Hybrid Workplace: An Insight into a Leader’s Perspective
Posted on November 5, 2021 by wis_wp
Capt. (Dr.) Sukhwinder Kaur
Capt. (Dr.) Sukhwinder Kaur is an experienced facility management professional and is currently employed as the General Manager at OCS Group UK. A practical explorer and a rich storehouse of knowledge, she shares her opinions on a hybrid workplace in this article.
A landmark year in world history: 2020. COVID-19 drove a majority of the workforce out of offices. The hybrid workplace saw a massive rise.
The population of people working from a home office became immensely popular. 2021 is witnessing an increasing population of vaccinated people. This has started the talks of the hybrid workplace and RTO (Return to Office). Slowly, the actual “unlock” is happening.
The return to office is an opportunity to develop a new, more effective operating model that works for companies. As companies navigate a world of increasing uncertainty, they must face the widening disconnect between the actual and expected work arrangement.
There needs to be an infrastructural change. A paradigm shift is required in the new company culture.
It is imperative to take cognizance of some interesting facts before we get into a deeper discussion on the hybrid office.
What is a Hybrid Workplace Model?
A hybrid model is more complicated than we anticipate. While the word ‘hybrid’ is pivotal to comprehending the future of work, it envelops many possible variant systems.
Hybrid work gives more autonomy to staff to fit their work around their lives. rather than to organize the rest of their weekdays around hours clocked in an office. Ideally, it combines structure and sociability with independence and flexibility.
Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor from Stanford University economics professor commented that working from home two days a week will be optimal for better collaboration.
There will be an added advantage of reduced stress of less commuting. He further suggests that companies that want to retain their real estate should consider moving to industrial parks to facilitate social distancing.
Anita Williams Woolley is a researcher for organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University. She believes that organizations must evaluate their space. Although, she opines that meeting spaces should be kept intact.
She said, “I’d keep the conference room, maybe get rid of some of the cubicles that nobody likes anyway.” Wolley further added that she would invest in private workspaces for the people in the office.
RTO is indeed more complex than it appears. However, with the right solutions, we can create a digital-first model that is secure and fits our specific needs.
Key Features of the Hybrid Workplace
#1 Sharp Focus on Safety, Empathy, and Well-being
These will be the key features of office working in the future.
Other features like modern infrastructure, frictionless administration, social distancing in the work location will also gain traction. The idea is to create “intelligent workspaces” that use AI to make the workplace touchless.
For instance, Cisco’s “DNA Spaces” provides improved safety, like monitoring occupancy in real-time.
Another innovation is using AI-enabled technology to enable users to reserve a room or start a meeting without touching anything!
Some tools can let you know when a room was last sanitized or when its capacity is over its safe limit. You can also track temperature, humidity, air quality, and noise to know exactly how healthy your building is!
On a lighter note, what one would have seen in a James Bond film couple of decades ago, is now a reality!
It has become a compulsion, especially with the increasing number of remote workers. Big players like CISCO have swiftly introduced this space to the market. It works on the need to “See everything. From anywhere”.
Furthermore, the buildings are becoming “Smart buildings.” They host touchless and voice-activated features.The AI tools capture data to focus on the well-being of occupants. The aim is to reduce burnout and facilitate stronger relationships from anywhere by installing intelligent devices.
These are just some initiatives to make hybrid workplaces more seamless with central management and better insights.
Hybrid Workplace Challenges for Leaders
With mass vaccinations, organizations are slowly exiting the remote working model. However, remote employees and leaders have learned how to be more productive in any work environment.
Employers were helpless against the spate of the human tragedy of the pandemic. Although they engaged with the employees working remotely. All this to figure out ingenious ways of keeping productivity up.
No matter how successful the WFH experiment was, it can only go so far in helping leaders address the next grand experiment: hybrid working.
The leaders who don’t expect increased attrition could not be more disconnected from reality.
Rather than merely focussing on a safe facility with all technology as the perfect RTO strategy, it would be better for leaders to focus on deeper listening. It will be necessary for leaders to acknowledge, for instance, that they don’t have all the answers.
