Merging Remote Work & Physical Offices
If you haven’t yet been convinced that the hybrid model is the future of corporate offices, read on.
Only 12% of US employees want to work from home full time (Gensler)
55 percent of US workers want a mixture of home and office working (Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research).
More than two in five working adults (42 percent) are willing to give up some percentage of their salary for more flexibility at work (Mom Corps).
Generation Z will soon become the largest segment of the workforce, and they are interested in a hybrid approach to work. 74 percent of Gen Z would prefer either working from home or splitting time at home and work (Salesforce).
82 percent of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time (Gartner).
How about now?
Even if the answer is still no, this article will show that this new model is not only the best solution for your business’s success but is also the cutting edge of modern office solutions. We will look at the culture changes, new technologies, and emerging trends that are driving this transition and outline the key considerations in implementing this model in your own organization.
So, what is the hybrid workplace?
If the picture of what a hybrid workplace looks like is a little fuzzy for you, don’t fret – you are not the only one. The term is intentionally and necessarily vague, and the techniques and methods are wide-ranging and changing all the time.
Broadly speaking, a hybridized workplace is one that has both remote and in-office workers within the same organization. The details are all determined by the organization’s unique characteristics.
- Who can work hybrid-style? While most workplaces will have a fundamental few who cannot work from home for a variety of reasons, most can probably accomplish at least some of their tasks remotely. Determining who these people are and what fraction of their work these tasks take up will inform how much time they will be working remotely.
- When should people be in the office? The needs of your business will determine where certain people can or must be on certain days. You could make use of a predetermined and regular schedule, either to ensure there are always department representatives in office or avoid too many people in the office at once. You can also make decisions around the minimum or maximum amount of time per day in the office, depending on needs, availability, and usage of the space.
- How do I organize a hybrid workplace? How much control you have over the whereabouts of your employees is also dependent on the nature of your workforce. Strict schedules may be necessary in those cases when presence in the office needs to be coordinated. Required attendance on certain days for events or meetings may be required for confidential or important work. Hoteling systems by which employees can reserve office space on particular days or at particular times may be more beneficial if their location is more flexible.
These methods may also vary over time, by department, or seasonally depending on employee and corporate needs.
The NEW hybrid workplace
Until very recently, the hybrid workplace was discussed primarily as the “office of the future.” Due to the requirements imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has quickly become the office of the present. And there is no data to suggest this will change any time soon.
Today’s dominant hybrid model varies significantly from the ideas of hybrid-remote work in the past in three different ways:
- Days in the office vs. remote are not (necessarily) scheduled in advance.
- The balance of in-office vs. remote employees has shifted. There is a far greater percentage of the office working remotely in a hybrid workplace as a standard, not an exception.
- This shift in in-office vs. remote employees is not static but fluid, shifting in real-time.
The pandemic has evidently been the driving factor creating all three of these changes. In fact, flexibility has been the key determining characteristic between those organizations that sank or swam this past year. However, even post-pandemic, these trends are set to stick and will continue to be championed by employers and employees alike as key aspects of their workplace policy, culture, and success.
There are numerous benefits to adopting a hybrid workplace, even post-pandemic. The experience of this past year has only proven these benefits, which is why most corporations are preparing for the permanent implementation of this model.
Employees everywhere have been asking for more flexible work-from-home policies for years, so it is no surprise that most employees want to remain working from home, at least part of the time.
Broadly, a hybrid model can play a role in reducing the stress of workers. Opting-out of commuting plays a huge role here, as well as knowing there is an option to work from home without issue if one’s personal life so requires.
Fewer days in the office also means less pressure for employees to live near their place of work. This can be hugely cost-saving, especially if the workplace is in a city or another area with expensive real estate.
Employees have also reported improved work-life balance as they are able to simultaneously do both while working from home. More time at home due to commuting time saved has also contributed to this common sentiment.
Tip: To maintain a productive workforce, employers must actively work against burnout (the main productivity issue reported by workers) by clearly communicating expectations, not try to squeeze out productivity from employees under negative assumptions about work ethic.
A hybrid model can have huge savings for organizations, and many have already reported such numbers.
