Hybrid work: it’s not a revolution, it’s a revelation
- Designing a space for a hybrid work approach can be confusing given the hard-to-answer questions about how many seats and how much square footage is needed.
- In an activity-based workplace (ABW), employees can choose from a variety of work settings throughout the day. This means space is more fluid, more shared, and fundamentally less dedicated.
- The office of the future is one that provides this flexibility, provides more choice on the spot, and focuses on meeting employee needs in a way that leads to a happier, healthier workforce.
This article was written by Anna Grayhek and originally appeared on Work Design Magazine.
As we return to the office, a growing number of organizations have accepted the addition of remote working as a permanent part of their workplace strategy. Ironically, the concept of a fluid and agile workforce supported by technologies that allow us to “work anywhere” has been possible for over a decade, it took us a pandemic to fully embrace it. . Designing a space built around this hybrid work approach still proves confusing to most. Knowing how many seats and how much square footage will be needed are questions that many real estate professionals have tried to figure out.
But, before we discuss how to get there, let’s think about how we got here.
Learn from the past
Workplaces have traditionally been planned around the total number of desks and workstations needed based on current headcount and projected business growth. These spaces were usually assigned based on hierarchy, position, or title; giving little importance to how individuals were best suited to perform their jobs. But even before COVID, these types of organizational structures were increasingly seen as antiquated as people recognized the need for different environments depending on the task at hand. Individual attention, team collaboration, innovation, and engagement all require different environments with varying types of technology, acoustics, visual privacy, and even different postures and comforts.
And even before 2020, some organizations were already moving towards a new planning concept known as activity-based work. In an activity-based workplace (ABW), employees can choose from a variety of work settings throughout the day. This means space is more fluid, more shared, and fundamentally less dedicated. ABW also requires a more intentional approach to space management, including implementing booking tools and protocols to ensure spaces are available, clean, and quickly ready for use.
While most ABW strategies have always been confined to the confines of the physical workplace, the pandemic has, in effect, torn down those walls and expanded the workplace to include not just our homes, but third places like coffee shops, satellite offices and even our cars.
The transformative experience of the last two years has made us all aware of certain things: efficiency does not require sitting in a prescribed place, we do not need a physical presence to manage our staff, and most of us crave human connection. and the socialization we lost during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The hybrid work approach
So back to your New Desk.
If you want to create a space that offers diverse work setting choices, maximizes flexibility, has a varied capacity as staff come and go, and accommodates the needs for connection and socialization, it will likely be very different from the one you had before.
With this new purpose comes new expectations for a space that not only meets the adaptive needs of the workplace, but after experiencing a time when we have all paused and reflected on what is important in life, focused also on the health and well-being of its workforce. This next-generation space is not only physically different, but may require new technologies as well as an integrated wellness program. Office design must take into account the resetting of priorities caused by the pandemic. According to the 2022 Work Trend Index, 53% of employees are more likely to prioritize health and wellness at work than before the pandemic.
54% of leaders are currently redesigning meeting spaces for hybrid working, or plan to do so in the coming year.
Virtual meetings with speakers and cameras have become commonplace and have permanently changed how often we are willing to endure the commute to meet in person. They have become an accepted medium of communication, including screen sharing and live editing, rather than tagging and emailing. This has created an increased demand for onsite “Zoom Rooms” when employees are working in the office, as this capability has become an expectation. Especially for organizations with a global footprint, working across multiple time zones. While many organizations have made the transition by acquiring the necessary hardware and software to make virtual meetings possible, leaders must also make the necessary cultural adjustments to normalize hybrid meetings for a mixed workforce.
In fact, 54% of leaders are currently redesigning meeting spaces for hybrid working, or plan to do so in the coming year.
We have also seen a significant change in the way people do their jobs. The adoption of digital work tools during COVID-19 has resulted in less paper printing, fewer copiers, fewer office supplies, and the near extinction of the filing cabinet.
Individual desks also look different, as the amount of storage for binders, paper and layout space needed on a desk has decreased significantly. Most of us now have very similar needs; two monitors, a laptop and a small notepad. This means that organizations can implement fewer standards with smaller footprints, which can increasingly be shared and add to their office flexibility in the future.
This reduction in square footage means we can now use the extra space to build other areas to support collaboration and innovation, such as the spaces in City Hall that help drive employee engagement. These spaces aren’t just about the niceties and perks that once drove recruitment for yesterday’s high-tech companies. They are really meant to build social capital and create a culture that keeps employees motivated and connected to the organization. Although employees may come for pay and benefits, they usually stay because they have a deep connection to an organization’s purpose, people, and culture.
As we remain in an environment of high demand for talent, employees can choose to work for organizations that offer increased flexibility in where and how they work. The office of the future is one that provides this flexibility, provides more choice on the spot, and focuses on meeting employee needs in a way that leads to a happier, healthier workforce.