In this article we cover everything you need to know about Hybrid working:
What is Hybrid working?
Should my business adopt Hybrid working?
Do I need to move office to start hybrid working?
What is your occupancy rate?
Could you redesign your current space?
Is technology important for hybrid working?
How do you retain mentorship within a hybrid workplace?
Will hybrid working help attract new staff?
How do you design an office staff want to return to?
Does hybrid working increase productivity?
How do you create culture in a hybrid workplace?
What is the future of hybrid working?
The Guide to the Hybrid Workplace
Hybrid working has become the latest buzzword and the unlikely hero of the future workplace. That is not to say that hybrid doesn’t have its benefits, but it is certainly not a new invention. Companies have been using the hybrid working model for years – this is just the first time it has been branded with this terminology.
Businesses have spent years opposed to working anywhere other than the office, and now they are encouraging it. The big question around hybrid working is how has this decades-old way of working emerged as the future of work?
While some companies have successfully implemented hybrid working, we’ve also seen that hybrid has been a challenge for businesses. This is due to there not being a clearly defined path for how to adopt the hybrid model.
We have already started to see that hybrid working is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, with each business set to tackle it in its own way. We expect to see a significant trial and error period along the way as there are still a lot of unanswered questions. With the help of our expert design team, we have gathered our answers to some of the biggest questions being asked about hybrid working.
While many companies were looking for innovative solutions for how to occupy the office, hybrid working naturally rose to the top and stood out as the obvious way of maintaining productivity during restrictions and advice to work from home. However you choose to look at it, hybrid working is still in beta mode and companies are in a state of flux.
Hybrid working is a way of working that means people split their time between working in the office and working remotely. When not working from the office, employees can work remotely at home or from other locations such as a coffee shop or a library.
Hybrid working means that employees are spending less time in the office during the week. This has started to reshape the way people use the office and workers now expect time in the office to be highly functional and centred around collaboration.
While many workers have only recently adopted this way of working, hybrid working is not new. Hybrid work has existed for many years, it was just never accepted on such a large scale. The pandemic accelerated the implementation of hybrid working and has remained a popular way of working due to employees having greater flexibility over where they worked. Businesses have also turned to other ways of working like flexible and agile working but these are different to hybrid working.
Every company has different objectives, so whichever working model is adopted, it fundamentally must support those needs. A study conducted by Willis Towers Watson showed that employers think about a quarter of the workforce (23%) will work remotely on a full-time basis in two years’ time, and almost half (41%) will embrace hybrid working. With hybrid working rising in popularity in plans for post-pandemic working patterns, how can businesses avoid tripping themselves up with hybrid?
Oktra Creative Workplace Director Sean Espinasse explains that for many companies, hybrid working is likely to fail if it is not properly introduced into a business.
Sean explains that workplace trends move around the demands and requirements of people and those requirements are still the most important thing when companies come to assess their ways of working.
The challenge for business leaders is continuing to make the right choices for their people, without getting swept along with the latest trends. We have seen some businesses come out in the media to say that hybrid working has failed for them – but hybrid working is not right for every business.
There are a lot of considerations when trying to get hybrid right, it isn’t as simple as just ‘going hybrid.’
One of the pitfalls of hybrid working is that companies proclaiming to have moved to hybrid working, have not implemented the right infrastructure for it to work effectively. This includes things such as IT, leadership, working environment and cultural buy-in from staff. While there is a definition of what hybrid working is, there is still an acceptance of it being a fluid concept with moveable boundaries. This relates to how different sized businesses or companies within different sectors would seek to implement hybrid working while having variations on headcount and work demands. So while there is no one correct method of how to ‘do’ hybrid working, there are certain factors that can be considered to ensure a successful shift.
As with any workplace change, employee engagement is essential. Each employee is likely to have different requirements so a blanket change without consultation is likely to fail. When Spotify announced ‘My Work Mode’ in early 2021 in their company blog, their stance was pinned on giving staff the flexibility to work based on the demands of their own workloads.
“Our employees will be able to work full time from home, from the office, or a combination of the two. The exact mix of home and office work mode is a decision each employee and their manager make together.” Microsoft’s early stance on the hybrid model recognised the value of autonomy “that some employees are required to be onsite and some roles and businesses are better suited for working away from the worksite than others.” In Microsoft’s most recent shift, their Digital Workplace initiative “creates efficiency, increases productivity, enables accessibility, and empowers our entire organization.”