Organizations can make significant real estate savings through the reduced need for space. With a fewer number of employees in the office at any given time, organizations can downsize or sell satellite locations.
Less usage also means less maintenance is required, which can also reduce costs significantly. Together with reducing real estate, these savings can be even greater, and the hybrid model can be hugely financially beneficial.
Tip: Maximizing this benefit requires collecting data on usage and occupancy over time in order to determine the ideal size of space and required maintenance. We’ve written an article on new facility management technologies that can be used to help you more efficiently use and manage your space.
A hybrid model can also have huge accessibility benefits, improving the employee experience and improving workplace inclusivity. Adopting a hybrid workplace and being flexible with work location will expand your talent pool to include those who cannot be in your office for, whatever their situation may be.
Tip: Make sure you are making things more accessible, not less. For those that already struggle with visibility in the workplace, such as women and people of colour, their visibility must be actively fostered through management efforts.
Tip: Ensure that workplace presence does not get misinterpreted as higher dedication or work ethic, creating biases against those who don’t or can’t be physically present in the office. Having standardized performance metrics and integrating remote workers into office culture can help mitigate these biases.
Why now? What is changing? How has this been made possible?
These are questions about hybrid work that have yet to be fully flushed out due to the rapid nature of our transition. The easy answer is the pandemic – it has spurred change and innovation like none other.
However, these trends were developing long before COVID-19, and have allowed and facilitated such a quick and stable move to hybridized work.
Many offices have always been hybrid, but as we emerge from the pandemic, the mix/balance of in-office and remote workers will be very different. This is in part caused by office-cultural shifts that were occurring pre-pandemic, and those that have emerged through the mandated remote-work phase.
Having flexibility as a pillar of your corporate values will not only improve the resilience of your workplace but will also make your organization more attractive to employees.
Not only do employees want the flexibility of working from home sometimes, but they also want the flexibility to do work where and when it is best for them. Both businesses and employees are looking to strike the right balance between the collaboration, organizational culture, and social energy experienced in the office, and (for some) the convenience and individual productivity of working from home.
Providing workers with the flexibility to work wherever (and whenever) they choose – whether that be for productivity, convenience, health concerns, or other reasons – places responsibility on the organization to create a work environment that supports both in-office and remote workers.
It has been shown over the past year that a great deal of individual work can be accomplished at home – for some, perhaps even more effectively than in the office. On the other hand, many meetings, team brainstorming sessions, and other collaborative tasks are often far less productive through video conference.
It is most often the case that remote workstations are ill-suited for the collaboration, office culture, and spontaneous interactions that are fostered through time in the office. For some, even accomplishing individual work at home can be challenging or not preferred, retaining the office’s continued role as an important place for individual work as well.
To best support the hybrid workplace, offices will become more collaboration focused designed to accommodate varying meeting sizes and team members who are in the room, joining from an overflow space, or participating remotely.
Additionally, there will still be a need to support workers that prefer to work from the office for any number of reasons. A method known as hoteling by which desks can be booked for the day will allow organizations to reduce their individual desk footprint while still providing support for those who work in-office full time or on an ad-hoc basis.
The hybrid model allows for us to redefine our measurement of performance, which is in serious need of an upgrade. Traditionally, employers want to have as much of the workforce present at the office, guaranteeing hours worked, maximizing efficiency. Management would look at the completion of projects from an “hours inputted” kind of view. In today’s culture, even before the pandemic, this was becoming a dated model as we learn more about the psychology of creativity and productivity.
Now, with employees working remotely, the focus for management becomes improving productivity—supporting coworkers with the resources they need and defining a clear and collaborative workflow.
We would not have been able to make such a quick and smooth transition to remote work if it wasn’t for pre-existing technologies with such capacities. Due to increased demand, technologies to support remote- and hybrid- work have rapidly developed, making the permanent transition to hybrid work simple and cost-effective.
Tools such as instant messaging and video conferencing have been invaluable in recreating as closely as possible the office experience digitally. Software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams can be further utilized to help boost collaboration and communication within a hybrid workforce.
