Episode 2: Beyond the Office Walls – A History of Hybrid Work

About the Episode

In Hybrid Hangout episode 2, Jen and Brian dive into the history of hybrid work.

During this episode, Jen and Brian discussed:

  1. Hybrid by any other name – Hybrid history when we used terms like work from home, remote workers, mobile work, flexible workers, agile workers, hotdesking
  2. The transition to hybrid work – The term hybrid may have come out of the pandemic, but the concept of flexible work and working in multiple locations existed pre-pandemic.
  3. A brief history on the office cubicle – how it started and how it’s going
  4. Hybrid goes global – time zones, off time, downtime, high-speed connections, bandwidth
  5. The impact of hybrid work on employee wellness and the environment

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcription

Jennifer Heath 0:15

Hello, everyone, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today, we’re so pleased to be here for our next episode of our new podcast. I’m Jennifer Heath.


Brian Haines 0:28

And I’m Brian Haines.


Jennifer Heath 0:30

And this is the hybrid hangout podcast where Brian and I are gonna get together about once a month, and talk about all things hybrid, emerging trends, ideas we have, maybe just some of our general opinions. And it’s gonna be fun, we really appreciate those of you who are able to join us for the live recording. And then of course, we share this out through FMS champions, our client community, and beyond. So thank you again, for being here. And today’s topic is the history of hybrid. So Brian and I are both in a really unique position that we were hybrid workers, before hybrid work was even a thing. We didn’t call it hybrid work, we work from home, we were remote workers, or mobile workers, or flexible workers. T here were all these different words that have since been replaced with this concept of hybrid work. But it’s been a really interesting experience for me and I think for anyone that was in this position. When the pandemic happened, everybody went remote, we were already there. And so a lot of us knew that a couple of things were gonna happen. One, that there was going to be this big adjustment of getting used to, you know, connecting virtually not having that in person time. But also that people were going to start to learn that there are so many advantages to being a flexible worker and having the option of hybrid work. And so it’s been really interesting to me to watch people sort of come to that conclusion, to listen to people talk about what works for them, what they like, what they don’t like. But it’s definitely a trend that was already emerging when the pandemic hit. And for me, personally, the big advantage of hybrid work and what I’ve always enjoyed about it, is that I have young kids, and it gives me the flexibility at sort of those key times in the day, the early morning, and the the after school like 30 minutes. I’m able to sort of build my day around those timeframes. And so I can really achieve a work life balance that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, if I was locked in to that eight to five schedule. So that was one of the big benefits that I knew people were gonna see coming into hybrid work. And it’s been great to see that because a lot of people have really have had that same experience really gaining a level of work life integration, work life balance that probably really wouldn’t have existed otherwise. So that’s sort of my big idea about hybrid is that it does create this opportunity for families. Brian, what was your experience?


Brian Haines 3:09

Well, Jen, I continue to live the true hybrid life, as you remember, on our previous, our first webcast, I was in Las Vegas. This time, I’m at home, but a couple of days ago, I was in the office. We had a big announcement this week, we were acquired by Johnson Controls, which was really exciting. We’re now part of that family. And so I was down there, literally collaborating on Monday with people from all over, we had all come into the Raleigh office. You know, during that time, I never once went into my office at the office, and no one sat in a cubicle. We all just got together in conference rooms to talk and collaborate. And that to me, kind of encapsulates what hybrid is really all about. It’s about bringing people together for meaningful interaction, you know, those important events getting together for collaboration. And I think that that still holds true, I don’t think it makes sense for people to go in and sit in a cubicle by themselves. And it’s interesting, Jen, because I was thinking about the history of this. And I went back and did a little bit of research and looked at some of the things we used to say. I started writing about alternative workplace strategies, AWS at FM:Systems, probably in 2013 2014, when it started to become a thing and activity based working and Mike Schley, our founder, participated in the writing and editing of a series of books that came out of IFMA about the transition, but that transition was really quite slow. The organizations that were trying it were really sort of leading edge companies trying to adopt a hybrid workplace strategy. So I see hybrid as sort of like this like, long, slow sort of transition where companies were trying it and we saw companies like we work come online that were, you know, sort of part of that mix. But it was a pretty slow transition and then pandemic, right. Hockey stick straight up and it’s kind of crazy what’s happened. The last thing I looked at, which was because I was fascinated by it, I went back to reread the history of the office cubicle, which lasted a really long time. I mean, cubicles for the office were really invented. Herman Miller was a leader in that in the 1960s. And, it boy, it lasted way too long, right? 50, 60 years, people were sitting in cubicle farms. And I just, I think that world’s done. I hope so anyway.