As their companies transition to hybrid working models, they will try to discover the suitable longer-term working model. It would also help leaders communicate that they would like to partner with the staff in designing the future of their companies.
If the leaders are willing to make conscious decisions backed by evidence-based rationale, this disconnect between them and staff could disappear. It can serve as the turning point, which would fuel a customer-focused, employee-led operating model designed for today—and tomorrow.
Leadership must also follow through with sharing, listening, and taking cognizance of the needs of their teams. With an absence of such connect and tango, all efforts would fall flat and become ineffective.
In the absence of a comprehensive road map for the “new normal”, leadership and teams must collectively adopt a test-and-learn mindset.
Letting experiments take their course will be a challenge for many leaders. However, embracing the new test-and-learn culture could lead to a paradigm shift for leaders. They will need to understand the fact that a solution may not be immediately apparent.
The answers may not emerge for years. They will have to help their employees adapt to a hybrid workplace by providing a set of guiding principles.
There are no clearly defined solutions. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions available off the shelf.
Experimentation with a participative and open mindset will dictate the success of the various variants of the hybrid workplace in the days to come.
One thing is sure, though. There is no going back to the pre-pandemic days. The changes, explicit and implicit, are here to stay. They have permanently altered our way of looking at the workplace in more ways than one!
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Hybrid Workplace & It’s Opportunities: From My Perspective
Posted on October 25, 2021 by wis_wp
Paul is a veteran of the travel industry who has held senior positions with major companies such as American Express and Virgin Atlantic. Just over two years ago he founded RedApple7, a consultancy that puts the customer at the centre of every business growth strategy. In this blog, he shares his views on the new opportunities that can come with a hybrid workplace.
It is fascinating when talking to people about the pros and cons of a hybrid workplace. However, there is no one solution that fits all. Your hybrid workplace can differ from your competitor’s. Much depend on your business requirements and employee preferences.
As such, the business culture determines the success or failure of your hybrid work arrangments.
You need a lot of dialogue, flexibility, trust, and creativity to make this work. Additionally, you need a huge PR and communications strategy.
It is important to remember two things. First, you need to manage a massive behavioral change that comes with this adoption. Second, you need to define and agree upon what success will look like. Whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure, trying to please everyone will lead to failure.
There is a considerable possibility of dysfunctional working and discontent involving the employer and the employee. A lot will depend upon the company’s culture as it has been in the past, as it is now and what it hopes to be in the future.
While I hear lots of rhetoric about adapting a full time hybrid workplace culture, what some companies mean is allowing employees to work two days from home as a way of compromising without making any other adaptations or changes.
Others I am told are using passive-aggressive communications to encourage employees back to work. At the same time, some have introduced new benefits and incentives such as complimentary snacks and refreshments at work. Furthermore, there are those who wish to return to pre-Covid normality.
But employee law is changing, and everyone will need to adapt and do so willingly.
Every individual is unique and has different needs. These change according to their circumstances.
I know people who were working remotely achieving an outstanding work-life balance. They could spend more time with their kids. They were more productive, got the job done, and enjoyed the family life. They feel healthier and more satisfied.
Research shows that no commute can save from £5k to £8k annually.
Now that remote workers return to the office, there is a rise in distractions. Stress levels are high as a result of impromptu meetings.
Then there are the people who don’t want to commute every day and don’t want to work from home either because they don’t have the facilities or have too many distractions. These people are now paying to go to local Business Hubs by booking desks and meeting room facilities.
In reality, everyone needs to collaborate. Both remote and on site workers need to be in the office at certain times depending on the type of work. The trick is to achieve the best combination of employer and employee to ensure productivity and profitably. In my experience, employees are the greatest asset that any business has, and how they are treated significantly affects the performance of that business.
From my perspective, I believe that the hybrid workplace offers many positive opportunities for both the employer and the employee. When I look back on my 49 years in business, it is all about moving houses and disrupting my family life.
