The Future of Hybrid Work is Here: Insights from Companies Building Flexible Offices
Hybrid work looks different for every organization. What they have in common is open communication, flexible office space, and the right technology.
As the world opens back up, a rising number of employers want people to return to offices more frequently, if not full time. Employees, on the other hand, fervently desire flexible schedules and better work-life balance. Can the two coexist? Is it possible to bridge the gap between what employers want and what employees desire?
We wanted to understand the current hybrid landscape. So we spoke with experts from leading companies like Indeed to get insight into what they’re doing – the do’s and don’ts of setting up a successful hybrid environment.
In this article, we’ll summarize lessons learned based on real-world examples. How are companies approaching hybrid work? What strategies have proven successful?
Set Business Objectives and Include Employee Input
Here’s one thing we heard loud and clear: No matter what your hybrid environment is like, it needs to support your business objectives. Sure, you want your employees to be happy, but there also needs to be structure around how, when, and where people work to ensure your goals are met.
“Successful businesses today need to realize that results are going to come from the creation of amazing places to work and collaborate, whether that’s in the office, at home, or a hybrid situation,” says David Brown, head of brand experience at DIRTT, which provides industrialized construction for interior spaces. “Creating the right environment for teams is key to driving results.”
The balance between business goals and what employees want requires open communication. Leaders set the priorities but employees should be included in the conversation to help define their organization’s hybrid environment. This collaboration can happen company-wide through employee surveys or through discussions between managers and their direct reports to determine what works best for everyone.
But whatever you do, don’t just collect information from your employees to make it appear you want their input. You need to actually use it.
“If you are going to engage employees in asking for their feedback, at the very least acknowledge it and do something with it,” says Jenni Bedell, HR consulting practice leader for OneDigital, an insurance, financial services, and HR consulting advisory firm. “The worst thing you can do is ask for employee feedback and it goes nowhere.”
And gather the data. You need employee input but you also need real-time information. Review when people come into the office and where they tend to gather. See which offices and conference rooms are being used, when they’re being used, and by how many. With all this data, you can then start designing or redesigning your office space.
Design Spaces Around People to Prioritize Human Connection
How people feel about work has changed in the last couple of years. Our relationship to the office, to each other, and to work itself continues to evolve as priorities shift and we realize just how important human connection is.
We all learned during the pandemic, for example, that working from home has its benefits – such as the ability to focus on “deep work.” But working from home also has its drawbacks, including a lack of social interaction and greater friction in collaboration. Being together and drawing inspiration from each other is vitally important.
Now when we come into offices, we want spaces that can accommodate collaborative work and social time as well as meaningful quiet time to focus on our own projects.
At Indeed, a company that provides people with resources to search for and apply to job opportunities, the office is a destination for gathering, but for various purposes. The sales teams work in person to foster stronger mentoring relationships. The user experience team works on various studies and focus groups, benefiting from co-locating. Others meet onsite to build and sustain employee communities, such as a Latinx in Tech group or Parents and Caregivers events.
Image courtesy of Indeed
“There are so many different places you can find meetings, and that’s been a huge change in the last three years,” says Daniel Muraida, collaboration technology design manager at Indeed. “And it's a huge help. Yes, people do that remotely, but people really like gathering with those groups in the office, too, because it breaks down barriers.”
Be Intentional About Flexibility
When people come into the office, the physical spaces need to accommodate their ability to gather in groups or work individually. Office design needs to be done thoughtfully and with the possibility of easily shifting spaces.
This flexibility is something DIRTT excels at. Its business is building dynamic spaces for companies and working with clients to create useful offices to accommodate their needs.
“Start with the technology and build around that experience,” says Andy Nolloth, integrative technology subject matter expert at DIRTT. “Think about the experience for people in the room, but those outside the room as well.”
Image credit: James John Jetel, courtesy of DIRTT
Nolloth offers various suggestions for improving space utilization. Consider the light, acoustics, multi-screen setups, audio with modular microphones, and so on, so everyone can be seen and heard clearly during meetings. Provide technology that allows people to remotely book rooms or spaces for the day. And build spaces to be malleable.
Muraida from Indeed says that before the pandemic, many of Indeed’s meeting rooms would accommodate eight or more people. But now that fewer people come together in person, the company redesigned rooms to hold two to three participants for smaller collaborative sessions. And that flexibility in spaces allows teams to gather quickly on an ad hoc basis when a problem arises that can be solved with a quick huddle.
Make Sure Employees are Properly Equipped for Hybrid Work
Research suggests that giving employees flexibility in their daily schedules leads to higher productivity and strong organizational cultures. The Future Forum’s Pulse Report shows that in companies that offer more flexibility with schedules, employees have better focus (64%) and overall heightened productivity (39%).
Flexibility is certainly one advantage of hybrid work. But it requires more than just a shift in management approach. To make hybrid work possible, companies need to invest in technology that enables employees to flow easily between environments – the home office, a shared desk in the office, a meeting room.
Because wherever employees happen to be, they should be able to collaborate on equal footing with their colleagues, particularly when they’re in different locations and meeting virtually. We call this “meeting equity,” and it’s vital to hybrid work.
Unfortunately, many employees are not able to fully participate in meetings while remote, in part because they are not properly equipped. More than 85% of remote workers say they struggle with audio and video, according to recent research from Logitech.
Companies like DIRTT take this issue seriously and strive to fix it. “We have people that are not comfortable coming back into the office yet or work better at home,” says DIRTT’s Nolloth. “They’re not physically present in the office, but with the right technology they can still have a voice at the table.” He recommends that companies give employees the tools they need to feel included in the conversation.
Reap the Rewards of Hybrid Work
Providing the right technology and flexibility with people’s schedules can lead to happier, more productive employees. During a competitive business climate, these employees are more likely to remain with your company.
“When you empower people to do their best work and give them the opportunity to have flexibility, it becomes an ownership issue,” says Indeed’s Muraida. “We’ve given you tools and the space you need — what else can we offer to help you work more efficiently?”
While a hybrid environment may take some getting used to, it’s here to stay. Putting more thought into it now will help create a smoother transition that will lead to overall productivity and efficiency. Ultimately, companies that adapt to hybrid work will be more successful in the long run. And so will their employees.