Jennifer Heath 5:45

I think so too. And it’s so ironic, I also read something just this morning about the history of the cubicle. And the guy who invented it that worked for Herman Miller, he built this with the idea that it would be so modular, and people could easily expand their space. And now you’ve got a big collaborative space. And you know, that he had such a vision for how people were going to use it. And the way it ended was not at all what he had in mind. He saw it much more as almost like Tinker Toys within a big open office plan that you could sort of do anything. And he ultimately retired and left, Herman Miller, because he hated the way it had turned into this sort of mass produced cram as many people in there as you can. He referred to it as a monolithic insanity.


Brian Haines 6:35

Yeah, I love that it was really about reducing the amount of square foot. Yeah, to each individual person, which is kind of fascinating when you think about it. I do remember stories and I may have told you this one before. But some of our clients, when they moved out, and they all went home at the beginning of the pandemic, they realized that some of those employees had been in the same cubicle for 25 years. Plus, I mean, that’s not hybrid. That’s not what I believe the founder of the cubicle had in mind at all, and ended up being- I mean movies have been written about cartoons, all sorts of things right about just sort of the reality of being in that world. And, you know, like I said, I hope it’s, I hope we’re done with it.


Jennifer Heath 7:26

I think we probably are. And it was also interesting, they talked about how the cubicle became such a cost saving measure, in terms of construction, because you could build walls and create privacy without ever doing any actual construction, it was just these cubes. And so it just became the sort of snowball effect that we got deeper and deeper into those cube farms.


Brian Haines 7:47

Yeah, that’s interesting. So organizations just looked at these giant open floor plates as shelf space and, you know, tried to figure out how many cubicles they could jam in there. And you know, there’s some iconic images of just these sort of cubicles going on for miles with just the tops of heads of people, because it got worse, right? It’s like, the cubicles got denser, and the walls got higher and trying to create privacy. Not at all, I don’t think intended.


Jennifer Heath 8:17

So now, we’re really on the flip side of that, right, like, we’re now we’re looking at our office space of not how many people can we get in here? How many people can we safely fit in here? But what people want to be here today, what do they want to do when they are here? What sorts of things do we want to make available to them? And I think that’s just a really, it’s an interesting opportunity for people to look at their floor plans and look at the places they have, in such a different perspective to come at it from the standpoint of what really is the value of the space? What does it bring to our employees? And how can we leverage it in a way that drives productivity and drives culture? It’s no longer about, you know, we want this occupancy rate, this many days of the week, it’s really morphed into something much more almost philosophical, you know, because it’s, it has to tie in to the mission and the culture of your organization in a way that it really never did before.


