The New Hybrid Workplace: Merging Remote Work And Physical Offices
The hybrid workplace isn’t new, but it’s likely to become the new normal.
Research shows most employees want to return to the office for the majority of the week after the pandemic, but they also want the flexibility to work remotely.
In a truly connected workplace, there are few distinctions between remote employees and employees located under the same roof. If this sounds like a workplace utopia, I’m here to tell you it does exist—and emerging technologies are bringing us closer to this reality every day.
What is the hybrid workplace?
The hybrid workplace is one where employees divide their time between working in the office and working remotely.
Simply having this model in place, however, doesn’t guarantee success. A truly effective hybrid work environment supports different styles of working and different work schedules, allowing employees to have a consistent experience and be productive no matter where they are. For instance, an employee may be working from home on Monday and participate in a virtual meeting with colleagues. When she comes into the office for a follow-up on Tuesday morning, she should be able to quickly find a room to reconnect with them, easily access all the documents they shared the previous day, and call another remote team member via video to join the discussion. She should be able to choose which days to work in the office and which days she works remotely.
Ashley Whillans of Harvard Business School refers to this model as the “3-2-2 workweek” — three days in the office, two days at home, and two days off. She suggests it’s the perfect compromise between flexibility and structure. It allows employees to spend time collaborating in face-to-face meetings and socializing while also giving them a break from their daily commute and time to focus on deep work.
But a hybrid workplace doesn’t necessarily need a set schedule. It can also be an office environment where employees simply choose which days they come in.
What are the benefits of a hybrid workplace?
Better employee satisfaction
Employee wanted more flexibility to choose where and when they work long before the pandemic. In a recent Gallup poll, 54% of employees said they would leave their job for one that offered more flexible arrangements.
The option to work remotely has long been a perk forward-thinking companies offered to its employees. But now that many have been working remotely for nearly a year, it’s become an expectation.
The hybrid workplace gives employees greater flexibility to balance their work with their personal lives. They can work for a six-hour block, end the day early to pick up their kids from school or attend afterschool activities, and respond to emails or finish outstanding tasks later that evening.
In a hybrid workplace, employers need fewer dedicated desks. They can achieve significant savings with reservable workstations that accommodate several people each week instead of just one.
Research by Global Workplace Analytics found an employer in the United States can save $11,000 for each employee who works remotely two to three days a week.
This includes more than just improved space utilization. It also factors in improved productivity (due to employees experiencing fewer disruptions at home), as well as reduced office costs and reduced turnover.
A hybrid workplace that is thoughtfully designed for collaboration and productivity is more likely to attract top talent. And in an environment where finding people with specialized skills is increasingly difficult, every advantage helps.
A hybrid work environment makes it easy for employees to work when and where they will be most productive, whether that’s at home, at a coworking space, or at the company headquarters.
When given the option to work remotely at least part of the time, many employees find they have more time in their week because they no longer have to spend so much time commuting. In fact, a recent study estimates the US economy will be 5% more productive overall because of the reduction in daily commutes. The study also predicts 20% of work will happen at home after the pandemic, compared to just 5% before.
Employees in a hybrid workplace also tend to have fewer interruptions during their day. They can block off quiet time to work remotely when they need to focus on an individual project without distractions, and they can come into the office when having a planning session with their colleagues is more efficient than trying to make important decisions via emails and video calls.
What technology does a hybrid workplace need?
A hybrid workplace is also a connected workplace. Employees and managers are linked to each other and to both physical and virtual spaces through user-friendly technology. They can easily interact with each other throughout the day and access the resources they need at their fingertips. Employees can easily find their colleagues and communicate with them. They can reserve desks or meeting rooms at a moment’s notice.
They can join meetings in person or via video if they are working remotely. If their laptop or conference room speaker isn’t working, they can quickly find someone to fix the problem.
A connected workplace is powered by technology—but not just any technology. To enable employees to stay connected to the people, spaces and services they need to do their best work, your organization needs, at a minimum:
- A high-speed, wireless network
- A cloud-based, integrated workplace management software that allows workplace leaders to manage space, assets, maintenance and more
- A user-friendly mobile app that allows employees to find people, reserve rooms, request service, receive visitors and more
- Laptops for every employee with secure access to the software, data and files they need to be productive
- Video conferencing software
- Conference room technology, including monitors, speakers and video cameras
These technologies bridge the gap between virtual and physical workplaces, ensuring all employees can connect with each other and collaborate efficiently.
Other technology will further enhance the experience for employees, whether they are working on-site, remotely or moving between the virtual and physical environment.
That technology includes:
- Desk booking software that makes it easy for employees to reserve space when they need it
- Digital room scheduling panels, which make it easy for employees to see which rooms are available and reserve them as they’re walking by
- Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which capture real-time data on occupancy, space utilization and more
- A visitor management system, which allows you to easily check-in guests
- Wayfinding kiosks, which make it easy for employees and visitors to navigate your office
The goal is to create a frictionless experience for employees and visitors at every touchpoint.
What is the future of the hybrid workplace?
Imagine if starting your workday was as easy as putting on a pair of glasses. Your keyboard and all your notes from the day before appear right in front of you, along with your calendar showing your day’s meetings. When you join your first meeting with colleagues from several different locations, you can see each other in high definition and interact with collaborative documents stored on the cloud.
In the future, augmented reality workspaces powered by smart glasses could be the new reality.
Some analysts predict that within the next decade, the quality of meetings in a virtual office environment will be as good as meeting in person.
While the right technology is crucial for a connected workplace, it isn’t the only element to consider. As HOK’s WorkPlace senior principal and director Kay Sargent said, the more high-tech our workplaces become, the more we crave “high touch” experiences.
We still want casual lunchtime conversations with our coworkers and congratulatory high-fives. We want to work in an environment that is comfortable, visually appealing and inspiring, with elements that remind us of nature.
As important as it is to create connected experiences with the right technology, don’t forget about the emotional connections your workforce needs to feel fulfilled.
In a recent article, PwC explored the three components of a fulfilling employee experience:
- Relationships – personal connections with colleagues and open communication among team members
- Impact – recognition of how an employee’s individual contributions fit into the company’s shared mission
- Growth – the opportunity to pursue new initiatives with confidence that mistakes are met with support and not criticism
As technology makes it easier to keep employees connected to their colleagues around the world, it’s even more critical that they feel united by a common purpose.
No matter where they are, they need a clear understanding of your company’s mission, vision and values and how their work contributes to the ultimate goal.
How does iOFFICE + SpaceIQ empower your hybrid workplace?
iOFFICE + SpaceIQ connect your people, places, and data to optimize space planning and collaboration in the hybrid workplace.
Facilities leaders can see their entire real estate portfolio at a glance, allocate office space according to need, and see how employees are using it in real time with sensor data. With room and desking booking software, they can make workspaces reservable to improve space utilization and give employees more flexibility to choose where they work.
They can use reservations and sensor data to clean more efficiently, adjust office spaces to support changing capacity, and create scenarios for future office redesigns or relocations.
Employees can use mobile apps to find people and places, reserve rooms or desks, request service, and receive mail, visitors, or information. Visitors can easily navigate your building, check in, and receive prompt service.
The hybrid workplace is here to stay. It’s time to invest in technology that makes it easy for employees to be productive anywhere.