this organisation. ‘I think you need to make this accessible and have senior people like yourself in the space regularly to share your knowledge and opportunities in a collaborative environment’ is what I suggested next. That’s what gets people excited and makes them come to the space where they can experience innovation and creation first-hand.
Of course, this is a very specific example but I encourage you to think about the purpose that would be the driver in your culture. Global consulting firm McKinsey has developed this framework, making purpose, value and culture the centre of the organisation post-pandemic:
The article Reimagining the Post Pandemic Organisation confirms, ‘get specific and take action on building a culture that fosters employee engagement, both in-office and remote.’
Also, consider these aspects when designing the space:
Meeting spaces for hybrid: different sized conference rooms quipped with high-quality video cameras, large screens, microphones, and speakers to provide accurate and seamless tech experiences to those taking meetings in and out of the office.
Eliminate technical issues and invest in your infrastructure. It will enhance the quality of the experience for all employees, the ones in the space and remote workers. You want your remote workers to feel included, even when they are not in the space.
Workspaces well designed for project work and collaboration with fit-for-purpose furniture and magnetic whiteboards.
Movable desks and standing desks with state-of-the-art connectivity and configurations such as quiet zones and study booths to enable focussed work and productivity.
Instead of archaic tea rooms, design social hubs that foster interaction and where people want to hang out. Check out WeWork spaces for modern and practical designs.
Before you order your furniture and new coffee machine, have a clear understanding of how and why you want your workforce to use the space. A failure in designing workspaces with the human and culture in mind drives the risk of the space not being used at all.
If you want to work with me, email me at email@example.com
Cover image is an illustration by Olenka Malarecka, https://www.instagram.com/olenkamm/