Returning to the workplace post-pandemic has become a flurry of space changes and flex-time negotiations amid the knowledge that in-office presence is no longer needed for day-to-day tasks. But why is a return to the office important, and how could a hybrid work model become a viable solution?
The Office Isn’t Dead
Working under quarantine in 2020 made it clear that many office-based employees can complete their daily tasks from home – or anywhere – effectively; but that doesn’t mean the death of the office. Instead of a building you visit each day to work independently, face-to-face collaboration is now the purpose of the new office. Shawn Williams, the Chief People Officer at Sabre said it best: “You’re coming in to be able to collaborate with your team, work on projects, do brainstorming, be a part of [the] R&D engine.” Meanwhile, Larry English with Forbes cites that our shifting workplace will require companies to “increase their ‘we’ space and decrease their ‘me’ space to allow for increased in-person collaboration work and decreased solitary head-down time.”
Thinking through ideas, generating strategies, and putting complex plans into place are all team-oriented challenges that are difficult to explore in a virtual environment. Apart from the conversation, there is a necessary energy that teams build and exchange in person when collaborating during these interactions which makes it possible to create the greatest results. Filling a whiteboard with plans and possibilities sparks new bouts of thought and creativity that virtual meetings cannot duplicate. Without time in face-to-face meetings to develop that energy, great ideas and group collaboration are lost in digital translation.
Overbooked conference rooms. Overcrowded common areas. A few of the arguments against a hybrid workplace come down to planning. Encouraging employees to take control of their flexible schedules and plan ahead for their days in the office is necessary for a hybrid environment. When space and resources are limited, companies and employees have to adapt to circumstances. If the day an employee wishes to work in the office, spaces are booked, they have to choose a different day.
Employees aren’t the only stakeholders responsible for planning, however. Organizations implementing a hybrid solution should also take stock of how employees work and of their office environment. One example is the Salesforce office in Australia. Many of their employees handle their individual work at the beginning of the week and book in-office meeting spaces at the end of the week. Understanding this work behavior will allow decision makers to develop a plan or policy for scheduling and to evaluate their shifting office space needs.
Now that employees are using the office for collaboration and sharing ideas more than individual work, outfitting the space with worktools that encourage these connections is essential. Casual collaborative spaces are taking over the workplace, creating opportunities for spontaneous interactions and open engagement. By adding mobile whiteboards like Drift that serve as both a privacy barrier and writing surface, or integrating tools like Aura into the design, employees are given the freedom to choose where and how they work together.
Returning to the office will continue to be a challenge, but it isn’t an impossible one.