Current industry research has suggested that post-COVID, most employees will prefer a mix of office-based and remote-working, primarily for the flexibility and balance it will provide for their work-life balance. For them, what they need is a workplace that can adapt quickly to individual requirements; offering facilities for both those who work from home, as well as those in the office. This is what is known as the 'Hybrid Office'.

But how can a business go about creating one? Here, we'll be taking a look at what the industry has to say about post-COVID working styles, as well as offer an example of how a hybrid office works.

The rise of the hybrid office

The Microsoft 2021 Work Trend Index Annual Report has suggested that hybrid working will become the new normal, with employees citing business leaders being 'out of touch' with their needs through the adoption of working styles that leaves the workforce exhausted, risks innovation, shrinks networks and generally stunts productivity.

IBM has also released a research report, titled 'An Injection of Hope' which is a look at life after the COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed. It points to vaccinated people having the confidence to travel more and engaging in group social activities (albeit at a lesser level pre-pandemic).

Surveying office workers, the report identified that 62% of the respondents wanted to retain their current WFH arrangements – 44% of those wanting to do so after they receive the first vaccine, while 35% wanted to move to the Hybrid model.

To summarise, the key points of the Microsoft report reveal the following trends:

  • Flexible work is here to stay as employees want the benefits of remote working, with an option to collaborate in-person when required.
  • Leaders are out of touch with their employees as current office set-ups are not designed around the needs of the people who work within them.
  • While productivity has remained high, it is masking an exhausted workforce. One in five workers surveyed for the report says that their employer doesn't value employees' work-life balance, rendering the majority overworked and exhausted.
  • Gen Z (currently aged between 18-25) is losing out on the networking and peer support that was normal before COVID.
  • The shrinking of networks is endangering innovation. Interactions are now more focused on smaller groups which have resulted in more isolated behaviours and thus, providing fewer opportunities for the chance connections that drive innovation.
  • Hybrid working allows for an expanded talent pool; shifting to remote working removes geographical restrictions and opens opportunities for a vast marketplace of diverse talent.

Furthermore, the report points out that 41% of employees are actively looking to change jobs in the coming year, which will have a disruptive impact on employee organisations. Clearly, the hybrid office is something that all businesses should consider if they want to build a long-term future, but how do buisnesses go about creating one?

Creating a hybrid workplace

To gauge the impact of hybrid working practices on current office spaces, let's run a scenario of how to best utilise the space (even if it means having less capacity).

Currently, many companies occupy spaces to suit their maximum headcount:

'Company A' has 100 full-time staff who attend the office daily, so the space is utilised for that. With the new hybrid regime, that same space may become occupied regularly by say, 50 staff. This leaves plenty of unused space, so what do you do?

Subject to lease terms, it may be preferable to move to smaller premises to save money or sub-let the space to generate revenue. It could be the case that the lease has an end/break clause that doesn't make it easy to reorganise, so the office is just left as is. As a result of not being able to update the layout or desk plan, the office will have lots of gaps that will work to isolate staff, creating a disjointed workforce, which is never ideal if you want to create a co-operative, driven and happy atmosphere.

A solution would be to re-plan the space to better suit the 50-or-so staff, but also to design ways to make use of the spare space so that it positively affects (amongst other things), the physical and mental health of employees. Spaces such as collaboration areas, wellbeing suites, gyms, libraries, hot-desking banks, and cafes can provide outlets for people to work with others, refocus or relax. As such facilities are growing in usage in offices, they may become expected by the upcoming generation of workers; having them in place now stands the business in better stead to attract (and keep) such talent.

Another aspect to think about is whether these new WFH/office working practices will be sustainable in the long term. While some firms may find that productivity remains roughly the same, many others may find that the rate of work drops and therefore, chooses to revert to pre-pandemic occupancy levels in 12-18 months.

If that is indeed the case, it's wise for businesses to make a short-term change to the design of their office, but also to 'mothball' or re-use any spare spaces for other activities (as mentioned above), just in case the free space is needed further down the line. This way, the business will get the best of both worlds; it's set up for flexible working now, while being ready to revert back when needed.

The bottom line is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to the design of 'the perfect office' – the perfect office is dictated by the specific needs of the business and its employees. While a degree of flexible working will be the norm for most firms in years to come, it's finding the right balance with the design that will help to make it a success.

Realise your ideal office, with Oaktree

If you're thinking about an office refurbishment for your own business to ready it for the return to work (and the future beyond that), why not consider getting in touch with our expert team who can advise you on the steps you need to take?

We office a completely FREE office design consultancy that looks at the available space, what you'd ideally want to do with it, the wishes of your employees (and anything else), before creating a design plan and 2-D/3-D images of what it all might look like.

Sound good? To learn more about hybrid office design, please do not hesitate to give our team a call today on 0345 21 86955 or e-mail hello@oaktreeoffice.com

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