The driving forces behind the rise of hybrid work
A big chunk of the “future of work” discussion in the past year was focused on remote work and extending work from home options for employees. Adapting to new circumstances for companies worldwide has been a daunting task, but as normality appears in our horizons again, the topic of workspaces and their future use comes up.
I believe that hybrid work will become the norm for many companies; studies say it’s the preferred choice for employees worldwide, and they will have a big say in workplace matters from now on. Early into the pandemic last year, most businesses were already adopting a permanent shift to hybrid work, and emerging trends and ideas in the workspace sphere will ensure it continues.
The pandemic we face certainly serves as a catalyst for a process that began years ago and continues to demand higher flexibility for employees regarding their work hours, location, and how they collaborate.
The data on this couldn’t be more explicit: 97.6% of professionals want to work remotely at least part of the time from now on, according to Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work Report.
After a year of forced work from home experiments, fewer employees than ever are ready to accept hours-long commutes, working unfruitful 9–5 shifts, and being cramped inside an office for no reason.
The indispensable value of workspaces
Not working from an office full-time has benefits that have become common knowledge by now. However, people still need to meet every once in a while — collaboration, creative thinking, and exchanging ideas still work best when we are next to each other.
This fact proves the value physical workspaces still hold for many employees and the need for these spaces to be reimagined. Flexible workspaces are on the rise, and companies are turning to them for several reasons:
- The purpose of existing office spaces has changed. What was once a place where employees sit and work is now becoming a cluster of spaces (or Dropbox studios!) conceived to enable team collaboration instead of solo working. The focus has shifted to workspaces as experience shapers, prompting companies to define how they can best serve their workforce.
- Work from home is not remote work, especially in a pandemic. Some studies show 70% of employees who only work from home feel less productive, and 80% of Gen Z workers feel less connected when working from home is the only option. Swaths of employees are waiting for the pandemic to be over so they can leave home and head to their preferred hybrid and remote workspaces where they’re more focused and productive.
- The emerging “Hub & Spoke” model is gaining popularity. Hub and spoke is a concept where a company retains its HQ (or hub) in a downsized form and introduces spokes, the smaller decentralized spaces for their employees to use for collaboration. Spokes can be located in local communities and further away from city centers, making them more accessible to employees.
The various forms of flexible workspaces
As remote and hybrid work moves further into the mainstream, the terminology around it becomes more diverse and complex. To an unfamiliar onlooker, terms like coworking space and hot-desking may sound the same, but they’re actually different concepts.
- Desk hoteling is a way to manage the use of your hybrid workspace with software that enables employees to reserve their desks and meeting rooms on their office days. Ideally, the software solutions will have a mobile app and provide visibility for reservations and time slots.
- Hot-desking is a workspace strategy similar to desk hoteling but without reservations, where employees take their seats on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, the downside is that leaders lack visibility on usage and capacity management, which is crucial in the current circumstances.
- Activity-based working is a workspace design that focuses on providing different areas for each work activity workers undertake. Activity-based working considers that different roles have different tasks during the day, and individual workers need separate areas for meetings vs. focused work. This approach ensures employees have focus areas, quiet meeting rooms for one or more people, big conference rooms, phone booths, and shared casual spaces.
- Coworking spaces will probably have a surge in user numbers in the next year, primarily if they’re located in the suburbs. Some surveys show a need for “distributed urbanization” and more workspaces in suburban areas. However, coworking spaces have a fundamental flaw — their dependence on high seating density and the number of users in the space. Safety guidelines and de-densifying offices will be a priority for companies going back to physical workspaces; the coworking model is yet to show how it fairs on this test.
The role of technology in hybrid workspaces
The workspaces of the present and future will rely heavily on technology and tools that measure employee safety and health. As a result of the coronavirus, businesses will undertake measures and implement new safety technologies in the workplace. It’s logical to assume booking and hoteling software will flourish, and companies will measure cleanliness standards more than ever.
We can expect tracking and monitoring software for safety, sanitization, and cleanliness to become part of every hybrid workplace going forward. Sensors for room occupancy and touchless technology will merge with the more analog tools like hand sanitizing stations to make the workspaces safer and mitigate employee concerns.
Adopting a hybrid workplace strategy
The most critical element of transitioning to hybrid and flexible work models is creating and adopting a workplace strategy. A comprehensive plan will help companies manage how they use physical spaces, what purposes they serve, and how they correlate with the rest of the hybrid work ecosystem.
A vital point to work through in your strategy is to develop scenarios based on the employees’ roles. Some of your workers will prefer to be fully remote (with an occasional meet-up), and if their jobs allow it, that will work okay. But for others, it’s necessary to have a scenario drawing out their specific needs. In this process, communicating expectations, ensuring information flows transparently, and prioritizing visibility will be your #1 task.
The workplace strategy will help plan and implement the numerous changes in HR, team management, and workflows that await the future hybrid companies. The transition to flexibility is not something you can do easily and in a day, but it’s absolutely worth it for positioning your company in the long-term.