The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have shifted our habits and working patterns more profoundly and more rapidly than any other event in recent history. The lockdowns of 2020 forced a new way of working on everyone simultaneously – and mostly it worked!
The adoption of remote and hybrid working was not an option but a necessity; millions of people across the world had to adapt to working from home, and many companies have learned to embrace the appeal of hybrid working. The freedom it gives employees to work however and wherever they want was absolutely crucial to maintaining productivity during this remote working period.
Now, as many countries proceed with their vaccine rollout, and the restrictions are relaxed, organisations are reopening their offices – but the working landscape has changed. Managers and staff have experienced the advantages (and disadvantages) of working remotely, and now is the time to address merits of office activity and remote activity to achieve the hybrid working style most appropriate for their teams.
Hybrid working is a concept that allows the individual to work in the environment most appropriate to their task or activity. This means that collaborative activities and innovation would take place in the office, while solo activities and focus work may happen remotely. It empowers staff with the freedom to select where they will achieve their best outputs, and by definition, hybrid workplaces are designed to be flexible and easily adaptable, with a shift in focus from banks of desks to spaces which allow for quicker meetings, better collaboration, and easier communication. By applying flexibility to workspaces, furnishings, and tools, staff are given the freedom to work in the ways that best suit them.
Hybrid working is…
The concept of hybrid working focuses on empowering employees so they can choose when, where, and how they want to work. By delivering high-quality, modern, and optimised working environments that promote adaptation and change, you boost employee engagement, motivation, and businesses flourish. It means offering mixed-use spaces with a myriad of services, workspaces, and environments. It’s a design concept that encourages spontaneous conversations and interactions, breaking down walls between departments and boosting mobility within the office.
Office designs have been gradually changing ever since US mechanical engineer Frederick Taylor created the first layout more than 100 years ago. Based on his methodology – Taylorism, his design emphasised a rigid, linear, and hierarchical way of working. It tightly packed in endless rows of desks for white-collar workers, with executive offices around the outside — mimicking the factory floor.
Eventually, more collaborative designs were developed within an organically geometric, open-plan layout. This layout became known as the Bürlondschaft movement. This design was popularised in the mid-20th century before spreading across the world. These were followed by the cubicle farms of the profit-hungry 70s and 80s, but thankfully, by the 2000s, flexible, colourful offices emerged. Employers were starting to place a greater emphasis on work-life balance.
In recent years, there has been a shift toward employee focused workspaces. Businesses are no longer solely concerned with profits and results, they’re starting to prioritise the needs of their workers too. In the modern office, it’s economy, communication, collaboration, and engagement that take precedence. Hybrid office design is born out of this concept, empowering employees to work how they want to achieve the best results possible.
Many employees have reported higher productivity when working from home, but crucially, they're also able to enjoy a better work-life balance. To facilitate this, as many employees begin to return to offices across the world, employers are changing how things work. The traditional office space is becoming increasingly hybridised.
Hybrid working continues to evolve to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic, and the sudden changes it forced on the workplace.
The essence of a hybrid working model is trust between leadership and staff, and the premise that individuals will differentiate between remote locations and the office depending on their task. This means it is more important than ever to design the workplace to support the activities which cannot be carried out at home.
The hybrid workplace provides spaces for meetings of all types – formal private meetings, informal spaces, meeting spaces for individuals or pairs to join Zoom or WebEx calls, space to socialise, and areas to sit and work between meetings. The key to a successful hybrid workspace is that it’s ready to change and evolve; and if it is filled with desks from the pre-covid landscape that will be very difficult to achieve.
Above all the hybrid office needs to be the embodiment of your culture and brand. If the desire is to encourage staff to spend more time in the office, then they need to feel an attachment to the culture when they visit, and leave feeling reconnected with the purpose of the organisation.
Hybrid offices seek to achieve the perfect balance between results, freedom, and creativity – this is going to have to remain true post-COVID-19. Much of what made agile workspaces so successful in the past can remain – for example, breakout spaces to encourage communication and facilitate ‘casual collisions’ are still going to be vital in any working environment.
An hybrid workspace can be tailored to your specific wants, needs, and business requirements.
There are two schools of thought emerging post-pandemic; one regards the lockdown restrictions as an interruption and has the expectation that all staff will return to the working week of 2019, while the other sees the pandemic as the trigger for a paradigm shift in societal patterns. While it is too early to judge which will prevail, it will pay to ensure you are supporting your team in the best way possible. And that is why now is the time to consider adopting a hybrid workspace. Considering the widespread and rapid forced adoption of home working, many businesses are closer to utilising a real hybrid environment than ever before. A hybrid workspace brings with it a number of benefits, especially with the easement of many pandemic restrictions.