I also thought about the amount of time I spent commuting between my home and the office. Adding to that, I have potentially wasted four years of my life commuting on a train or in a car. I have maybe spent a small fortune on season tickets and fuel.
If my employer had a hybrid office, I could have been more productive.
Even when we did have hot desking, it was still a gamble if you got a place to work as there were usually five times as many employees as there were workspaces. The uncertainty of wasted journeys and lack of meeting room availability led people to avoid the office entirely and meet up in hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants. Not a very secure environment for meetings! I have heard many confidential competitor conversations this way!
However, now the possibility of re-imaging physical spaces and increasing utilization effectiveness is possible with a combination of creativity and technology solutions.
There were fixed desks in numerous places I have worked. Few meeting rooms were available for cross-functional project meetings, planning sessions, training, departmental briefings, clients, etc. Being able to obtain a meeting room was not only a chore but hard to achieve. The result led to many formal meetings being held offsite, usually in hotels.
There is an industry-created need for meeting space partly because office space with a fixed desk policy created inefficiencies. The amount spent on offsite meetings by businesses was eye-watering.
I believe that creating a hybrid work model requires a place that inspires people to work.
Hiring Talent in a Hybrid Workplace
The office environment and company culture will feature more prominently in recruitment campaigns. Just think of the possibility of hiring talent across the UK without relocating or performing a daily commute. Why restrict your talent scouting to the immediate vicinity of your office location?
Providing Memberships to local Chambers of Commerce with meeting facilities or Business Hubs would solve the problem of daily office attendance and working at home if the environment there isn’t suitable.
Imagine an office designed around collaboration, output, and achievement as opposed to hierarchy and departments. How many times have you been involved in cross-functional projects that took an age to deliver? All because priorities were not aligned?
Perhaps better to allocate workspaces for a substantial period of one or two days/weeks to drive momentum with people sitting together to plan, execute, review, and repeat. Plus, you achieve the by-product of inter-departmental respect and trust. For instance, that new three days in the office arrangement could instead become 12 days in a month.
An ex-British Army officer, currently the Head of Facilities Management for a huge multi-national investment bank, said, “plan the work and work the plan!”
Today needs leadership, collaboration, and a technology solution to do the “heavy lifting.” Had I been able to prebook a workspace or a conference room, I would have saved so much time and money.
Businesses can save money by creating a flexible workplace. Reducing the floor space or redesigning it can be the start. Adopting solutions like WorkInSync can allow managers handle their spaces better.
This immediate period following lockdown is going to be very interesting to follow. We need to see how this potential clash of requirements is resolved. Had I now been a CEO of a business with ample office space, I would be driving a transformational change to make my hybrid working environment a competitive advantage. One that my employees feel great about and customers admire.
Vandana currently heads the HR department for the Havas Group in India. In this blog, she looks at three companies that have implemented the hybrid workplace and follows their approach, ultimately analyzing the future of our workplaces.
When we think of hybrid workplaces, the general assumption is that on some days, you would be going to work, and on some days, you would be working from home, but the concept of a hybrid workplace is much more than that.
The hybrid work environment hinges on adopting the best of on-site and remote work. It picks up the benefits of the existing models and molds them into a structure of flexibility and choice.
In a hybrid workplace, most employees work on-site for 5 to 19 days, and the rest work remotely. Now the choice of days here lies with the employees.
Organizations are remodeling their structures and ecosystem to adapt to the sweeping changes that are coming our way.
In the pre-pandemic world, buzzwords like “going digital” or “remote working” indicated good-to-have practices across the globe. When the pandemic struck, organizations were scrambling to implement these, permanently adding these buzzwords to our dictionary.
To signify the magnitude of change, seasoned professionals across the industries with 20-25 years of experience, people I know and have worked with, had their first Work from Home experience during the first lockdown.
So what does this all mean? Where are we headed with the hybrid workforce?
To understand this better, we will look at three organizations from different industries with an approach that suits them.