This type of investment into a digital-first environment is a landmark move but admittedly not one that would be so easily replicated by other companies. It will be common to see businesses develop and execute their own versions of hybrid to help transform their ways of working. Despite the different approaches, there is a requirement for the right level of trust and autonomy for the hybrid model to work. The companies that take this opportunity to invest in their people and build a human-centric environment will see the full benefits of hybrid working.
Some companies have been looking to downsize their office space but you do not need to move office to start hybrid working.
It is important to remember that hybrid work is the framework for remote and office-based work, it is not a physical thing you put in the office. You can implement hybrid working in your existing space with some modifications and new workplace rules. Adopting new ways of working can be a significant change so it is worthwhile assessing the options available to understand how they could benefit your business. Here are three questions you should ask before relocating office:
If you are planning to reduce or increase your office space, you need to understand your occupancy rates and workplace usage. Hybrid working relies on the fact that not everyone will be in the office at the same time. Typically an occupancy rate of 64% was the standard estimate pre-pandemic. In the hybrid model, the focus is on the average number of days an employee is in the office. Without making any changes to your office, the occupancy rate of a hybrid working office will be around 50%.
The challenge with occupancy in the hybrid model is normalising occupancy across the entire week to make offices more balanced. As you can see from the estimates in the graph, Wednesday is the peak occupancy day with Friday being the quietest. This is to be expected but to make the office more efficient, the goal would be to have the office at 50% occupancy for the entire week. This takes the pressure off the busier days and makes the drop on a Friday less disparate to the rest of the week.
Redesigning your existing office space is also an option for those considering how to make hybrid working more effective. The requirements of a hybrid office are different to those of a traditional office so simply ‘going hybrid’ will not give your people access to everything they need to be successful.
Designing an office for hybrid can be supported by products, but not entirely solved by them. Having a choice of work settings is important but there’s a difference between a strategy and filling your office with pods and booths as your office fundamentally must support the needs of your people.
Getting hybrid right requires data and an investment of time to understand how your workplace is being used and what do people expect from the office. Before conducting any changes to your workplace, we recommend speaking to a workplace design expert to assess your options as well as collect data.
By moving to the hybrid model, you could unlock up to 14% of additional office space, so what do you do with it?
Sub-letting space is a way for companies to own more space than they initially need, with a view of moving into it further down the line. Another company then sub-lets that space until the company that owns it, agrees to take it back on.
For companies who already occupy large offices, the option of sub-letting gives a reduction in rental costs as well as the luxury of time to see how much your space usage is impacted. Knee-jerk decisions make come back to bite companies in the long term so if a business has fewer people in the office, sub-letting may be a way to cut costs.
The hybrid workplace needs to provide ease-of-access, good connectivity and the opportunity to communicate with staff, wherever they are working. If hybrid working shifts workers more towards output and productivity-based metrics then technology will have to support that.
Some key technology considerations for the office are:
Hybrid working will mean that teams are spending more time apart and with this change in working practice comes a requirement for change in processes. For hybrid working to be successful, technology must come into play. Organisations will need to evolve their infrastructures as the workplace is no longer compounded in one physical location. In an article in the MIT Technology Review, Chief Human Resources Officer at Dell Technologies, Jennifer Saavedra discusses how the pandemic prevented in-person events and conferences from going ahead.
“Suddenly, the managers couldn’t meet in person, but everyone could meet virtually, on video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom. Although it was a great opportunity for connection and communication, figuring out how to engage that many people in a virtual environment was a challenge. You don’t just try to replicate what you did in an in-person or classroom experience.”
As many businesses did, Dell Technologies moved to virtual events but repackaged their processes and ways of working for it to work online. Having the software is clearly part of the solution but hybrid working presents businesses with the opportunity to progress and do things differently. Jennifer Saavedra goes on to explain how part of Dell’s solutions was to remodel how they worked so that it would be engaging in a virtual environment. “Instead of having a leadership program or training program, it’s now a training experience or a leadership experience.”