But the benefits don’t stop there.
Hybrid office design ensures your business is futureproofed against any potential issues, challenges, and difficulties you may face. It attracts new, exciting talent to your business while keeping your current staff happy. Your employees are the best asset your business has and providing them with a workplace that’s inspiring and motivational is a smart investment. By providing them with a well-designed and functional office space, you’re ensuring they have all the tools they need to deliver their best work – for years to come. It’s up to you to ensure they feel safe when doing it.
With infection rates dropping as vaccine rollout programmes are underway, people are returning to the office. Whether you already adopted hybrid working practices while people were either working from home or furloughed, or you’re deciding to take the plunge now, you’re on your way to a more productive and functional workspace. But where do you start?
Before starting any planning or design, you’ll want to consult the experts. Undergoing a workplace consultancy can bring a host of benefits to your organisation and is an essential first step in implementing hybrid working. Consultants will work with you to gain a better understanding of your business at its core, undertaking space occupancy research, staff surveys, observations, and workshops. This provides you with the crucial feedback you'll need as you implement your hybrid office.
You’ll uncover things you never knew about your business, identify which areas your staff value, and discover what changes will bring the most benefits. Consultancy is especially valuable now as we move slowly out of the pandemic. When inviting employees back as part of your transition to hybrid, it’s no longer just a matter of productivity, but safety as well. This needs to factor into your design plans.
Your office design is what fuels how your employees work, making it the most important part of any hybrid workspace. Hybrid working is all about providing an adaptable, productive environment that inspires creativity, so your office design should reflect this. Aim to create spaces that cater for every kind of activity. Whether that’s internal meetings, collaborative work or private sessions – flexibility is the name of the game. Plan ahead to maximise the potential of your space and ensure the layout is optimised for quick, seamless access to everything it offers.
The core of hybrid working is collaboration – but you must be careful. As it stands, that idea of meaningful face-to-face connections can’t compromise employee safety. The hybrid approach to the work environment will help to mitigate this, but you should take proper precautions within the office space itself too.
Once businesses have resized their footprint in the wake of any post-COVID changes, technology will play a central role in enabling employees to return to work safely. Business leaders need to be able to manage which employees can come to the office at any one time, how the office is cleaned, how to ensure airflow is sufficient, and if employees are able to maintain social distancing while collaborating.
Design your office with future growth and employee safety in mind and the rest will follow.
Now for the fun part: bringing your planning, design, and vision together. At this stage you’ll have chosen an interior design company to handle your fit-out and refurbishment and will be in the process of replacing, updating, or completely re-fitting your existing office. Where necessary, ensure you accommodate the needs of employees working both in the office and at home. This means investing in video conferencing technology throughout to enable spontaneous and inclusive meetings.
Make sure you work closely with your designers to ensure everything slots effortlessly into place.
An often-overlooked part of hybrid design, office furniture plays a crucial role in bringing your workplace together; tailor every piece to your needs. Remember that functionality and aesthetics don’t need to be mutually exclusive, look for ways to incorporate your specific style and designs without losing the practical elements of your equipment.
You’ll find it easier and cheaper to hire one office design company to take care of all of the above steps.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a huge cultural shift onto businesses, making the transition to hybrid potentially easier for those that haven’t already done it. Where before businesses would need to implement infrastructure and process changes, much of that is already in place, or at least experimented with.
If you’ve already implemented agile working processes in your workplace, then your team will likely already understand the benefits of hybrid working. Emphasising to them that you’re giving them the freedom to choose how, when, and where they work is key – not just for their work-life balance, but their safety too. Even with the pandemic lessening in some places, hybrid working remains a forward-thinking solution for businesses.
Set out your future plans and share them with the rest of your company, making sure everyone is aware of the proposed changes and how they’ll affect them. Detail what you want out of your hybrid transformation and how you plan to move forward in a way that supports your employees.
Successfully applying the hybrid way of working requires a complete shift in mindset from everyone on your team. It’s often the cultural shift that’s the biggest obstacle to overcome when attempting to implement hybrid, so you’ll all need to be on the same page.
Change has to come from the top. Once you have senior management committed, it’ll be much easier to convert the rest of your company to the new way of working. It’s natural for some people to be apprehensive at first, so take extra care to reassure anyone that’s struggling to adapt. Appointing change champions can help immensely. They can provide a friendly face to voice any concerns to, plus they’ll be able to report back so you can deal with issues as and when they crop up – win-win.
