The future officeis going to follow a hybrid model – somewhere in between remote and in-person work environments.
As we gradually emerge from the pandemic, a disturbing question is doing its rounds. Are offices still relevant in conducting business? The compulsory work from home (WFH) situation and the unexpected overall positive impact it had on employees and organizations alike have necessitated a rethink. It looks like employees worldwide seem not too keen to forego the advantages of working from home. And many are now outright reluctant to mandatorily attend a brick-and-mortar office building on a regular basis and for fixed timings. Even if they do return, no one is sure what will be the new employee expectations. Designers are keenly following the situation to understand the requirements for setting up the future office.
The physical office is now being re-evaluated in terms of its relationship with the workers – and how they would like to use it best. Instead of the prevalent open-floor plans, cosier private spaces with informal common areas will be preferred. It is going to be a hybrid office – somewhere in between remote and in-person work environments.
The hybrid workplace model includes elements of a traditional office, as well as other spaces that enable teams to collaborate and communicate in modern, digital ways. It would be a place to work in the individual style, at personal comfort levels – just as people had been doing from home.
This approach, however, is not very new. Over the recent past, the idea of hybrid work environments was being played around with by leading companies – for example, Google, IBM or Microsoft. Faced with increasingly stiff industry competition, business landscape, organisations that value the benefits of nurturing a distributed workforce have discovered that doing away with the traditional, centralized office routine could vastly augment employee performance.
The pandemic has suddenly thrust upon the world an opportunity to try out the hybrid workspace model on a massive scale. The benefits of the hybrid are too obvious to ignore:
- Allows the best of both in-office and remote work practices.
- Encourages collaboration and creativity to flourish at personal pace and space.
- Enhances employeesatisfaction as well as productivity.
- With increasing presence of remote workers in the employee pool, only hybrid offices couldfacilitate the best balance.
- Enables recruiters to scout the best talent regardless of location.
- Exudes a flexible work-life philosophy thatstimulates employee satisfaction, raises workforce morale and enables retention.
- While workers feel more empowered, managers can focus on strategy and results instead ofmicro-management.
- It is the best bet for a future-proof office,as the hybrid workspacemust installcutting-edge communication and collaborative technology to fulfil evolving business requirements.
- Overall, hybrid workplacesare agile and allow forswiftmanoeuvres to address shifting business demands, or a crisis.
Hybrid design philosophy
- Connecting and collaborating are the objectives: The entire objective of having a hybrid office is to optimize work processes by enabling the most seamless connection and collaboration mechanism possible. Efficiently allowing employees to connect – face-to-face or remote, or both – is the only way to maximise business value. Space should be plannedkeeping in mind how teams can interact with each other productively, irrespective of their physical location. The floor layout must plan for more interaction areas over and above designated meeting rooms. Salesforce has converted executive offices into small-group conference rooms open to all employees, replaced desks with couches, expanded dining areas, and installed whiteboards for collaborative team activities. The workplace of the future would require casual meeting places that merges reflection with relaxation. Accenture has introduced tech-free “reflection zones,” yoga and wellness areas, and comfortable, lounge-like conference rooms with sweeping vistas.
Prime focus is on technology: The only thing that can make a hybrid office possible is technology. The concept of remote/anywhere work has been effectively materialized by modern communication systems, collaboration software and user-friendly hardware. A seamless office space that aims to merge both the physical and the remote working styles must have all the enabling tools – interactive video conferencing capabilities, digital display technologies,lag-free internet access, individual and group telecommunication infrastructure, as well as information and document sharing utilities. All these must be integrated while planning the layout of a hybrid office.
- Allow theemployees to feel and own:The hybrid office focuses on offering variety and flexibility to employees. Tightly packed cubicles are out. Spacious, lounge-style, open seating plans are in. So are meeting rooms that accommodate a mix of in-person and remote participants. While facilities are a given, it is also about caring for the mindset of the workers. For example, it has been globally observed that most employees opt to work from home on Mondays and Fridays – thus creating an extended personal zone to maximise work-life balance. Faced with tight labour markets and the ever-present challenge of attracting and retaining talented workers, many employers are now open tomeet this demand and remote working on Mondays and Fridays has become an accepted practice at many leadingorganisations. Just like a comfortable office design supports wellbeing, such freedom over choosing one’s personal time and space of work provides a sense of empowerment and security. The workforce feels invested in their organisation, which in turn stimulates creativity and enhances productivity.
Think before you plan
Before jumping into a hybrid workplace model, a few practical considerations must be thought of. PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests deliberating on the following points:
- What kind of work do we do?
- What kind of workforce do we need?
- How do our workplaces enable our people?
- How will we energise and inspire our people?
Be practical to ensure that the office space philosophy supports its users, not hinders them. For instance, there is bound to be a long-lasting discomfort with density among workers post-pandemic. High density at the office is uncomfortable for many workers who dislike crowds around their desks, much more so now that infection risks are top of mind. Discomfort with density extends to lobbies, kitchens, canteens, and especially elevators. The only sure-fire way to reduce density is to cut days on-site, or planning alternate-day attendance without cutting the real-estate as much.
The office of the future must be more inviting, too. However, impulsively doing away with dedicated workspace and conference rooms might be counterproductive. It is a fact that the traditional office setting still suites some industries best in enabling innovation and collaboration – depending on the type of business they conduct. Imparting a snazzy look to your office and converting it into a tech-savvy den is not the central idea. Rather, a hybrid workplace involves establishing a design and a culture for the workers to choose where and how they work best.