Google: Adopting the 3 Key Principles of a Hybrid Workplace
Google has been a hallmark of people’s practices for many years now. We have all heard stories of the fantastic work culture and progressive traditions. Still, we’re equally intrigued about their response to such a situation that the pandemic has given rise to.
Google announced that they would implement the three fundamental principles on which the hybrid workplace is modeled (of course, the product areas and functions play a crucial role in defining the model of an individual’s work mode)
The first principle is providing flexibility during the workweek. Employees may come to the workplace three days of the workweek and work from home for the remaining two days.
The second principle touches upon allowing flexibility on the base location of an employee with movement across offices based on the work requirement or better collaboration with the team across the Google offices. It also gives an option for a different office or completely remote work based on the role; however, it comes with a caveat of revised compensation on the new base location.
The third principle primarily offers a blend of the first two approaches, with employees working away from their base location for up to 4 weeks of the year based on the manager’s approval. Also, it would focus on cutting down internal meetings to improve focus.
Sundar Pichai communicated all these changes in an internal memo to its employees, and he signed off by stating, “The future of work is flexibility. The changes above are a starting point to help us do our very best work and have fun doing it.”
Our second organization is CavinKare, which revolutionized the sachet phenomenon in India. They have decided to shut down their corporate office and lease out their 40,000 sq ft real estate.
They have migrated their entire team of nearly 300 employees to a full time Work from Home model permanently. It was announced that the employees working in the R&D department and factories would be coming into work.
To ensure seamless interaction with the remote employees, the company has decided to host a meeting once every month at an offsite location.
The company’s chairman and managing director, CK Ranganathan, quoted, “Over the last three months, however, we have seen productivity go up and travel time saved. In all, this totals to an employee putting in an extra 55 days per year.”
Citi Group: Understanding and Dividing Hybrid Workplace Roles
Our third example is of the banking giant Citigroup. The organization has mapped a hybrid work model based on the roles and clubbed it under hybrid, resident, and remote heads.
Most of the roles globally will be designated under the hybrid workplace category. Employees would be required to work from the office for a minimum of three days a week and the rest from home.
The job roles falling under the resident category can’t be performed in the remote model setting. The primary roles involved in this setting include the ones working in data centers and bank branches.
Remote roles will allow employees to perform their functions from outside a Citi location.
In addition to this, employees would be having Zoom-Free Fridays wherein there would be no internal video calls.
When we look at these new ways of flexible working with organizations from different industries, it is evident that the new way of working is already here. Our examples of Google, CalvinKare, and Citi, which belong to the Tech, FMCG, and banking industries, respectively, have significantly changed the way we work.
Their adoption of the hybrid workplace stands testimony to the changing future of our workplace. And their swift adoption shows that the future is indeed here.
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A Hybrid Workplace Might Be The Hardest Choice. Part 2
Posted on September 13, 2021 by wis_wp
Lisa Whited is a founder of Workplace Transformation Facilitation. In this insightful blog, she discusses the viability and effectiveness of adopting a hybrid workplace, and the factors that need to be considered when purchasing a workforce scheduling software.
In the first part of this article, we discussed the real estate challenges business leaders are wrestling with and shared a few strategies to create a successful hybrid workplace. In this second and final part, we will address employees’ hesitancy about returning to the office and share a positive aspect of the hybrid workplace that business leaders seem to agree upon universally.
Employee Hesitancy to Return to Office
For many employers, the pushback from employees who are hesitant to return to the office is significant. Reasons range from a fear of the Delta virus variant to high satisfaction with remote working.
“Although we’ve had about 20% return to the office, a majority have no desire to come back,” shared one CEO. Another stated, “People are saying they are more efficient at home and don’t want to come in. They are rooted in that position and want everyone to see the world from their perspective.” And a third leader commented, “I see a challenge in making hybrid have a dual benefit to the employee and the employer. Flexibility is a win for employees, but comes with risk to the employer around culture, training, and productivity.”
Many employees express they are experiencing greater productivity, enjoying less commuting, and appreciate the ability to use the time they would have spent commuting to focus on their health, wellbeing, and family. Employers are concerned about onboarding and training new staff. Their employees are experiencing weaker ties to the company culture (leading to a drop in retention), and a possible loss in productivity (although several leaders I heard from indicated that employee productivity has maintained or improved with remote working.)