Brian Haines 9:15

Yeah, and we’re a perfect example of that, you know, FM:Systems right now, I think we may have mentioned that, but we’re you know, in the process of going to a new corporate headquarters. In 2012, I was there when we moved into our existing space. We thought it was fantastic. It was a big upgrade from our previous space. But now we look at it and we were kind of cube farm-ish, right offices on the outside cubes on the inside. There was definitely a hierarchy to the space. The new space that we’re working on is completely flipped inside out. I mean, the number of workstations in there is, is actually quite low. But there’s a tremendous number of spaces that are, you know, really, we have phone booths, we have collaborative spaces, huddle spaces, even the break room is really designed to just sort of hang out, there’s couches, it’s all sort of all those things that we think will provide that you know, really great experience for our employees, our clients, anybody who comes into that space to be able to be together, I think that’s going to be the primary driver is to be together. And what we’ve been seeing is that the number one driver to getting people in there, you know, in the past, when you look at the history, it was really about presenteeism. You know your manager had to see you understand you were there. Hybrid broke all of that down to where it became, you know, productivity wasn’t really affected that much, or if at all, and it really became about, you know, what you got done versus where you were actually working. So that is kind of an interesting reflection. And now, really I think the primary reason for people to go in is to simply be together. So if we understand, you know, when people are going to be there, who’s going to be there, how they’re going to be working, and we work with them, we can make better decisions about when we’re going to join them in that environment. It was really all about collaboration, in my opinion.


Jennifer Heath 11:14

Yeah, I agree. Another component of mobility and flexibility, pre pandemic, that was very much an emerging trend, but I think a lot of people still had sort of an older mindset about it is really tied into the concept of the global economy. That a lot of the concept of the cube farm and going into the office every day was that all of your coworkers were there in that same office, and you all had the same nine to five. But as organizations have grown and expanded, and we’ve all moved out into more of this global economy, your coworkers aren’t necessarily sharing your same timezone anymore. And that was one of the big things that we saw, and probably 2016, 2017, we were talking to clients and saw that they had so much open space. And as they started digging into why do we have low occupancy rates, a lot of it was because A- they had mobile workers that were moving between locations. So maybe I’m in Raleigh two days, and I’m in Chicago one day or whatever. But there was also this concept of, well, the person on that team, her team is all in London. So she comes in really early in the morning, and she leaves early, because her nine to five is not the same as everybody else’s nine to five. And I think that’s a really important concept inside hybrid work is that it lets us everybody can work within the hours they have in the day, it doesn’t have to line up with the exact same hours everybody else is working.


Brian Haines 12:49

Yeah, that’s interesting. And I’d like to, I’d actually like to see some data on that, because we have a lot of European colleagues and colleagues coming back and they seem to have a lot more flexibility with those late night calls. I saw something recently where I was on a call with a marketing leader in the UK, and she was dialing in at 10 o’clock at night. And I thought to myself, I’m not dialing in at 10 o’clock at night, if I can avoid it. So I’m wondering if there’s like a, I don’t know why it’s just a new idea in my head, if there’s a lack of equity, you know, in terms of like when people are dialing into these meetings, because hybrid sort of, in a lot of ways, it has given us better work life balance, but the timeframe to which we work is a lot more wide open.


Jennifer Heath 13:32

It definitely is, there’s not that point in the day where you feel like you’re done, you’re off work, you’ve clocked out, it never really goes away. And a little bit of that was also already an emerging trend because of the technology. So the real reason, and I remember this so clearly, in the early 2000s. My job, the software systems I used were all on the local network. So even if my boss wanted me to work from home, and of course, I had a big desktop, I didn’t even have a laptop, even if I had had a laptop, if I took it home, I couldn’t do anything. Because all my systems were on the local area network unless I’m plugged in in that location, I can’t do anything. And that is, to me, the biggest driver. And everything we have today is all of our systems move to the cloud. And as soon as your system is in the cloud, all you need is a Wi Fi connection. And you can work anywhere, anytime. And so that trend was already happening. And then of course, smartphones, once you had all your office and all of your work and all of your work systems in your email in your pocket. That’s when the workday really became a 24 hour cycle, I think.