At the end of the day, hybrid working is about empowering your staff. This is more important than ever in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Alongside any business plans, you should consult with your staff and find out what worked well in your current space and what areas need improvement.
Prioritise your employee’s needs. Hybrid working is about trust and support and the COVID-19 pandemic brought people together in a new way. That same trust and support is crucial to effective communication about future business plans, and employers can show they understand that by including their staff. Undertake employee surveys and hold sessions dedicated to discussing potential uncertainty and anxiety they might be feeling.
A fundamental part of ensuring your staff fully-embrace hybrid changes is effective and thorough training. You should aim to provide staff with a full induction into the new philosophy, principles, and updated working practices so they can properly get to grips with your new space – and any new COVID-19 protocols you’ve implemented.
Remember, even if you respond to all feedback and involve staff as much as possible, there will always be some employees who remain sceptical and resistant to change. It’s an ongoing process so don’t expect everyone to be onboard straight away. New ways of working will always be met with opposition, because of course, on the surface, no-one likes change. But, if you manage the process, the benefits on both a business and personal level will out-weigh any temporary disruptions.
A fundamental part of ensuring your staff fully-embrace hybrid changes is effective and thorough training.
Let’s explore how companies across the world have embraced hybrid.
Spotify’s journey best illustrates hybrid’s influence on workspace design. The music, podcast, and video streaming service has been using the hybrid development approach since it launched in 2008.
Spotify created small, cross-functional, and self-organising teams of usually less than eight people. They sit together and have end-to-end responsibility for the projects they’re developing. The team decides what to build, how to build it, and work together towards that aim. The squads are aligned with the company’s bigger vision, but each has their own long and short term goals. But here’s the important bit. Their offices are optimised for collaboration. The team members work closely together with adjustable desks with easy access to each other’s screens. Right next to their desks there’s a lounge where they gather for planning sessions and retrospectives and a huddle room for smaller meetings or quiet time. Almost all walls are whiteboards. Spotify’s use of hybrid is manifested in the physical environment of its teams. The results are clear: Increased growth, collaboration, and creativity – all thanks to hybrid.
Another example of a company adopting hybrid offices is Google’s ‘garage’. As Google program manager, Mamie Rheingold, quotes “Google Garage is its hacker-maker-design space where Googlers come together to learn, create and build”.
Power cords drop down from the roof, everything is within reach and no-one is confined to one place. Google’s design evangelist Nadya Direkova says: “The garage is kind of like my playground. When you come in you can write on the tables, you can write on the walls and you can reconfigure the tables to be in any position you want. Everything is on wheels and that allows people to be more flexible and to be more playful in a way that the typical space and the typical conference room just wouldn’t. The space doesn’t need to be fancy in order to be functional but what it really needs to be is flexible.”
A consultant was placed in the office from 7.30am to 6pm for two weeks to work out the average and peak occupation. They monitored the hours the staff worked across the office floor, from the meeting rooms to the breakout areas. Using high-end software, heat mapping, and employee surveys, we were able to calculate the current usage and future desires for the space.
Through employee surveys, we also calculated the number of introverts, extroverts and ambiverts. This helped us work out how many people will thrive in a shared environment and how many will need their own private space. We worked out we could increase head count by 16%, from 320 to 371 people, by using agile workspace design. The study highlighted numerous ‘dead spots’ — areas that were barely being used. It also showed that workstations were occupied less than half the time (44%); meeting room utilisation was also relatively low (49%), with 85% of meetings having no more than four people attending. Breakout areas showed the least usage, being utilised just 17% of the time.
As part of a complete redesign, fit-out and change of furniture, Rhino added new collaborative zones and reduced desks to 0.8 per person.
For the refit of its Northampton premises, the firm incorporated agile working principles into the design strategy to make the workspaces adaptable and fluid. Staff can now move from one space to another and work in the environment they need to in order to thrive. With no barriers between the ‘social’ and ‘work’ areas, employees no longer feel part of a divided workforce. The offices include a custom-designed, fully flexible auditorium with an interactive screen, a steampunk cafe zone, and a games room.
The “lively palette” reflects the insurer’s multicoloured branding, with an “eclectic and unexpected” selection of furniture and fittings which add to the “dramatic, futuristic surroundings,” says William Bayley, head of change management at the insurer. “The most interesting or unexpected insight uncovered from the consultancy process was how we used the space previously and how ineffective it was. Previously we had a dirty, cramped and dark space that was not much fun for everyone. We wanted to move away from the standard desk and meeting room spaces configuration, and into something with wider uses which is more engaging and appealing.