There also exist project management tools to help facilitate communication. To ensure your projects continue to progress, it’s crucial that your employees have complete visibility into their tasks no matter where they are working from. Team members should be able to easily see priorities, deliverables and the work they need to complete to meet project goals. To make this easy, consider implementing project management tools such as Microsoft Teams Planner, Basecamp, Teamwork, Monday or Trello into your processes. This will promote seamless task continuation whether your employees are working from home or working out of the office.
Cloud computing has been invaluable, especially in cases when access to physical buildings has not been possible. Cloud technology permits access to all data from virtually anywhere, letting your workforce move without any disruption. With these systems in place from pandemic use, most corporations will not go back due to the additional advantages of storage, security, and data management functionalities.
A hybrid workforce means organizations are continuously transferring files across different networks, have less control over employee security measures, and a range of other challenges. However, demand for tight security systems has accelerated the development of such software, meaning there are a range of options and methods for any and every purpose.
Outsourcing security can also be even more reliable than securing data in-house, as these companies are experts in their field and provide guarantees for their services.
Outside of corporate culture shifts and emerging technologies, there are other trends that have been transforming corporate life over the past few years that point towards a hybridized workplace.
The purpose of the office has been evolving over time. Because of its incremental nature, this change is hard to perceive, but if you think about how an office looked even just 30 years from now, the picture varied drastically from the norm today. From dress codes to desk arrangements, these changes are all fundamentally caused by how we see, use, and value the office.
Today’s modern offices are spaces of collaboration, focus, and creativity. By bringing people together, providing spaces that foster wellness and boost innovative capacities, and facilitating networking and inspiration, the in-office experience is one that is invaluable to organizations as well as their employees. These functions have been unchanged by the pandemic and solidify the place of the office in the future of the workplace.
Similar to the changing purpose of offices, the design and layout of such spaces have changed accordingly. Gone are the days of cubicle farms, and even the open-concept style is going out of fashion.
The lessons learned from the pandemic and the needs of the hybrid workplace are driving the modern office space. Fully equipped meeting rooms will be essential, as well as tranquil spaces for individual work. The use of IoT systems not only makes for easier management but also improves the workplace experience.
Spaces that are aesthetically pleasing and pleasant to be in will encourage employees to utilize the office space and maintain client-facing corporate image in a smaller space. Offices also offer services and amenities that employees highly value and cannot have while working remotely.
We’ve written an entire article on what modern offices are doing to attract employees back to the office. Read more on that here.
Your office’s future
Now that you’re (hopefully) convinced that the hybrid workplace is here to stay, let’s look at the steps you can take to develop a plan that will best benefit you, your employees, and your organization.
Consult your employees
In a post-pandemic workplace, the real winners will be those leaders who listen to their teams and give them the support, tools and resources they need to not just succeed but thrive. Your employees are also the real experts on the employee experience – so ask them!
- Where do they want to work?
- When do they want to work?
- Do they want a schedule?
- What services or amenities do they value or desire?
By gathering information from your employee’s perspectives, you can develop a system that not only satisfies your current workforce but also will appeal to today’s talent.
Make it safe
Workplace health and safety must always be a top priority, but today it is more poignant than ever. Hybrid workplaces can be particularly useful in avoiding COVID-19 infections as they allow for more social distancing, and remote work can continue for those who are unable to come back to the office just yet.
Establish an even playing field
In the excitement of getting back into the office, those who cannot return could easily get left behind. Creating procedures and policies that pay particular attention to creating an equal workplace are necessary, especially when those working remotely may already belong to marginalized groups.
Define your culture
To successfully adopt a hybrid workplace, adapting to the cultural transition is essential. The company’s goals and objectives must be reshaped and aligned with a hybrid workplace and the different opportunities that a hybrid workplace will generate.
Communicate your plan
Your employees must know what you are planning to do and how you are preparing the workplace for the future. Be transparent and keep them in the loop about the developments, which will help them adapt to the changes accordingly.
Defining a hybrid workplace and finding ways to engage a distributed workforce is going to take more than just predictive data sprinkled with hope and goodwill. However, the process is not complicated. In fact, we were already on this trajectory towards a hybrid workplace; there is no use resisting it. The office culture, technology, and broader corporate trends have been preparing us for this and make a smooth transition possible as well as inevitable. The resources exist; all you need to do is follow through to keep your workplace safe, modern, and competitive in today’s labour market.