As the world slowly emerges from a pandemic-induced work-from-home era and businesses move to adopt hybrid work plans, employees and employers alike have the opportunity to reconsider the role of their physical office spaces. By diving deep into how teams expect to use the office and what will “pull” them back into that environment, companies can reinvent new ways to collaborate face-to-face that maintain the best parts of WFH flexibility.
Recently, the CFO|Circle gathered to tackle common challenges and creative solutions for navigating the new world of in-office collaboration. With input from VIPs Melissa Pesci, VP and Principal at HGA Architects; Armen Vartanian, SVP of Global Workplace Services at Okta; and Rob Sadow, CEO and Co-Founder at Scoop, we dove into essential considerations for reimagining your office.
Here are 8 Takeaways from the conversation:
#1 – Embrace the inevitability of “flexible”
It’s no secret that the hybrid work movement has been building momentum for years, but the pandemic took it mainstream. Armen Vartanian described how global macroeconomic, generational, and technological trends prompted Okta to embrace the inevitability of flexibility with their Dynamic Work philosophy, first implemented in 2019. Since then, the pandemic has cemented flexibility as an expected benefit, especially for the Millennials and Gen Z’ers who will dominate the workforce in the coming years. Armen warned that attracting and retaining top talent will be very difficult if you’re not willing to incorporate flexibility into your work. Plus, companies that are open to their employees being distributed benefit from hiring from a wider talent pool, further incentivizing a shift to a hybrid model.
#2 – Treat your employees as consumers
Most businesses are amazing at customer-centricity but don’t always think of their people as customers, too. Just like any solid marketing strategy, Rob Sadow suggests beginning with research: what percentage of employees want to come into work? How often? What kind of work will they be doing when at the office versus at home? All of this input will help you design a compelling “product” that pulls employees back to the workplace with meaningful value-added benefits rather than pushes them back to offices in a way that may decrease their productivity or satisfaction.
#3 – Right-size your capacity
Once you have a better picture of how your employees expect to use the office, you’ll have the opportunity to reconsider your real estate needs. Sharing the results of a recent HGA study, Melissa Pesci noted that while 60-75% of employees reported wanting to work remotely at least one day per week, 50-70% of employees also wanted a dedicated workspace at the office. Though hybrid work will likely reduce overall capacity needs, offices can also use a hybrid environment to reconfigure their layouts and experiment with alternative work points.
#4 – Consider how to bring the best of WFH to the office
Let’s face it – as tough as the transition to WFH was at first, there are a lot of great things about not being tied to an office five days a week. The key for employers is to get creative about ways to incorporate the best parts of working from home into the workplace. HGA’s study indicated that the top reason that employees feel more productive and creative at home was fewer distractions (maybe not 100% true for working parents this past year, but we digress). Access to the outdoors and more control over the environment, such as lighting and temperature, also played an important role. Perhaps most importantly, working from home allows for “quality breaks” that truly recharge, rejuvenate and reinvigorate – like a walk outside, lunch with kids or partners, yoga, or a quick workout – without the guilt of leaving your office desk empty for too long.
Offering specific examples for how offices could provide these perks in the workplace, Melissa described the concepts of ‘library spaces’ and ‘neighborhood environments.’ Library spaces are areas of mandatory silence that allow employees to put their heads down and work distraction-free. On the flipside, neighborhood environments group teams together around a collection of different work points (like individual desks, shared tables, group seating), offering environmental flexibility and enabling in-person collaboration in a space that feels like it’s both welcomed and encouraged.
$5 – …And how to bring back the best parts of office culture (safely)
Melissa also discussed how offices are bringing back the best parts of in-person work culture, all while incorporating new health and sanitary measures to keep their employees safe. Health-oriented changes to the workplace start at the front door: Melissa described how buildings are implementing additional security measures so that employees feel safer knowing who is and is not using the office regularly. Offices are also using technology to create a more sanitary workplace, adding touchless and integrated systems to reduce contact with frequently touched surfaces such as temperature controls, door hardware, and bathroom appliances. Health, safety, and security protocols are important in the near term but can’t come at the expense of what makes working in an office great. Arranging the office into ‘neighborhoods’ creates opportunities to bring back the side-by-side work and ambient learning that is much more difficult to achieve in a remote environment.
“You can enable flexibility and let the employees decide. But create an experience in the office that purposefully incentivizes the employees to come in when they want to. You’re going to get the same level of value as if you mandated attendance.”
—Armen Vartanian, Okta
#6 – Communicate policies clearly and ensure your leaders walk the talk
Whatever policies you decide to implement, expectations need to be clear at the company, team, and individual levels. Company leaders need to fully embrace the philosophy of flexibility, promoting the new hybrid policy with their words and actions. Rob recommended that leaders make use of frequent pulse surveys to elicit employee feedback on policies and practice, watching closely how this impacts engagement and retention over time. Employees will feel more comfortable returning to the office if they see that leadership is committed to addressing their needs and concerns.
#7 – Create visibility into flexible schedules
Offering employees the flexibility to work from anywhere also increases the chances of frustrating miscommunications between team members about who is where and when. Providing visibility into the flexible schedules of their workforce is the most important measure that businesses can take to ensure the success of their hybrid work programs. Visibility into team members’ planned schedules and locations empowers employees to make informed decisions about where they work and gives them the confidence to return to the office when they feel most comfortable. With certain software platforms like Scoop or Envoy embedded into the operating model, employees can record where they plan to work and share that information easily with their peers. As this is a problem that gets more complex as a company scales, early investment in this kind of schedule visibility will pay off dividends in the long term for growing businesses.
#8 – Encourage a culture of ownership and iteration
At the end of the day, making hybrid work successful relies on everyone at every level taking ownership of the process. While employees and employers alike would prefer to have all of the answers today, no one has hybrid work wholly figured out, and evolution will be constant. Using pulse surveys and other feedback mechanisms, businesses can build their programs with and for their employees, adapting over time to create the best possible approach. Ultimately, as long as companies hire people they can trust and embrace flexibility, their hybrid policies will thrive.