Possible Way Forward: Strengthen Your Cultural Glue to Invigorate Your Hybrid Workplace
Whether you call it social cohesion, culture, or glue – it is the less tangible way that we experience a company and our coworkers. In the work of Advanced Workplace Associates, which conducted a study with the Center for Evidence-based Management about the factors that support cognitive performance, social cohesion is one of the most critical components for successful virtual teams. To maintain social cohesion, you must be intentional, especially when working remotely.
Social cohesion helps us build trust with one another. When we believe, we can create strong connections to our colleagues, and therefore we are more likely to share information. Companies depend on employees to timely share communication and respond appropriately and quickly to client and colleague requests. Social cohesion helps create that cultural glue, and it impacts productivity and profitability. It is not a “nice to have” but rather an imperative.
Relationships are essential in life and work. Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk from the early 20th century, provided counsel to someone who felt frustrated that his work was not making a difference. Merton said, “Do not depend upon the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be worthless and even achieve no result at all…. In the end, it is the reality of the personal relationship that saves everything.” As you navigate a hybrid workplace and what it looks like in your company, remember that relationships will help you strengthen your cultural glue and deserve extra care and attention.
“Be intentional” has been my mantra for the past 16 months. Whether it’s been conversations with my colleagues half a world away or when designing workshops, town halls, and communications for clients to share their hybrid workplace plans with employees. For example, when planning a meeting, I first consider if a meeting is the best way to achieve the objective.
You might say that the above steps are best practices with any meeting – on-site or remote – and I would agree! Many people complained of too many meetings before the pandemic. Employees are still lamenting long hours sitting in what often feels like pointless back-to-back meetings. Being intentional with how we connect can lead to stronger relationships and social cohesion.
Another way to be intentional is with conversations. I have heard people mourning the loss of “water cooler moments” and serendipitous collisions that used to occur in the office. Intentionality in reinforcing relationships requires you to be proactive and connect. Here are a few ways – the first two were shared by one of the leaders I chatted with.
Have a brief daily standup every morning for the entire team. People enter the virtual meeting room 5-10 minutes early to socialize before the meeting begins. It’s a small thing, but it’s essential to keep everyone feeling connected no matter their location.
On-sites are the new off-sites! Try to plan these every couple of months. Have drinks, eat snacks, and cover some all-hands business, but generally try to keep it social and focused on building relationships.
Make appointments to have 10-minute conversations with people you do not typically interact with daily or even weekly. Instead of a video meeting, have a walking meeting on your phones. Or, if you are in the office, invite a colleague to go for a walk with you outdoors and chat informally.
Use an app like Random Coffee which will connect two employees to schedule time to learn more about each other. This platform pairs up people within the same organization randomly and sends an email to each of them. It is then up to the email recipients to schedule a time to meet. The beauty of this is that it is cross-departmental and not hierarchical – a VP from one department could be paired with a frontline employee from another department.
Create a “personality wall” both in the office and digitally. This can include a photo of each employee with something that represents an interest (sports, hobby, pet, etc.) displayed in an organized fashion. Expand on this digitally by including the photo and a brief interview with each person on your internal communication channel (Teams or other platforms.) This is a way for people to learn more about each other, without having personal items left on desks.
Connect to Values and Purpose in a Hybrid Workplace
I mentioned connecting to vision and purpose when discussing meetings. Perhaps that seemed like an awkward step, but this is why values, vision, and purpose are so important to culture: When all of your employees left the office last spring, they didn’t leave your culture behind to wither and die with the office plants. Your culture consists of your values, purpose, beliefs, and people, no matter where they work. The office was a vessel that contained your culture, and now it is empty. Your culture isn’t lingering in the office, waiting for your people to return to embrace it.