Brian Haines 14:51

Yeah, when you think back to some of the other things that enabled it, I think definitely faster bandwidth connections in your video, because I remember working at Autodesk all of those years through like the mid early 2000s Until about 2012. And we would do calls you know, we would do calls, virtual calls, but no one ever had their camera on. First of all the bandwidth wasn’t great. And you didn’t know. It was more about just having a, what did they call it like a group call or something, I forget what they used to call those but, and less about doing this kind of video conferencing where we see each other, you can see the reactions. And the technology is getting really great. Yesterday I was on a call or Monday, I was on a call in the office and we have an OWL, I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It’s like a tower height that sits in the middle of the table. And it makes everybody sort of on the same plane, because it’s got a 360 degree camera, it creates a pretty good experience for being able to do that. And it helps to treat the people who are remote equally in a meeting, right? Because you all show up in the same way. And it’s not this, where we’re all looking at the screen up there. And you’re looking at the side of our head during


Jennifer Heath 16:00

Yeah, I’m just a disembodied voice in the middle of the table.


Brian Haines 16:03

Yeah, and you have to hit the little raise your hand icon thing, and no one’s watching. We’re all doing this. You know, it’s like that stuff I’m hoping is going as well, it’s really a primary consideration for our new office as well is really, and we’re going to have kind of a virtualization space that’s really designed to video conference so that we all feel that there’s digital equity, if you will. Same access, same attention, same ability to be able to speak, no one’s getting cut off. So I’m excited about that. That’s good stuff.


Jennifer Heath 16:37

Yeah, I do think that is a component that the pandemic, definitely accelerated was the video technology that things like OWL’s like making it creating those opportunities to have more digital equity, because that was really a downside. Before if you were the remote member, it was pretty hard to get your two cents in sometimes because you’re just you didn’t have an equal share in the meeting. So I do think that’s been a really big advantage.


Brian Haines 17:03

Yeah, it’s interesting, because when you look back at the, you know, the thinking and writing about alternative workplace strategies, and all that activity based work, ABW, all those things. Technology wasn’t necessarily that much a part of that conversation. It was just about kind of a different kind of office space and being more flexible. But I think the intent was that people were still going to come in, for the most part, they were just going to interact differently while there. And definitely the remote worker was kind of a component of that. But it has gotten, I think, in that sense, in terms of determining when people are going to come in, it’s actually gotten more complicated. And I’ll give you an example. Jen. So we made the announcement on Monday about Johnson Controls, and I was really excited to share it with my team and what I would have.


Jennifer Heath 18:03

Brian, we’re kind of losing your audio, you may have to say that again.


Brian Haines 18:13

All right. Yeah. So the example was, yeah, I’ll go back to I’ll just rewind there a little bit. So the example was when, when we made the announcement this week, I was really excited to share that with my team. And I wanted the team to get together, have lunch, maybe go to dinner, celebrate, you know, it was a big moment in FM:Systems history. And I realized that even though I’ve got a pretty big team, one of them is in Raleigh, besides myself. Three years ago, that wasn’t the case, everybody that reported to me, was in Raleigh, and now one person is there. And so you know, hybrid has allowed us to be able to be, you know, have sort of those ad hoc interactions where we come together, and we want to be, we want to do things like collaboration, but the distance, the physical distance has definitely affected that. That’s an interesting, another interesting component of this that we haven’t really worked out.


Jennifer Heath 19:11

Well. And that’s a little bit unique to us, too, because and other companies have the same challenge. We are made up of acquisitions. And so we have offices all over the country and in the UK and in different places. So hybrid notwithstanding, we would still have that distance, you know, and it kind of goes back to the idea of the time zones. I’ve worked with some of the folks in the UK for years, and we’ve always had that big time difference. And occasionally, I’m up at 5am on a call. Not very often, but it has happened before. So I think that that is I think it’s an interesting part of it that sort of would have born out for a lot of people either way, that as people are acquiring and you’ve got, you know, multi locations. It’s harder to build that sort of continuous culture.


