Not long ago, companies expected most employees to be in the office in person from nine to five every day. When COVID-19 hit, businesses took a sudden and dramatic turn to remote work. In the United States, nearly 70 percent of full-time employees transitioned to remote work during the pandemic.
As the pandemic recedes, employees are returning to in-person work. But work doesn’t look like it did before the pandemic. Many companies are going hybrid, meaning their employees may spend some of their time working at home and some of their time working in the office.
Even once COVID-19 is firmly in our rearview mirror, hybrid work will undoubtedly continue. More than 70 percent of employees want to work in a hybrid or remote workplace, according to an Owl Labs study. Facing this new reality, managers may want to update their offices with hybrid work in mind to help them retain employees and appeal to prospective hires.
Keep reading to better understand the transition to hybrid work and its benefits. Then we’ll dig into design and furniture options to support collaboration in a hybrid workplace.
Flexible work is here to stay
Flexible work is a win-win for employees and employers. Employees like having the ability to work from home. In fact, their job satisfaction may depend on it. According to the 2021 State of Remote Work report by Owl Labs, one in three employees said they would quit if forced to give up remote work. Plus, an additional 18 percent of workers were undecided about whether they’d quit.
A January 2021 survey by PwC found that 55 percent of workers would prefer a hybrid work model where they worked from home for three or more days. A survey by Gensler similarly found that 52 percent of workers would prefer a hybrid work week.
Employees are not alone in the desire for hybrid work. Executives, too, realize that a hybrid workplace is the new future. In the PwC survey, only 20 percent of executives wanted a return to full-time, in-office work, with the majority (29 percent) preferring a three-day in-office work week. Globally, 72 percent of corporate leaders plan to offer a hybrid model.
Employers are increasingly seeing the benefits of remote and hybrid work. For instance, in June 2020, 73 percent of employers said the shift to remote work had been successful. Just six months later, that number was up to 83 percent.
The success companies have had isn’t surprising considering other research suggests remote workers are productive workers. In the Owls Lab study, 90 percent of workers say they’re the same or more productive when they work at home.
An overwhelming number (94 percent) of business and IT leaders say hybrid work helps them recruit talent and stay competitive. But to have a hybrid workforce, you need a hybrid work environment. According to a Microsoft report, 66 percent of leaders say their company is considering redesigning the office space for hybrid work. Yet hybrid workspaces come with challenges. Unlike with a fully remote or in-person environment, management needs to integrate those who are physically in the office with those working from home.
If not executed properly, at-home employees can feel left out, disgruntled, or disengaged. The majority (68 percent) of management and IT leaders believe they’re not prepared to support the shift to hybrid work. But when executed properly, a hybrid workspace helps bring people together, fosters collaboration, and keeps employees happy.
How to create a successful hybrid workplace
Keep these ideas in mind when designing a functional hybrid workspace.
Focus on furniture that allows for collaboration.
One of the key benefits to working in the office is more seamless collaboration. Collaboration can be hard to replicate in the remote office. In fact, one study found that 20 percent of workers identified collaboration and communication as the biggest struggle for remote workers. And 49 percent of workers said collaboration was easier at the office, compared to 15 percent who found collaboration easier at home.
When in the office, invest in office furniture that promotes effortless collaboration. We’ll discuss furniture that works well in a hybrid office below.
Design a collaborative, flexible workspace.
In past decades, popular office designs featured closed spaces for meetings and a more open work environment (like cubicles) for individual workstations. As work turns hybrid, these spaces will likely flip. Meetings will happen in open spaces that can be enclosed with movable barriers to allow for more flexible, on-the-go collaborations. On the other hand, to better mimic the at-home work environment and satisfy employees, offices will increasingly have individual enclosed spaces. One study found that 47 percent of workers would prefer a private work environment—yet only 21 percent have one. Private workspaces give workers the privacy they’ve come to expect and allow for more seamless video calls—without bothering neighboring workers.
Bring the flexibility of home to work.
Transitioning back to a nine-to-five environment after years at home is a culture shock. And it may not be necessary. Even on days when in the office, consider whether you can offer flexible arrival and departure times, built-in break times, casual dress, or similar perks that are a mainstay of working from home.
