2021 Trend #3: Hybrid working
Author Philip Ross  | 

News of three viable vaccines has accelerated the need to consider what the post-COVID-19 office may look like. By all informal accounts, and most demographic surveys which have been conducted, (like this one) post-pandemic upward of 60% of people have suggested they would like to continue to work from home for part of the week. Such a hybrid model brings with it both the great potential for cost saving on real estate, and the great complication as to how it can work in real life. While we are all remote, there is uniformity at least in our chaos. When the inevitable occurs and we begin our return to the office in gusto, managing the asymmetry in technology, tools, and experiences, depending on whether a worker is in office or at home, will require careful thought.

The starting point for this is understanding that the Work from Home experiment has not been homogenous; it has affected different people in different ways. According to some surveys, people have relished this time and an opportunity to recapture the privacy and quiet allegedly pilfered by the open-work office. However, ask working parents their experiences of working from home, and they may lament on the privacy and quiet they miss in the office. Experiences are not universal, and it would be folly to create strategies for a hybrid model that fundamentally exclude some people from the narrative.

At UnWork, we think of space as a solution. Using spatial typologies to craft your hybrid strategy mitigates the complexity described above. Rather than blanket strategies which alienate individuals, an experience driven approach helps to celebrate diversity and make for a more inclusive workplace. Linking spatial typologies to experiences is key; rather than creating spaces that cater for vague homogenous tasks, a spatial typology driven approach digs deeper and creates a solution based on the experience individual crave in their working day. Taking our examples above, for the user who enjoys the privacy at home but misses the collaboration of the office, their in-office spatial typologies will be centred around collaboration and community and that is what will drive them to the office. By contrast, for the worker who has no privacy at home, spaces such as an enclosed library space or meeting pods will drive them back to their office. Spatial typologies influence and enhance behaviour, experience and productivity and make for a generally more dynamic work week. They also help with load balancing building as each individual will not require a dedicated desk for homogenous tasks; the tools of the space are underpinned by the needs of the user.

According to surveys, the post pandemic worker typically wishes to split their time variably between 2-3 days in the office and the remainder working remotely from home. This is fine until we consider the challenge of load balancing buildings and physical space to suit demand. That most people will opt for Tuesday-Thursday as their ‘in-office’ days is no great stretch of the imagination – the Monday morning commute has not been terribly missed by anyone – but this brings problems for management allocating appropriate space for when people are in the office. Technology can help in this regard and apps and intuitive room/space booking solutions will become vital here. Apps, and other software, which enable users to see which spaces are available as well as who is in the office to collaborate with therefore underpin the hybrid model. This helps individuals decide when is best to come into the office to achieve their tasks in the space they require, as opposed to randomly selecting days to ‘show their faces’ paying homage to the days of office presenteeism. Going further, innovative, and fast growing, technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) can be used to analyse calendars and provide suggestions and nudges based on user preferences and needs. From a hygiene perspective, apps can also be used to communicate information such as when a space has been last cleaned as well as notifications that a space will need to be cleaned once the app user ‘checks out’. Technology is not a silver bullet that will make the hybrid model work seamlessly, but it is a tool that can help enhance it.

Another challenge will be reconciling experiences where some people are in office and others are remote. While we have all been remote, we have become quite familiar with the nuances of video conferencing from portable devices, and importantly, this has been mostly uniform. However, once some of us are back in offices and others remain remote, there is a clear need to ensure digital equality so that those who are remote do not feel like second class citizens. One method for digital equality is creating new configurations of space, moving away from the traditional wall mounted VC, and creating more dynamic standalone structures that make participants feel their remote colleagues are ‘in the room’. Similarly, rethinking in office meeting etiquette by continuing the practise of joining video on portable devices so all face can be seen but linking to a shared audio bridge so they can all communicate from the same room, goes some way to establishing such equality. Furthermore, as we discussed last week, Bring-Your-Own-Technology initiatives could be another lynchpin to ensuring seamless experiences between office and home.

As you can see throughout this article, essentially, it is all about the user experience (which we consider in greater detail in week 5). If the hybrid model is too difficult to create or work in, people will simply revert to type; employers will demand a full return to the office and employees – unsatisfied with the experience – will begrudgingly follow suit. Such a deadlock would undermine the great potential this period has unlocked and should be avoided where possible.

At UnWork we celebrate the hybrid model, and we believe that, done correctly, the office will become more purposeful. People will take greater autonomy in crafting their weeks to suit the activities and accomplishments they hope to achieve. We re-imagine the office as a fountain for collaboration and communication but also able to cater for moments of serenity. Furthermore, we re-think spaces not as tokens of workplace but rather as solutions: places where people can work effectively based on the ebb and flow of their working week. We see the hybrid model as an opportunity to finally to finally envision the type of workplace we at UnWork have been evangelizing about for years; one where people are purposeful, productive – and importantly – happy.