Brian Haines 20:03

Yeah, and because that part, I think, actually is an opportunity to really and I’ll pivot here a little bit, because I really think it’s an opportunity to look at the way we measure the performance of our facilities differently. Because the coming together is so ad hoc, it’s really difficult to predict. One of the best ways that I think we can predict how we use our space is to understand the intent of our employees. So Jennifer is coming in Wednesday. And I collaborate with Jennifer on a frequent basis. Maybe I want to come in on Wednesday, or Jennifer is going to be in town right now, I know that you’re in Boston, you are living that true hybrid existence, because you’re going to be at a partner event tomorrow, I believe. But it has really provided a challenge, I think for people who are owning and operating facilities to understand, you know, how much space do we need, who’s going to be there when. It’s really I think about measuring intent. So if I’m going to be there, maybe you’re going to want to be there too. So we need tools to help us to be able to do that.


Jennifer Heath 21:11

Absolutely. So a final topic, we’re going to shift gears a little bit- an element of hybrid work today that I feel really did not exist pre pandemic is the emphasis on employee wellness, which has very naturally rolled into an emphasis on building wellness and building health and sustainability. I feel like the pandemic has allowed us to bring some of those topics to the forefront that historically had been seen almost more as a nice to have or a luxury that you could go through the process of getting a LEED certification or any of those things. And now I think people look at it so much more as an opportunity to improve the overall health of employees by paying attention to things like air quality, and humidity levels, all these things that are going to contribute to the spread of viruses. But they also just contribute to the general well being of the employee and ultimately, the well being of the building. And I think that’s a really exciting opportunity for facility managers to really dig into that and lean into that I think that it has come forward as a very important topic. And I know it’s an important thing, an important part of what Johnson Controls does. So I’m hoping you’ll share a little bit more about that vision and the ideas we have in that direction.


Brian Haines 22:36

Yeah, it’s interesting. I was reading an article yesterday, and I think it was HOK, I think that was the firm in New York City. You’re aware of like all of the poor air quality in the northern part of the US that it’s actually spread all the way down into North Carolina due to Canadian wildfires. And there’s been a lot of concern about air quality. Well, what HOK is doing is they have indoor air quality monitoring in their offices, and they’re reporting to their employees. Listen, indoor air quality is good, outdoor air quality is bad. So it’s making people you know, it’s reducing anxiety, because they know the work environment that they’re in is actually not affecting their health. Outside is different story, right, you’ve got to get home or whatever that may be. But it’s interesting, because indoor air quality is now becoming a primary concern, or air quality itself has been becoming a primary concern, connected to building health. The other thing is, is that you know, all the things that I talked about earlier that are enabling us to be able to do better collaboration, things like faster bandwidth, but we’ve also got just sort of an explosion of new sensor technology. Really, the ability for building automation systems to be connected really, tightly to the employee experience. And what that’s allowed us to do, beyond the indoor air quality is things such as we can proactively, or, you know, sort of predictably, turn things on or off, depending on when or people are going to be there. So on Fridays when no one’s in the office, because we’ve looked at the hybrid curve. We know Fridays, you know, pretty much globally, a lot of people aren’t there. Why are we powering our buildings? Why are the lights on? Why are the HVAC systems up? Why are we running things to cycle air when there’s really no one or very few people in the office. So that’s, that’s just easy, quick thing that we can do to enhance the performance of our buildings from an energy standpoint. And when people are coming in, do those things, bring the lights up, bring the HVAC up, really focus on keeping it being a healthy environment for employees, when they’re there, but making it more healthy for the entire planet when they’re not. I really think that that’s huge. You’re gonna see us focus on a lot of that in the coming months and quarters. It’s something I’m really excited about something we’ve wanted to focus on for quite some time. Now we have the horsepower to do that and it’s gonna be great. I’m really excited


Jennifer Heath 25:03

Yeah, I’m really excited too. I think that probably wraps us up for today, Brian. We have our next podcast coming up in August, towards the end of August. So be on the lookout in FMS:Champions. We’ll be posting our topic and our date here in the next week or so I expect. Thank you all again so much for joining us, Brian. It’s always a pleasure. It’s always great to kick around ideas.


Brian Haines 25:29

Always fun, Jen, thank you so much.


Jennifer Heath 25:31

All right. Thanks everybody. Have a great day.


Brian Haines 25:34

Bye everyone.

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