Create a comfortable environment that people want to work in.
Between dogs barking, kids interrupting, and internet problems, remote work isn’t all roses and unicorns. These distractions and more can leave workers yearning for a return to the peace and quiet of the office.
Sweeten the pot by creating a haven of a workspace. Think about including the amenities that workers most want. Top of the list: free parking. Other perks can also make the return to the office easier. Consider including a coffee or tea service, meditation rooms, dry cleaning service, or to-go food options.
Invest in technology.
When some employees are in the office and some are remote, remote employees can feel left out. Technology can help bridge the divide. The majority (89 percent) of employers plan to invest in technology within the next 12 to 18 months to support a hybrid workforce.
Many are upgrading at-home video technology. In 2021, 38 percent of businesses reported investing in improved video technology. Other examples of technology investment include providing excellent monitors for at-home and in-person workers, supporting solid WiFi, and choosing interactive features like a digital whiteboard.
Consider smart desk-booking software.
When the office is hybrid, employees don’t necessarily need an assigned desk—particularly if the office moves away from a cubicle model and into discrete individual workspaces. You can ease the transition to shared workspaces with smart desk-booking software. Desk-booking software allows employees to book a specific workspace in advance, a practice called hoteling. Alternatively, software can also allow for “hot desking,” when employees claim a desk on a first-come, first-served basis.
Furniture options for a hybrid workforce
Furniture is an important part of creating a functional and comfortable hybrid workspace. When designing your hybrid office, you want functional, comfortable furniture that easily allows for collaboration. Here are some furniture items to consider.
· Modular workstations
Modular furniture can be arranged in many different ways. It’s generally easy to assemble and easy to move as well. It’s ideal for flexible workspaces because you can design it (and redesign it) to fit your company’s changing daily needs.
· Collaborative conference tables
The one-size-fits-all behemoth conference table does not have to be the norm. Your conference table should reflect your company’s needs and space. Examples of collaborative conference tables include uniquely shaped tables, multiple smaller tables, or utility tables. Whatever you choose, be sure it can accommodate the tech needs of your hybrid office.
· Lounge seating
One of the great benefits of working from home is you don’t need to sit in an uncomfortable office chair all day. You can work from your couch if you want to. Lounge seating allows for the comfort of working from home in the office. It also builds a cozy atmosphere that encourages impromptu collaborations and socialization. In fact, working in office lounge areas may help workers be more productive than workers in offices without them.
· Community spaces
One of the things that employees missed the most when going remote was the casual small talk of the office. These watercooler conversations or coffee chats play a crucial role in making the office feel connected. Consider creating a community space that people want to gravitate to. Think about comfortable furniture, food and drink perks, or maybe even some breakroom games, like ping pong or word games.
We’ve all gotten used to Zoom whiteboards. They’re a great way to get ideas flowing and foster communication. They’re especially helpful for visual learners, who like to be able to see where communication is going. With part of the office at home and part in the office, a Zoom whiteboard may not cut it. Neither does the traditional whiteboard, which excludes remote workers. Think about investing in a smart whiteboard, an interactive digital whiteboard that allows all employees to contribute their ideas equally.
· Enclosed pods to enable video conversations
While open offices are great for collaboration and flexible seating, they can get a bit noisy. Mobile call and meeting pods allow workers to have a quiet space to take a video call, have a meeting, or just take a quiet moment. These pods are generally see-through (imagine a large phone booth) and can be placed anywhere in the office. People can pop in and out when needed without taking up an entire office.
· Smart desks that automatically change for each employee’s settings
The main drawback to desk sharing is that your desk may not feel like your own. But smart desks can alleviate that frustration. Some desks will automatically adjust to the employee’s height, angle the monitor at the employee’s preferred angle, and even adjust the heat to preferred settings. One perk that Google’s management added to their offices: A small display on each desk is programmed to show an employee’s family photos.
Hybrid is the future of work. As more employees transition away from fully remote work, it’s time to build a hybrid work environment that captures the benefits of in-office work while retaining the comforts of remote work.