Hybrid working – buzzword Bingo or a viable alternative for office design?31-03-2022
Angi Boucher-Clift, Office Profile’s Project Director, examines the role of hybrid working in the office design.
I want to talk about Hybrid working, it’s something the industry has wanted to do for around 15 years if not longer. Forgive me if this blog comes across as a bit of a “buzzword Bingo” but all industries are starting to use the words, including features on Sky News.
Hybrid working was known in the past as flexible working or maybe agile working, but has developed and adapted over the years into what we often see now. When we say flexible working, we don’t mean flexible in the sense that a person is flexible but that the workspace is flexible. Hybrid working encompasses flexible working, agile working, collaboration, and mainly task-based working.
The main difference between this newer definition of hybrid working is that it has developed into more of a task-based working approach. Take my Tuesday last week, I was in and out of meetings all day, some in the office and some online, virtual meetings. When I have days like this I really have to consider where those meetings are located. If the majority of them are online, I find that it is better to stay at home.
Task-based working is all about the employee choosing what environment suits what they are doing. Now this area is something that a lot of office spaces tend to struggle with, ensuring there is the capacity for those ‘in the office’ tasks.
Office space is key for collaboration, training and development as well as the informal/water cooler conversations that are essential to all businesses. Hybrid working allows offices to be designed around the task-based activities that benefit from being face to face as well as using technology to create areas allowing employees to be physically and virtually present in the same space.
All About the Individual
Hybrid working is all about recognising the individual’s differences in the workplace. This way of working is 100% driven by the employee. It is about people’s wellness and their experience in the workplace as opposed to focusing on how much you want to spend on a workplace design. Obviously, budget needs to be considered, but this doesn’t necessarily drive the designs but rather a guide of what can be done.
Individuals’ needs are among the many factors taken into consideration when it comes to designing spaces that encompass hybrid working. Typically, if you are early in your career, whatever the age, being in the office gives you access to learning from others, experiencing cross pollination and thriving off the interaction an office space brings. Experienced workers may need less face-to-face contact or may have roles where they need space to work on detailed reports that require quiet and focus.
Another factor is what employees’ home working environment is like. Someone that has a separate office in a big, detached house with a garden typically won’t view the office the same way as someone who is in a flat working from their sofa.
Assessing these factors as part of the design brief play a big part in delivering a workplace design that works for all employees and their roles.
HR and IT Considerations
Over the last year, I’ve seen an increased involvement of HR departments. For me, this shows the recognition of the importance of the individual in making decisions around hybrid working. HR understand company culture, age ranges and experience of the team, proportion of part-timers, and individual circumstances of employees. By involving HR in the design, human aspects and their interactions are properly considered. For example, HR know where people are sat, which allows us to consider work adjacencies. This change ensures that the money and budgeting is not the driving force for the consideration of the design.
IT has also become more involved in the design of hybrid office space. There really is no point having fantastic spaces for people if there is no technology present or not enough to support the new hybrid work pattern. If someone sits down for a meeting but can’t connect to good Wi-Fi or can’t get a screen or a power source, then the space is not fit for purpose.
As I’ve mentioned, creating a new hybrid workspace needs to meet a variety of criteria: Does it fit with our people and culture? Does the design work for its required purpose? Has IT been considered? Does it meet our budget? However, there is one final area that is critical when changing an office space to hybrid.
Engaging with stakeholders at an early stage and throughout the process helps facilitate the change in how the office space will be used. We make sure we talk to management teams, department heads or the whole company (depending on its size) to empower people to use those spaces for their purpose. There is no point in making changes like taking everyone’s desks away and replacing with hot desking without briefing them first. People are habit driven and will need to be supported through any transition. If you can explain to them before the new space is launched that, for example, they can pick the days they work in the office and have meetings and can sit anywhere they like for their work purpose such as on the collaboration tables or a soft seating area, then employees are more likely to adapt to the change and embrace it. If they can see the benefits to them, what is not to love?
Really, the biggest thing we are trying to achieve with our approach to hybrid working as an industry and as a workplace consultancy, is to help management teams consider what their employees need.
- Recognise that everyone is different.
- Understand what your office space is being use for, or needs to be used for.
- Invest in the right technology.
- Above all else, talk. Communicate with staff, empower people to utilise the workplace.
- Happy people makes for a happy productive office.
Angi works as Project Director for Office Profile and has over 26 years’ experience in multimillion pound fit-out projects, full refurbishments, and workplace consultancy. Her years of experience have given her a wealth of knowledge in the commercial industry and what works well for offices in need of change.