The workday used to be so predictable. A quick breakfast and a coffee to sip on while navigating morning traffic, followed by a few hours at a desk, a lunch break with a few colleagues, and another handful of desk work hours with interspersed meetings before packing up and heading home. Now workdays are much less predictable and, while some appreciate the lack of routine, the uncertainty increases anxiety. The new hybrid office has work to do.
The majority of hybrid office conversations revolve around logistics. How much square footage does a company actually need for an office? What’s the best way to schedule teams? Is this going to save or cost the company money? These are all valid questions and the answers differ for every company. Determining if the hybrid office is appropriate, how to get it started, and how to keep it going successfully is an important and large endeavor. As explained in “The Future of Work: A Guide to the Hybrid Workplace” by iOFFICE + SpaceIQ, the responsibility falls on the company to meet new employee expectations, connect the distributed workforce, and provide tools that foster collaboration and engagement.
Hybrid offices done right take a lot more thought, and data, than traditional 9-5 workdays. However, the benefits of hybrid work include increased autonomy and empowerment for employees, the ability to choose workspace based on personal preferences, and more. Employers can benefit from better space utilization, increased productivity of employees, and the opportunity to cultivate a more modern, inclusive culture among others. What makes it all possible? Transparency and flexibility, the two most important office amenities moving forward.
How to best offer transparency and flexibility can be complicated. “The key theme I hear is how do we help people in their journey into the next frontier of hybrid work,” explained Mike Petrusky, Host of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. “Hybrid is a blended experience whether it’s at the HQ office, a coworking space, or a coffee shop. The environment in which you do your work is more important than the place you do your work.”
The groundwork has been laid on how to get started on hybrid. On the quest to a better workplace, resources and checklists now exist because of research done and lessons learned during the past 18 months. These resources can be used to determine if a hybrid work schedule is appropriate for an individual company by asking poignant questions like: do employees want to return, does the infrastructure exist to support hybrid workers like virtual platforms, and how will data remain secure? Once discussed, clear steps exist for building a hybrid work policy like setting rules for telecommuting, how to outline timekeeping policies, how to keep employees engaged and morale high, and more.
Empowering the mindset of employees to feel confident about the new flexible work style isn’t quite as straightforward. Fortunately, technology can help. “Human factors are complex — people are strange, people are people. That’s where tech comes in and can alleviate anxiety. It gives people a feeling of control and flexibility as the device in the palm of their hand knows where they need to go, can help them schedule workspace and find colleagues, and provides transparency about when an area was last cleaned,” added Petrusky. “Employees need to be empowered and given a sense of comfort. Let them rise up and become productive and happier.”
After over a year of working remotely, leadership needs to revisit the reasons employees would come back to the office. Offices aren’t just a place for work but are essential to defining culture and establishing connections with colleagues and leadership. Employees need to remember the value of being in offices. Flexibility isn’t just about when employees come into the office, but about creating spaces for people to collaborate both on and off-line. As Simon Sinek says in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, “The role of a leader is not to come up with all the great ideas. The role of a leader is to create an environment in which great ideas can happen.” The office’s employees are coming back to, especially in a hybrid environment, aren’t the same as the ones they left; they’re more human-centric.
Experiences at the office cannot be replicated at home, yet there are reasons why individuals might prefer to work at home. It’s important to ditch assumptions and touch base with individuals as well as teams to see what they need, what they’re benefitting from, and what could be improved. “Check in with your people and see how they’re doing now and create as many open platforms as possible for people to discuss together and to brainstorm together. The more that collaboration happens, the more your entire organization will come to a solution that everyone has buy-in to,” stated Laurel Farrer, Founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting, on a Workplace Innovator episode.
Office tech can help with communication and create a dependable, known base for employees to schedule their lives, both work and personal. The various tech used throughout offices, both virtually and in the physical world, like access control, desk reservation, and collaboration platforms is converging. A holistic system needs to be the backbone of hybrid so companies can operate in a positive and effective way while integrating values like flexibility and transparency. The hybrid office is not a temporary modification of work. Tech that addresses or solves its challenges as well as supports its ongoing evolution will be the difference between hybrid work failing or succeeding.