Hybrid: Is it working?
Bespa and Samantha Mullins, director at Latitude HR consider the issues faced by companies today and how their people and workspace design can work in synergy to create a positive work experience and great a destination.
Over the last three-years the way we work has gone through a complete transformation. Since the Pandemic employees have a different view on how and where they want to work going forward. Some are more inclined to work to a hybrid model, some are delighted to return to the office full-time, whilst in some cases there is a reluctance to return to the office at all.
Everyone has a different view on how they would like to work. Whilst there are roles, which do not allow for remote or hybrid working, others have much more flexibility. The challenge to many businesses is how this flexibility affects staff engagement, productivity and promoting the company culture. Companies are now needing to make a conscious decision about how they want to work going forward.
What can we learn from the past?
Companies did work remotely pre-pandemic with less advanced technology, so what can we learn?
One difference between remote working pre-pandemic, and now, is that organisations were purposeful in their decisions about how the company operated in terms of where people worked. They were upfront during recruitment processes and when employed there were clear expectations about attendance and prioritisation of certain activities.
Companies that were completely remote, or had a travelling workforce, had practices to enable individuals to connect in the way they needed to, with the people that were important to their work. This included a calendar of meetings with clear attendance expectations, strategic away days, and annual conferences/events with a focus on communication, creativity, and connection.
When the UK was asked to stay at home on 23 March 2020, none of the frameworks were in place to shape how that would work. Practices evolved informally responding to technology as it became available. During periods of crisis, it is difficult to do anything else. However, as the UK moved from crisis into recovery, ways of working became the elephant in the room, often companies struggled to know what to do. Whilst there are benefits that can be identified for working remotely, it feels like there are an equal number of barriers to overcome.
One thing is for sure, working styles will continue to evolve and companies will need to adapt.
What can companies do to foster the right culture?
Where people had been allowed the flexibility to make their own decisions about where and how they work, a company directive regarding number of days in the office can feel confrontational. It has become clear that one size does not fit all, or even the same person all the time. However, business requirements still need to be met. Navigating this pathway can be difficult, open, and honest discussions are crucial to create an environment for people to be productive, engaged, and happy.
What is hybrid working?
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) define hybrid working as, ‘…a form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, from home) and some in the employer's workspace.’
The focus on the modern working environment is on communication, connectivity, collaboration, and productivity. It is less focused on location, proximity, and hours of work, although there will always be a place for this. Samantha Mullins recognises that ‘hybrid working presents an opportunity for employees to have flexibility about how and when they work. This leads to the opportunity to create a more diverse workforce, a feeling of empowerment and improved attraction and retention rates. However, communicating clear boundaries is important to prevent resentment creeping in.’
A key factor of hybrid working success is office design. It is crucial to consider the needs of the organisation and all employees on a typical day during the design phase. It is important to ensure the design reflects the needs of those hybrid working and those in the workspace full-time. An outcome of good design is creating an environment that facilitates strong collaboration and engagement amongst all employees when in the office.
Cynthia Kantor, Chief Client Value & Growth Officer, JLL Work Dynamics recognises that, “enhancing socialisation, especially among a large, often geographically dispersed, workforce will be critical to future talent strategies, as the office accelerates its role as the innovation hub of the work ecosystem.”
What should companies consider in the design of their workspace?
Hybrid working has proved to work for many organisations where it is feasible; and in many instances is increasing productivity and staff wellbeing. However, it is fundamental that employers invest in the physical space, IT and in communicating guidelines to their employees to make it work. Hybrid is here to stay as Sara Bean, Editor of FMJ writes in ‘Hybrid work is here to stay but the office remains critical to business operations’
Impact of personal context on working preferences
How you feel about remote, hybrid or in-person working will depend on your lived-experience and it can be easy to be blinkered by your own personal experience and assume others feel the same. When it comes to preference, it will be influenced by several factors outside the job itself:
Clare Maher from Bespa considers ‘a well-designed workspace, which accommodates the needs of all employees, and has a focus on encouraging people back to the office, will create an environment where people want to be’.
Employee engagement is crucial. There may be unpopular decisions, however, if as a company you can describe a compelling vision, with a clear, practical approach and guiding principles that demonstrate you have listened to the needs of your workforce, you are likely to create a great place to work.
Creating a positive workspace
The benefits and flexibility that working from home offer are appealing; and that is before the cost of travel has been taken into consideration. So, how does that help businesses encourage their employees back to the office to further promote culture and maintain, or increase productivity?
Workspace design plays a vital role in encouraging employees to return to the office whether on a full-time or hybrid basis. Inflexible and bland workspaces are not going to entice people back - so workspaces need to provide a variety of spaces, attractive facilities, reliable IT and offer an environment where employees want to be.
Employees used to working from home welcome a nod to residential aesthetics, combining style and comfort with the use of items such as soft furnishings and sofas. Providing a variety of workspaces is becoming an essential part of the office environment.
Importantly, consideration should be given to neurodiversity. For many, working from home provides an opportunity to work within a quiet and peaceful environment. So, returning to an open plan office with the associated noise can be a real issue, for some inhibiting concentration and the ability to be productive, not to mention the stress and anxiety that this can also cause. ‘Proactive engagement with employee networks will help employers to understand specific concerns and how they can be mitigated’ says Samantha Mullins, ‘this creates an opportunity at an early stage to design a space that people want to come into rather than one they avoid.’
Providing areas for peace and quiet has become an important element to a good workspace design. These areas are so important for inclusivity and ensure that no employee experiences apprehension from being in the office. Acoustic booths, screens, and designated areas such as wellbeing rooms provide a facility for privacy and a space for concentration. Flore Predere of Research Director for our Global Work Dynamics Research, expert in Human Experience and Human Performance comments, ‘Employers ask their people to be back on site, but they often underestimate the growing concern around noise and lack of confidentiality in the office.’
How can companies build a positive workspace?
It is important that each of these spaces is supported by up-to-date technology with a strong IT and AV infrastructure. A fantastic workspace that offers comfort and variety is great, but poor inadequate IT will only create frustration and reduce efficiency.
The workspace is key to providing employees with a positive work experience. A flexible workspace with furniture that can be used for different tasks provides employees with workable options. It also means that companies can adapt the use of their floorspace, increasing its efficiency, and in some cases reducing the level of space required.
A flexible working environment will develop a sense of wellbeing, provide employers with an opportunity to promote company culture, create a happy environment and in turn enhance productivity.
Amenities, such as on-site gyms and cafes will certainly contribute to the attraction of the workplace if space and budget allows. However, giving employees the opportunity to engage with the company culture, collaborate with colleagues and flourish is key to their health and wellbeing.
The future of the office is often questioned, but the office is here to stay and the increase in serviced office space demonstrates this. Hybrid working certainly provides a solution for those wanting convenience and the flexibility of how they work.
Creating an agile workspace, which fosters productivity, inclusion, employee wellbeing and enhances company culture can surely only be a benefit to employers and employees alike.
If you would like to discuss creating a successful hybrid culture, please get in touch. This article was written jointly by Clare Maher, Client Relationship Manager at Bespa and Samantha Mullins, Director at Latitude HR.