Before Covid-19 struck, some companies were already embracing hybrid work where employees could split time between home-working and in-office work throughout the week. According to a Gallup study, the number of employees in the US working remotely for part of the workweek was 43% in 2016. Now, more than 18 months into the ongoing pandemic and amid unrelenting demand for employers to remain flexible, the hybrid work model is increasingly becoming an attractive long-term option for nearly every business.
Companies that are intentional about their workplace plans will do the best in this context. The experience and success of remote work during the pandemic has opened up new possibilities that can, in the end, improve the quality of work, enable your business to fulfill its mission more effectively, and improve the bottom line.
Is a hybrid work model right for my business long term?
The first step to getting hybrid work right is to align your workplace strategy with your business strategy. The reality is that there is little understanding in the business world about the nature of work in the 21st century and how workplace policies can enhance or hinder different types of work. The silver lining of the hybrid work trend is that it “calls the question” and forces individuals and businesses to think about how work can work better.
Lynda Gratton’s May-June 2021 Harvard Business Review article, “How to Do Hybrid Right”, provides an incredibly useful – and simple – framework for thinking about jobs. She suggests looking at place constraints and time constraints. Work arrangements that are constrained by both time and place will be done best in the office. Work that is free of either place or time constraints can be effectively done remotely.
Even organizations that have generally been hesitant or skeptical about remote work are coming to terms with the ubiquity of a hybrid work future. In fact, PwC found that 69% of employers intended to implement a hybrid model with only 17% planning a full return to working in the office. That is not to say that this is the preference of most business leaders, but the benefits that employees are seeing in reduced commuting, improved work-life flexibility and a better work environment for independent, focused work is driving a new implicit agreement between employers and employees.
Can I justify the expense?
Once the benefit of remote work is clear, its viability comes down to the value it provides. It’s only a good idea if the returns are greater than the costs. That’s why the question most organizations try to answer next is whether they can justify the expense of real estate to support a hybrid work model when they reopen. But that’s misguided.
The question really is: “do we need office buildings at all?” If the answer is yes, then it is worth the expense. We know that office space will continue to be important because it delivers benefits in five distinct, critical ways. Ultimately, the cost of real estate is justified because it:
- Enables robust collaboration
- Sparks innovation from random encounters
- Promotes natural learning and mentoring opportunities
- Enhances company culture
- Offers invaluable human connection
How can I maximize the return on my real estate investment?
That being said, it will be incumbent on companies to do three things in order to fully benefit from those advantages and maximize return on investment:
- The first is to utilize shared desking to reduce the amount of real estate used for personal work and to make sure offices don’t feel like ghost towns.
- The second is to repurpose your real estate for more collaboration space and less personal work space. This facilitates the way offices will be used in a hybrid environment and helps ensure the space is fully serving its primary purpose.
- The third is to rationalize your real estate portfolio to account for the lower utilization that hybrid work entails. For most companies this will mean a reduction in your real estate in the range of 10-30%, but not 50%. Of course, it will be different for each company, so rigorous analysis of good data is key.
Where should I invest first?
Off the bat, redesigning individual workspaces to accommodate hybrid work is essential. Employees who only visit the office from time to time don’t need dedicated spaces. Consider the value of shared desking, including lockers, to free up space and make sure part-time in-office staff have the resources they need. It makes sense to hire a good design firm to make the space particularly interesting and exciting so that staff relish this change rather than thinking about it solely as a cost-saving measure.
At the same time, you should also consider upgrading your meeting room AV systems to accommodate hybrid meetings. Generally this will include high-definition web cameras with wide-angle lenses, distributed microphones and attention to lighting.
Operationally, room booking systems allow staff to easily reserve and manage meeting rooms and workspaces without confusion or mistakes – which is even more critical when an employee’s only reason for commuting to the office is to use that space. Add digital signage to support ad-hoc meetings and keep everyone abreast of meeting room activity in real time.
And finally, think about implementing a visitor management system to help enforce visitor policies, including health and safety protocols. Modern visitor management systems automate the entire booking and check-in process to eliminate confusing or awkward moments and let your staff focus on the work at hand instead of the admin required to coordinate a visit.
There are many other ways to redesign space to serve the needs of hybrid work. To learn more about the future of the workplace and how to respond to it, you might be interested in Work on the Move 3, a new book published by the IFMA Foundation. Co-edited by FM:Systems founder Michael Schley, the book is available for purchase here.
The experience and surprising success of remote work during the pandemic has had the benefit of making “workplace” top of mind for businesses. Business leaders and individuals are, for the first time, thinking about how the workplace can facilitate or hinder the work you do and are open to new possibilities. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the way that work happens in the 21st Century. Don’t miss out.
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