One leader shared, “People are looking at themselves in the most narrow light possible.” She was frustrated that people see their tasks as singular and not tied to the needs of the business, thereby reinforcing their belief that they should be able to continue to work remotely indefinitely. Employees need to be reminded in particular ways how they are part of a larger structure and how others are dependent upon their contributions (and those contributions might need to be done while in the office.)
Your opportunity is to refresh your vision and purpose and remind people how their work matters in the larger scheme of things. Connection to purpose is an intrinsic human motivator. People need to know that the work they do is making a positive contribution to the organizational purpose. How do you do that in a hybrid world? Here are some concrete steps you can take:
Start with purpose at the beginning of every meeting or gathering. State what the organizational vision or goal is.
If you haven’t revisited your purpose lately, take the time to have conversations – throughout the company – and clarify your organizational purpose. (There are many remarkable frameworks to do this. The Headline Exercise is one of my favorites.)
Find ways to tie your everyday decisions and actions to purpose; use purpose as a decision-making lens for business decisions, e.g., “Does this decision get us closer to our purpose?”
Within your office, find a wall where you can graphically and creatively express the organizational vision in a way that reminds your employees that their work is part of a bigger vision. I call these “story walls,” and they are more than a brag wall for prospective clients. Story walls are a visual reminder for your current and future employees that their work matters.
Use the Hybrid Workplace to Improve Recruitment Opportunities
One thing all the leaders agreed on is the opportunity that a hybrid workplace provides for recruitment.
A financial services leader commented, “A hybrid workplace optimizes our hiring and retention options, optimizes work style choices, maximizes productivity, and offers the best work/life balance.”
A legal services CEO shared, “Hybrid makes work more humane – not just for parents – but for those with elderly parents, too. Real-life is very full – if you have the autonomy to get your work done in a way that allows you to get your kids more easily where they need to be or get to a doctor’s appointment, this arrangement gives more flexibility, autonomy, and trust. Those are all really good things.”
A technology leader added, “The opportunity is that everyone seems happier with the flexibility. If you’re going to go hybrid and offer flexibility, then really go for it… The other opportunity is leveling the playing field for remote-only employees. They feel less disconnected because everyone is ‘virtual’ to some extent, which helps protect against a tiered structure (in-office/visible and out of office/invisible).”
These business leaders recognize that a hybrid workplace requires greater attention and more work from leadership and management to be successful. Metrics must be tracked and managed across multiple dimensions, including productivity, engagement, collaboration, culture, and visibility. One CEO candidly reflected, “This isn’t a zero-sum game, and the benefits do not have to be equal for both groups (employer and employee), but I wonder about the sustainability of hybrid workplace models if there’s not more in it for the employer. I think that side of the equation needs work.”
With a hybrid workplace, there are no easy, pat answers. One leader shared, “Hybrid is the hardest choice. Full remote or full in-office present fewer ambiguities and are easier, but hybrid is better. Nothing of value is easy, and hybrid is no different.”
Most employers are figuring the best way forward for their businesses and are operating in a constantly shifting environment with a wily virus. It is tough to plan and give definitive answers to anxious employees. Remembering what my preschool child experienced almost 20 years ago – the anticipation of change was more complicated than the change itself – I have an even greater understanding of business leaders’ position right now. And I understand the stress that employees may be feeling. In the spirit of a tough year, it would be good to cut each other some slack – employees and employers – turn up our empathy dials, have some difficult conversations, and create an improved path forward together.
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A Hybrid Workplace Might Be The Hardest Choice. Part 1
Posted on September 8, 2021 by wis_wp
Lisa Whited is a founder of Workplace Transformation Facilitation. In this insightful blog, she discusses the viability and effectiveness of adopting a hybrid workplace, and the factors that need to be considered when purchasing a workforce scheduling software.
Employers have been struggling to get their people to return to the office. Resignations, relocations, and transitions to other companies and geographies are rampant. What is on leaders’ minds as they navigate the hybrid workplace and determine what is best for their business and for their employees? I was curious, so I asked several business leaders and am pleased to share their reflections with you, coupled with suggestions that might help all of us.
