A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations across the globe are planning a return to work as social distancing regulations relax and office reopenings enter the horizon of possibility. But after 12+ months of teams functioning remotely, many are reevaluating the need for traditional physical office spaces when working from home now feels like a viable option.
The trick for office managers now, is how to seamlessly combine the benefits of working remotely with the logistical solutions that a physical workspace provides.
Enter the rise of the hybrid office.
The hybrid office, sometimes referred to as the flex office or flex workspace, is a concept that reimagines how organizations gather and collaborate to carry out their business. By combining the best aspects of remote work with the opportunities an office affords, the hybrid office model offers the most productive, cost-effective and human-centered approach to working as an organization.
The best of both worlds
A hybrid office allows employees the chance to work from home when it’s convenient, and work from a physical office space when it’s necessary. As is commonly said in our digital world, work is no longer a place as much as an activity. The hybrid office is built on that idea, giving employees the freedom to choose where and how they work best.
“Work is an activity, not a place.”– NineShift
The trend towards hybrid offices was underway well before the pandemic accelerated us further towards it. You only have to look at the rise of the coworking space and increasingly flexible WFH benefits being offered by tech companies over the last few years to see that work has been slowly shifting out of big, centralized offices and onto laptops wherever there is wifi.
But the pandemic-forced exodus from the office also proved the sometimes intangible value of physical connections between coworkers in a physical space. Collaboration, creativity and culture are often harder to foster over Zoom than they are when hundreds of interactions are happening every day in the office. People seem to miss office parties as much as they love working in their pajamas, and with good reason.
Hybrid office models allow for both.
Trends in hybrid office models
The logistics of what a hybrid office looks like varies between the needs of one company versus another. It will include maintaining some sort of physical office space, though who works there and when will be different. Here are some of the most popular hybrid office arrangements at the moment:
Shift or rotation work
In this arrangement, employees cycle their time between the office and WFH in “shifts.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that every 8 hours people clock in or out; instead it means that certain days are reserved in the office for different people. Rather than having everyone in the office at once, this system allows teams to make the most of collaborative spaces on a scheduled basis.
Rented coworking spaces
For many organizations, there might not be any reason to maintain their own office at all. Instead, companies are renting smaller units of coworking spaces as they are needed to facilitate in person meetings, brainstorming sessions or other collaborative work between selected members of their teams. The benefits to coworking spaces are numerous— most notably that they are often cheaper than a traditional office lease.
Team-based office days
The most important aspects of office space is that they allow for easy collaboration. It makes sense then that one of the biggest trends in hybrid offices is to offer up the office to different teams on different days so they can do the creative and collaborative work that is more difficult via zoom. In this iteration the office rotates to different teams based on important work they happen to be undertaking at any given time.
Office for company culture
Company culture is very difficult to maintain when employees are not in the office together day in and day out. Hybrid office models can work around this by planning office-based activities to boost company culture, and inviting employees back in on select days. For events like parties, celebrations or just fun social activities it is useful to have a physical space.
Ability to book the office
Another popular hybrid office strategy is to make parts of the physical office space bookable by different individuals or teams within your organization. Tons of workplace management softwares have popped up to help make reserving spaces at work easy and efficient. You can think of this model as the Air B n B of office work.
Changes in office design
In addition to new strategies for choosing who should occupy the office and when, hybrid office organizations are also seeing changes to the way the office is arranged. This is more than just a furniture rearrangement— there are very real design trends associated with modern workplaces built for flexible work arrangements.
People are abandoning the idea that an office needs to be able to support 100% of its workforce at any given time. The result is that companies are downsizing their offices in favor of smaller, more intelligently designed spaces that work for rotating smaller teams.
More collaborative spaces
Even though the rise of the open-layout office space seemed to kill the cubicle and personal office model, the pandemic is the final nail in the coffin for siloed workspaces for every employee. What people need from physical offices is the ability to collaborate; people can be alone and focused at home. Note that there will certainly still be some spaces for individual work, especially while concerns about social distancing are still high.
Virtually integrated spaces
Office infrastructure has to be able to easily accommodate remote employees that are participating with employees in the office. Conference rooms and any other space where meetings are held tend to be outfitted with TVs and virtual conferencing setups so there is little disconnect between virtual and physical participants.
Encouraging people to come back to the office requires making the office more attractive. Offering better amenities like in house gyms, fully stocked kitchens, and recreation rooms are a good bet to make coming into the office worth it. Since there will be fewer times when the office needs to accommodate huge numbers of people, there is more room for luxe upgrades like these.
New ways to stay connected
At the heart of the hybrid office is the idea that employees can connect with one another even when not in the same physical location.. People at home must be able to connect with other remote employees. People in the office need to connect with those at home. And through it all, people managers will need new ways to connect everyone with the mission and culture of the company.
To make the hybrid office a success, office managers are turning to new softwares to help manage their new needs. These include the video conferencing and collaboration softwares like Slack, Zoom and, of course, the G Suite. More solutions are popping up every day to help address the new office management needs as well.
And for companies looking to maintain employee engagement and company culture, tools like Swag.com’s inventory management system allow people managers to easily send onboarding supplies, gifts and other important items to their employees wherever they are.
Conclusion: The hybrid office is here to stay
Even when the restrictions on social distancing are long behind us, the hybrid office model will remain popular. It offers a flexible, relatively inexpensive and people-centered approach to work that makes the best of our modern capabilities.
If you are looking for a way to integrate employee engagement strategies into your hybrid office plan, reach out to Swag.com to chat about how we can help supply your team and clients with the swag they need to be their best. From onboarding to employee anniversaries and more, we have the capabilities to send amazing products anywhere around the world, all with the click of a button.