Technology does play a role in hybrid working but it is only part of the solution. Businesses should not be looking to rely solely on apps and software to enable hybrid working and instead should be looking at improving connectivity and infrastructure within their business. There is an opportunity to use technology as a solution to business challenges but this may require a shift in working practices. Technology will support people by giving them greater flexibility and autonomy as well as access to collaboration which will benefit businesses moving to hybrid working.
Mentorship has always been seen as a valuable part of office-based work. Knowledge-sharing and osmosis learning between different generations have served as an excellent way of developing talent and acting as a support system to staff.
As we move into a hybrid environment where staff may be spending less time face-to-face with colleagues and more time alone, the role of mentors and leaders becomes even more vital to keeping staff engaged and connected to the workplace.
Forbes published an article about Leadership Mentorship in the Hybrid World which explains that ‘Mentors must meet mentees where they are and provide them with equal attention and opportunities –– regardless of location in the office or remotely –– to establish a successful mentorship program.’ Dominic Dugan, Creative Director at Oktra believes that mentorship in the hybrid workplace must be structured and considered.
All the principles that have been established as fundamental to successful business operation, such as communication, collaboration and creative thinking become even more important when there is less facetime between staff. Keeping these values at the front of our minds may require more planning in the hybrid workplace but the office is going to play a vital role to support these types of activities.
Flexibility is often cited as one of the main benefits of adopting the hybrid model. While flexibility may mean different things to different people, the notion of increased autonomy and productivity-based performance is one of the big appeals of working in a hybrid office.
In a recent study of 4,500 people conducted by Sonovate, more than half of the 18-34 year olds surveyed said that they would not accept jobs with companies that were inflexible on how employees wanted to work. Regardless of what the word flexibility means to you, employees are willing to turn down jobs that don’t offer it in some capacity. So should hybrid working be seen as a benefit or a must-have for attracting and retaining talent?
With many global companies, like Salesforce, suggesting a permanent shift to hybrid working, trends are showing a shift towards the desire for flexibility with many Gen Z and Millennial workers seeing it as a non-negotiable.
Ella Fathi, Design Director at Oktra thinks that operating a hybrid office represents more than just a way of working:
An area that companies are increasingly investing in is employee experience. Employee experience (EX) is about creating strategies to help address the needs of staff coming back to the workplace and how it feels when they are in the office. Employee experience focuses on key things such as wellbeing, diversity and inclusion and employee engagement.
However, following the pandemic businesses are seeking ways to reconnect with staff and move towards a more integrated EX strategy. The findings from the Willis Towers Watson 2021 Employee Experience Survey showed that 74% of employees use remote or hybrid working models, up from only 19% three years ago. With such a drastic change in hybrid and remote strategies, staff will be searching for reasons to join or stay with a business more than ever.
Coupling a defined EX strategy with hybrid working may prove to be the difference for attracting and retaining staff. There will be plenty of new challenges that emerge from hybrid work so businesses that put a strategy in place will allow them to engage with staff, evolve their environments more quickly and build a hybrid workplace people want to be a part of.
If you’re working from home or another remote location, the office has to offer people something they simply cannot access anywhere else. With increased flexibility and autonomy, Friday beers or Monday morning breakfast are no longer going to have the pull they once had.
In our white paper on the ‘Vacancy Effect’ published in 2021, we discussed how removing the fulcrum of an office sees the potential for decades of progress achieved through office design being reversed. Oktra’s Development Director, Martin Reeves explains that “People working at home are creating their own silos which, for the past 20 or 30 years, is what we have been trying to combat by working hard to be more collaborative.” For more information on the Vacancy Effect, download our white paper here.
Now, the office is being viewed more as playing a supporting role that enables people to structure their routine and offers a distinct benefit as opposed to working from home. The Harvard Business Review address this idea of rebuilding structure and boundaries in their Guide to Being More Productive.
However, this does not mean filling the office with gimmicks. The workplace must represent a differential by giving people access to an environment that they believe will help make them productive, enable them to be social and segment their time. This may mean quiet spaces but it could also mean collaborative areas that support group work. Whatever it is, there is a requirement to understand your ways of working and what your people need from their environment.