Anticipating Change is Worse Than The Change Itself
When my daughter Claire was 4 years old, my husband and I discussed moving to a new house. Claire uncharacteristically started acting out at preschool, displaying a temper, and stubbornly insisting on wearing her pajamas to school. One miserable morning I remember trying to wrestle her out of the backseat of the car as she hung on for dear life screeching, “I don’t want to go!” Her teacher asked if we had made a decision about moving. We had not and were still considering our options. What the teacher said next is something I will never forget: “The uncertainty of whether something will change or not is more difficult for Claire than the change itself will be.”
I’ve been thinking of that bit of wisdom lately while reading articles and LinkedIn posts about what other companies are doing with regards to remote, on-site, or hybrid workplaces. Are people perhaps more stressed about the uncertainty at this moment than they will be when “the future of work” arrives?
Are the companies that are treating their new ways of working as a pilot by iterating and inviting feedback as they move forward providing enough of a concrete plan that puts people at ease? Or are the leaders who have declared with certainty that people need to be in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday using the best approach? I found one answer in this McKinsey article:
“Our survey results make the source of anxiety clear: employees feel they’ve yet to hear enough about their employers’ plans for post-COVID-19 working arrangements. Organizations may have announced a general intent to embrace hybrid virtual work going forward, but too few of them, employees say, have shared detailed guidelines, policies, expectations, and approaches. And the lack of remote-relevant specifics is leaving employees anxious.”
I’ve witnessed both ends of the spectrum with my clients: a hesitancy to share information until they have the “right” answers on one end, and on the other end, proactive communication outlining exactly what they want the hybrid workplace to look like for their staff when it is safe to return to an office.
What is Keeping the CEO’s Up At Night Regarding a Hybrid Workplace?
I was curious to hear CEO’s perspectives about the hybrid workplace now, a few weeks before many of them are planning to reopen their offices (pending, of course, the Delta virus variant’s impact on their plans). I asked what they see as challenges and opportunities with the hybrid workplace. I heard back from an equal number of male and female C-suite executives from industries that include financial and legal services, technology, and media. The organizational sizes range from 16 to 700 employees.
One CEO said, “I have more challenges than opportunities right now.” She is not alone – the challenges leaders shared with me outpaced the opportunities by a measure of 1.5:1. Yet, it is not all doom and gloom, and the good news is that many of these concerns can be addressed with technology, thoughtful and inclusive discussions, and long-term strategies.
The three overarching themes I heard were 1) real estate dilemmas, 2) employee hesitancy to return to the office, and 3) improved recruitment opportunities.
Real Estate Dilemmas With a Hybrid Workplace
A benefit to hybrid working can be a reduction in office space – sometimes by a dramatic percentage. One large financial services company determined it can reduce the amount of its real estate by 82%. However, the timing of such a reduction is another story. Companies either have long leases, or they own their office buildings.
One leader shared, “While some talk about potential efficiencies in terms of expenses on physical locations, that seems like a stretch for many of us who have stranded costs in buildings, parking lots, etc.”
Another stated, “The challenge for us will be real estate cost…We inevitably have space we’re paying for and not using. That cost is small now but will become more substantial as we grow if we continue to honor the strong cultural preference for assigned seating.”
Lease end dates are a fact and, as I’ve shared in previous posts, many organizations had more space than they needed before the pandemic. Unmistakably, companies might have an abundance of space if they adopt a hybrid workplace as their default.
Operating a building when it is empty 20%, 40%, or more a week is not only expensive, but it is wasteful. The construction and operation of commercial buildings contribute 39% to carbon emissions. What can businesses do to mitigate the expense while also waiting for leases to expire? What do they do if they own their real estate?
Possible Way Forward: Reimagine + Repurpose Your Office as a Hybrid Workplace
Let’s take a look at a typical office configuration and how you can take steps to reimagine and repurpose your physical space to be a hybrid workplace.
Typical Office Configuration
Most offices have a combination of private offices, open workstations, and enclosed meeting rooms. Some also have open collaboration areas, cafés / lunchroom, copy room(s), and storage spaces. On average, offices range somewhere from 100 square feet to 250 square feet per person.
