By Grainger Editorial Staff 9/7/22
Hybrid work is here to stay. Office buildings in large cities were operating at almost 40% capacity on a typical workday in March 2022, and nearly two-thirds of hybrid workers say they would consider quitting if asked to return to the office full-time. There is a growing acknowledgement among management that most workers will never return to the office five days a week.
And yet, the office still plays an important role. A survey from Harvard Business Review revealed that managers anticipate the need for office space declining by less than 2% in our new hybrid normal.
The growth of hybrid work has created an opportunity to reimagine office space. An office serves several purposes, so a good first step is to think about which functions you want to prioritize as your workplace is transformed. Remember that workers have different reasons for coming in. Some may seek the quiet workspace they can’t find at home. Others may want to rekindle the creativity of in-person collaboration or receive face-to-face feedback from their supervisors. A good hybrid office will serve all these needs.
Working from home isn’t working for everyone. About one in five knowledge workers say they would prefer to come to the office every day. Some people need to psychologically separate their work and home life, and others may not have a suitably quiet space for a home office.
The hybrid office needs to have a place for these traditional workers. Fortunately, reducing the total number of workstations in your facility presents an opportunity to improve their quality. When cramming the maximum number of desks under one roof is no longer the top priority, you can bulldoze the cubicle maze and focus on making spaces that are comfortable and productive.
For example, when a Sweden-based technology company redesigned its office, many desks were replaced with sofas, window-facing lounge chairs and library-like quiet zones. These spaces were designed to give workers a place for individual-focused work that is more comfortable and relaxed than a traditional desk.
Soundproofing will be crucial in the hybrid workplace. In-office workers will regularly join teleconferences with their work-from-home colleagues, so you’ll need to take steps to keep these calls from echoing across the floor. Consider outfitting cubicles with acoustic panels, higher walls, and sound-absorbing fabrics that will help contain conversations.
Also, consider expanding the size of cubicles. Unless you plan to bring the entire workforce into the office on specific days, you can likely reduce your total number of desks and make individual cubicles more spacious. A roomy workstation will do more than keep workers from feeling cramped. It will also provide room for casual, pop-in visits from colleagues and supervisors that encourage informal collaboration.
Finally, if you’re cutting desks, you may need to implement a hoteling or hot desking program. An online desk reservation system can ensure you’re not overbooked during the mid-week surge. Digital reservations will also let you group workstations into “neighborhoods” where departments and teams can work in proximity.
If employees are rotating workspaces, be sure each desk is outfitted with the office supplies and digital equipment needed for every job. Designate a storage space near the workstation where personal belongings can be stowed, and make sure cleaning supplies are available so workers can leave the desk ready for the next day.
For some workers, video conferencing software will never replace the need for face-to-face collaboration. With many workers completing their individual tasks from home, the office could increasingly become a place for brainstorming, training and team meetings.
For example, when a U.S-based tech firm adopted a hybrid work strategy, the company reduced the desk space in its San Francisco headquarters by 40%. Unused cubicles were replaced by long tables, couches clustered around whiteboards, and café booths where workers can huddle to discuss ideas.
When designing new collaborative areas, consider using a variety of spaces. For formal presentations and training sessions, a private theater-style room might be best. Traditional conference rooms are still ideal for large meetings, while informal lounge spaces with couches and booths can encourage impromptu gatherings and laid-back brainstorming sessions.
The hybrid office must be capable of bringing together the in-office and at-home workforce. This means that every space needs to be set up to accommodate remote access. Workers who dial into meetings need to be full participants, not just observers. New technologies can help bring the entire workforce to the table.
Digital whiteboards may become a standard feature of the hybrid workplace. Instead of screen-sharing, which effectively confines everyone to their own device, a virtual whiteboard allows a group of in-person workers to gather around a creative space, putting ideas on a board that can be seen and modified in real time by colleagues dialing in remotely.
Video conferencing booths can provide a designated space for these calls. In addition to privacy, the soundproof booths offer a high-quality camera and large display, and they are equipped with a sound system and lighting that is superior to a conventional laptop’s speakers and webcam.
Reconfigured meeting spaces can put remote participants on equal footing with their in-person counterparts. Screen and camera placement matters. Don’t relegate virtual attendees to the edge of the room, out of view of half the conference table. Placing cameras and screens at eye level will help connect participants, and AI-equipped cameras can automatically turn to the in-person participants as they speak, letting remote workers easily see who is addressing the group. Installing additional microphones can help remote attendees hear what is being discussed around the table, and tabletop chat displays will let in-person participants keep track of the notes being passed online.
The shift to remote work was abrupt, but businesses can use the lessons from recent years to create a more welcoming, inclusive, and productive hybrid office environment.
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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.