“Now we have an open and bright space that is inviting. We saw an almost instant change in the atmosphere. Both the working areas and breakout areas are far and away significant improvements on what we had before, and everyone enjoys the space. We specifically aimed to get as far away as a contact centre we could have everyone really appreciated that. The breakout space, steam punk bar, and auditorium have been a particular hit. “As well as this, we now think having a much more modern office will help us attract and retain the best people.
The previous environment was definitely a turn off for some potential employees, but now the environment is a much better reflection of our culture. People have a much better idea of what we are about and what it is like to work for us when they walk through the door”.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, hybrid working has never been more important. Many businesses were forced to evolve and accommodate entire remote workforces. Now that the pandemic is subsiding in some areas, the future of work is clear – an agile, hybrid environment is the innovative answer employees want.
Adopting a hybrid workspace design will help attract and retain talent, reduce real estate costs, and grow your business in the post-COVID world. Here are our top seven tips for hybrid success:
Any change to the office environment can be disruptive to the people who spend half their lives in it. Some will feel it more than others. So, most hybrid refits go hand-in-glove with a culture transformation to some degree.
To help you avoid employee culture shock, get employees involved at the start of the process. It will make it much easier later on. If your employees feel like they have a say in what’s happening they’ll feel like they have some ownership. If your business has already adopted some hybrid working processes as a result of the pandemic, it may be easier to implement change throughout. Communication is key.
A major aspect of what we mean by agile workspaces is the variety of levels, spaces, and settings. ‘Putting in the levels’ is what we call it’. This ensures you don’t have a sea of desks the same height. Instead, you’ll have low sofas, high desks, benches, booths, stools, coffee tables, sit-stand desks, and community tables. You’ll have different spaces and settings too, spread across four essential zones (focus, collaboration, social, and learning/meeting).
So, you’ve consulted the people before the design, you’ve had the refit, and everyone has moved back in. From here it’s not business as usual. We advise conducting a satisfaction survey and appointing a champion (for people to talk to) in the office for six months after the refit.
Considering the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding how your employees feel about both coming into and being in the office is essential to knowing how best to support them. It doesn’t have to be a new role, just someone whom people can confide in about the new changes. As change disrupts some people more than others, you need to ensure that any questions or potential issues are dealt with effectively.
Lots of factors will dictate how far you go with the hybrid approach. The percentage of introverts and extroverts in your workforce is one. Headcount forecasting is another. Budget, obviously, is crucial, but don’t let that stop you creating an environment where your staff want to be.
If you can’t afford the upfront workspace consultancy element you can assess occupancy and employee desires anecdotally, update furniture, and reduce headcount desk ratio accordingly. Also, a lot of older offices still have clumsy, dated furniture that was designed for huge PCs and monitors, so you may be able to improve the aesthetics by bringing in more modern furniture, which will not only help provide a boost to morale but also will save you some space.
Hybrid workspace design has its origins in the values and principles of Hybrid working. If you’re contemplating a hybrid workspace fit-out, you might be considering some hybrid working ideas. But remember, there is a huge difference between ‘doing hybrid’ and ‘being hybrid.’ To get the best from it you need to adopt a hybrid mindset, not just pick and choose practices used by hybrid teams. That said, it couldn’t hurt to look at visual project management (think Spotify and Google), hold more quick stand-up meetings in temporary areas (when it makes more sense than booking a meeting room), and use your new collaboration furniture, social sofas, and focus booths.
Long gone are the days where everyone and everything was crowded into one big space (or herded into cubicles) with no real research behind it, and without offering any choice. Today’s hybrid workspace designers have thought of everything, from sound-absorbing wall panels and acoustic ceilings to zone planning and proxemics. We know about the effects of noise on concentration for introverts and extroverts, how it impacts productivity on different job tasks, and most importantly, we know what workers actually want (because we ask). Today’s hybrid workspaces feature better acoustics, more options for working environments, and as a result, better creativity, productivity, and employee wellbeing than ever before.
Hybrid has long been a forward-thinking approach to work. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses were experimenting with trusting their employees more, and empowering them with more freedom to work how they choose.
We have an image of the ‘typical’ office in our minds. That image needs to be entirely transformed in the post-COVID world. The hybrid working approach is capable of facilitating a fully hybrid working environment, with enough flexibility to really enable employees to manage their work-life balance in a way that works for them. COVID-19 accelerated this change and put remote working at the forefront of business priorities. Technology plays a central role in the new hybrid office, and helps organisations stay ready for change.
What’s key about the hybrid working approach is that it focuses on the user. This keeps it sustainable, innovative, and supportive. In a post-pandemic world, that is essential.