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The future is hybrid: so where will we work?

Office spaces will better serve distributed teams and workers will have access to ‘third spaces’ outside their homes
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Recent surveys suggest that most organisations will face at least some degree of hybrid home and office working for months and years to come. What will the role of workspaces be in this emerging culture? Nick LiVigne looks at some scenarios. 

You only need to take a look at a recent survey from the British Council for Offices (BCO) to understand that the way we work really has changed forever – that most office workers do not intend to spend five days in the workplace once Covid-19 is over.

The 2,000 office workers of all levels said they wished to work at home and in their workplace, with both management and employees recognising that working from home is here to stay.

We all recognise that a significant change is taking place in workplace culture but really this isn’t anything new, rather that the pandemic has accelerated existing trends and brought about a wider acceptance and adoption of hybrid working.

The speed at which we are seeing businesses take a serious look at agile workplace strategies over the last few months is staggering.

Major firms have been quietly considering future office plans and we have seen big names such as Google, Twitter, BP, Schroders and PwC taking active steps or publicly state their intentions to offer their employees more flexibility over how and where they work in the long-term.

It is a hugely challenging time for so many, but it is also a time of opportunity and an exciting time for the real estate industry in particular, to evolve. We are at the forefront of change and have the opportunity to adapt to the way people really want to work.

Changing how we manage

At the heart of the shift is the impact that a dispersed workforce has had on company culture and management. Changing management styles and hierarchies have been accelerated, where line-of-sight management just hasn’t been possible, making it obsolete.

Line-of-sight management has always been the biggest barrier to alternative workplace strategies. The acceptance of new outcome-based management styles and teamwork is the real catalyst for fundamental office changes, not employees preferring working from home.

However, organisations are challenging the fundamental ‘purpose of place’, but we know that collaboration and innovation are dependent on trust which is driven in large part from in-person interaction. The bottom line, the office is not going away.

Workplace predictions

We all wish we had a crystal ball, but I predict the work experience of the future will take on the following characteristics:

  • Workforces will become more geographically distributed, opening new and lower cost talent acquisition opportunities, and giving more personal freedom to when and where work is completed (with a focus on outcomes)
  • Companies will divest their real estate portfolios and rightsize to a footprint and location that better serves distributed teams
  • Progressive companies will divert those real estate costs and invest in people programs, engagement, and experiences
  • Magnet locations (HQ or regional) will be much smaller and focused on engagement and building trust. They will be designed completely differently, be highly amenitised, and high touch. They will need to be even more of a destination than they were already striving for pre-COVID
  • Satellite offices will move to flexible space providers to allow for maximum agility within their physical footprint
  • Companies will give employees additional flexibility to access ‘third’ spaces and co-working spaces to work outside their home – likely through membership to a network of spaces.
  • Where will people work? Ultimately, we believe there will be three places to work, the traditional central HQ, home and a third space, with all three operating seamlessly, with technology being at the forefront of this transition, ensuring that firms can blend in-person and digital working.
  • While this future prediction is likely, it will take time for companies to arrive at this end state. They are committed to existing lease commitments that will need to be wound down over years.

Right now, they are focused on solving for a safe return to work and keeping their existing distributed workforce happy and engaged.

It is fair to say that portfolio strategies will solidify later this year and into next year.

Built on trust

Companies are now planning for a future of distributed workforces and remote team management, which will require higher levels of trust than before. Employees will be trusted to choose the place where they are most productive, allowing workforces to fluidly consume workspaces.

Covid-19 created a managerial stress test and managers have been forced to trust their employees and measure productivity through outcomes instead of presence. Cushman & Wakefield reported in June that over 90% of employees say their managers trust them to do their work remotely.

Consider the stance taken by Siemens when announcing their work from anywhere policy: “Focus on outcomes rather than time spent in the office. Trust and empower your employees.” This is clearly a directive to managers, not employees. Acceptance among management will finally unleash the employee choice for which we’ve been arguing.

…and engagement

We are social creatures who have habitual yet dynamic styles when it comes to work.

The acceptance of new outcome-based management styles and teamwork is the real catalyst for fundamental office changes”

Interacting face to face remains the best way to build trust among teams. If trust is the currency of team productivity and culture, organisations with distributed teams will need to be richer in trust than ever before. As we accept that in-person interaction will happen less frequently, we’ll need to make sure those interactions are impactful.

Therefore, workspaces will focus on engagement, collaboration, and innovation. Designs will focus on teamwork over individual work and higher end experiences will be deployed to attract employees to the office.

Traditional workplace design dedicated the majority of floor space to individual work settings, with formal and informal collaboration spaces making up the remainder. Expect that ratio to flip. Employees will now come into the office with a purpose to meet and engage with their team. We can imagine a future where team collaboration space is dedicated, and individual space is shared.

The future is hybrid

Change is afoot, but it’s recognisable change. The creative solutions flexible office has offered for years are now being considered and accepted more widely. Organisations who fundamentally question the purpose of place within their culture, and commit to new creative strategies, will be in the best position to win.

The future is hybrid. In-person and remote teams will need to have access to a unified workplace experience, which can be provided through creative workplace strategy solutions.

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