How to adapt our office space to accommodate the hybrid workforce
David Cornwell, Head of Solutions at O2, takes a look at how the office as we know it can accommodate flexible and hybrid working.
Recently, I wrote about flexible working, and in particular, how the changes we have made in 2020 have affected colleagues with disabilities. This month, I’ve been thinking about the future, redefining the role that the office will need to play in the years ahead.
If the vast majority of analysts and influencers are right, then many of us will not go back to working in the office the way we used to. O2’s own research suggests that a third of us expect to work from home at least three days a week from now on – and it’s a change that businesses of all sizes believe will be permanent.
Naturally, the focus this year has been on installing the technology and adapting the workplace culture so remote and flexible working can be effective. But there’s an important question that needs to be answered: what should we do with all this unoccupied office space?
I’m not suggesting that entire workforces will work remotely, and that we will have no use for office space at all. But I do believe that the workforce of the future will follow a hybrid model, with a greater emphasis on remote working, sustained and supported by a core of people who either need to be office based, or prefer it.
The space itself
If our offices need to support a hybrid workforce, then we will need to make changes to the space itself. For a start, what about all those desks and individual workspaces? We will doubtless need some of them, but what the hybrid workforce really needs is a space to collaborate, so we should adapt the profile of the space accordingly. That means introducing a mix of different types of collaboration spaces, including stand-up meeting locations, supported by inspiring, creative spaces with plenty of whiteboards (or whiteboard-painted walls).
Businesses of all sizes have invested readily in new technology that enables them to communicate and collaborate with colleagues and clients, regardless of location. Arguably one of the most positive discoveries of this year has been how well the technology has stood up and proven to be fit for purpose.
There is some way to go, however. The technology may have demonstrated that flexible and remote workers are effective, but I think it needs to go further to empower the hybrid workforce of the future. Virtual meeting spaces, improved video streaming and other technologies need to ensure that the experience of a team meeting is the same for everyone, whether they attend in person, or log in remotely.
This is something that often gets overlooked. The hybrid model presents us with the opportunity to recruit more widely, but alongside this opportunity we must adapt the workplace culture. For example, here’s just a handful of changes that I think we need to consider:
- Recognising that if employees don’t live near the office, we shouldn’t expect them to come to the office
- Measuring the value of a meeting by its content, not by the list of people who attended
- Finding ways to replace those momentary, ad hoc personal interactions (those ‘water cooler moments’) in the flexible and hybrid workplace
- Understanding that everyone is different and that a model that improves the productivity of one may have the opposite effect on another
- Being mindful that remote and flexible working can lonely. We need to start thinking about wellbeing
- Looking at downtime, time off and leave in a different way. It can be harder for remote workers to draw a distinction between work and home. Are your people able to switch off effectively?
We may not have all the answers just yet, despite the giant strides we’ve taken this year towards making flexible and remote working not only possible, but perhaps even the default option. However, I do believe we need to draw a distinction between flexible working and hybrid working, and recognise that accommodating the hybrid work model of the future requires further change.
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