Typically, private offices and workstations are assigned to an individual and are not shared. Meeting rooms are shared among employees, used as needed, and are often bookable through reservation software. Lunchrooms and open collaboration spaces are usually occupied on an as-needed basis and are not bookable.
Embracing the hybrid workplace allows employees greater flexibility than they had previously. Using simple math over five workdays you can anticipate that your space on any given day might be empty 20% to 100% of the time.
For example, you will have two anchor days for all staff to be in the office together. The other three days will be a choice of remote/work from anywhere days. Staff can also choose to work 100% of the week in the office if they wish. You may also have positions that are 100% remote.
What is “full”?
There is an “80% rule” with planning parking garages and office spaces. What that means is that when we think an office (or parking garage) is full, it is often only 80% full. Utilization studies, where offices are measured every hour of a workday over two or more consecutive weeks, often show that workstations are empty on average 60% of the time. Private offices are empty on average 77% of the time. These averages were well documented before the implementation of widespread remote working due to the pandemic.
Workstations and offices were empty so often because how we worked in the 21st century (for white-collar workers pre-pandemic) allowed many tasks to be completed while mobile. People attended meetings in conference rooms, collaborated with colleagues in open areas, brainstormed at clients’ offices, attended off-site meetings, traveled to conferences, or simply were out on vacation (or sick). Given these office utilization statistics before Covid-19, it is understandable that post-pandemic hybrid workplaces will show even lower utilization.
Analyzing Data, Functions, and Space
This next action takes some concentrated effort, but it is time well spent. Review the tasks and functions by role and responsibility. Determine if there are positions that do not always require a dedicated desk. Often, we sit at the same desk because we always have – it is a habit and has been how we’ve always worked. When you give employees work settings that offer choice then they can move throughout the office and share the varied work settings with each other, including private focus rooms.
If you have twenty private offices, consider converting 80% of them to shared focus rooms. People book a focus room as they would a meeting room, for a maximum of two hours (or, a predetermined amount of time). They leave the room, head to a lounge seat near a window, and complete a task that doesn’t require as much focus – answering email, for example. After an hour they might head out for lunch, return for a meeting, and then go to a stand-up desk for a few hours to complete their day.
Eliminate title and hierarchy when you conduct this study – stick to the facts about function and task. Recognize that when you take this approach chances are there will be plenty of private rooms for use by all who need to access them, regardless of title.
Consider the same approach with workstations – making most of them sharable and reserving only a handful as assigned seats. Designating workstations and private offices as sharable also means a clear desk policy – people take their belongings with them and leave the desk clear for the next person. This makes it much easier to clean and sanitize the desks between uses as well. (I hear cries of, “what about the photos on my desk?!” Stick with me – we’ll get to that in a bit.)
What Do We Really Need Now?
Take a hard look at your storage rooms and closets. Chances are most of those items have sat untouched for over a year. What do you really need now? Rows and rows of three-ring binders? Bins of hanging file folders? Be ruthless in purging supply rooms, kitchen areas, and file cabinets. See how much space you can empty when you clear the clutter. An empty storage room can be a wonderful meditation or wellness space with different lighting, paint, art, and repurposed furniture.
These are a few simple gestures that require thought and consideration, but they do not need to cost a lot of money. You may find that you can reimagine your office in such a way that you could sublease a floor (or more) and create a more inviting and welcoming place for employees when they are in the office.
Perhaps you have a connection to a non-profit that would welcome the use of a newly created unoccupied office area. The limit to how you can repurpose your office is limited only by your preconceived notions. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that our embedded assumptions about what work looks like can be changed. One leader shared, “Although it might be harder to work through the nuances, a hybrid workplace offers the most opportunities for us to optimize our real estate.”
Well, that covers real estate and how a hybrid workplace is the answer to most problems. In the second part of this article, we will discuss employees’ hesitancy to return to the office and how companies can create an appealing hybrid workplace that positively impacts culture.