Drawing people back to the office should be viewed as a continuous event under hybrid working and not just a one-off. The office needs to have a persistent lure that makes people feel that time in the office is valuable and that the office is equipped with what they need to get their work done. Engaging with people and asking questions is an important part of making the hybrid office work for people. Rather than designing an office and leaving it, ongoing development and performance analysis will be key to designing an office people want to come back to.
Hybrid working can help drive productivity, but hybrid is not a fast-track route to a more productive workforce. We are also still too early into this new wave of hybrid to say a definitive yes or no. By adopting hybrid working, you’re committing to a new set of expectations in the workplace that, like any progressive change, takes time to be implemented and generate results.
In an interview with the FT, professor of economics at Stanford University, Nick Bloom, states that he believes “there’s a building consensus, that working from home, on average, probably mildly improves productivity if it is well run” and that based on the data, “productivity in the UK and the US, national productivity is way up versus pre-pandemic.”
However, a report conducted with over 60,000 Microsoft staff explained that measuring productivity may only be giving you a perceived increase in productivity levels for the short term. The report states that “we expect that the effects we observe on workers’ collaboration and communication patterns will impact productivity and, in the long-term, innovation. Yet, across many sectors, firms are making decisions to adopt permanent remote work policies based only on short-term data.” In the short term, you may see an increase in productivity but one of the recognised long-term challenges with hybrid is how you deliver a strategy that optimises collaboration and communication while a certain percentage of your staff working remotely.
Our recommendation is to make well-considered choices and monitor your workplace. By monitoring your activity throughout your workplace and engaging with staff, you will get a sense of productivity levels and how they fluctuate in time. This will prevent you from making long-term decisions based on short-term data.
For a sustained benefit to business performance, the hybrid model should be considered a strategic step that helps achieve objectives. For some workers, the office will operate as a destination for concentrated, focus work. For others, the office will represent an opportunity for collaboration and socialising. Productivity will be defined by an individual based on their output – so retaining balance in the workplace will help retain productivity based on the type of work you need to do.
Company culture is the makings of how it feels to work in that business. Staff engagement, happiness and productivity are all affected by culture. While culture requires a certain level of nurturing, it has been easier in the past as everyone has been in the same building during the workweek. This means that hybrid working will require an acceptance of building culture across both digital and in-person activities, so use different platforms to your advantage.
In a recent report produced by Breathe HR, they revealed that toxic workplace culture is costing businesses £20.2 billion every year. Culture has shown to be an asset to businesses and something they can’t afford to not have, so culture must be considered when moving to the hybrid model. To build culture, lots of different things need to happen simultaneously. It is not as simple as pinpointing individual activities that equate to culture. Leadership, collaboration, creating a supportive environment and attracting talent are all integers within the workplace culture equation.
It is important to remember that creating culture comes from holding a shared purpose. Just as the design of the office requires input and feedback, culture needs active maintenance. Harvard Business Review explains it as ‘having the courage to let the culture evolve.’ They explain that our workplaces are in different situations now and that just because some of our cultures have survived and come out of the other side of the pandemic, doesn’t mean they should not change.
With the right structure and approach, culture can still be nurtured remotely. Hybrid working doesn’t have to be a death sentence for culture. Regardless of which direction you decide to move in with your business culture, the ability to adapt and embrace input from your people will be the most valuable resource in a hybrid workplace.
Nearly two years on from the pandemic are many businesses are still yet to make long-term decisions about their ways of working and how they intend to occupy their office space. With everything in mind, how do you make a start on hybrid working?
Overall, it is far too early to fully understand the pros and cons of hybrid working. Hybrid working will affect each of us differently based on several outside factors, so there is a lot to consider before making any decisions. However, there are key elements which are emerging as common components of hybrid working that should be a focus for businesses. This includes leadership, culture, technology, people, office design and performance monitoring.
While there are notable benefits such as reducing costs on office space and reported boosts in productivity, there are also negatives with companies struggling to build culture and staff collaboration levels being impacted. Our expectations are that hybrid working will become a popular way of working in the long-term, which means there will still be a dependency on the office. As more companies roll out the hybrid model in their business, there will be new challenges that progress the workplace and help us to understand how hybrid working can be best deployed.
Hybrid working will require a hybrid workplace, but what does that look like? Every business will approach hybrid working differently, our guide will provide with key considerations ahead of making any workplace decisions.download now