Experts say there is no one-size-fits-all template for how to create a hybrid office.Landlords and property owners looking for a template to design the hybrid office of today will likely be sorely disappointed, experts in the field suggest. “There is not a one-size-fits-all, there’s no real silver bullet, there’s no overall template,” argues Lisa Fulford-Roy, senior vice-president of client strategy with CBRE. “Successful and thoughtful hybrid programs are based on what is fundamental to the business in order to achieve its goals,” she continues. “A hybrid office space needs to offer companies flexibility. The traditional office space of the past was often a lot of individual offices for managers, with desks for employees. A hybrid office needs to offer space to experiment with different configurations.” The COVID pandemic, which required most employees to work from home, only accelerated changes in office design that were already underway, prompted and enabled by technology. “Technology is changing how and when people work. No longer are employees sitting at desks processing paper, but instead are moving around the workplace or off-site as they collaborate with colleagues and clients,” says Michele Fischer, a senior adviser in real estate with Deloitte. “Most employees do not want to feel tethered to their desks for eight hours per day.” Fischer agrees that there is no one-size-fits-all template for how to create a hybrid office, which combines remote work with an in-office presence. It all depends on business goals and the expectations of what such an office can do for the company and employees, she says. “As long as they're being effective, many employees realize they can work from home and do their jobs and they like the flexibility that that allows,” Fischer notes, adding that employees have to be enticed to return to the office now that the pandemic is not disrupting daily life. “It's hard putting that genie back in the bottle.” Her recommendation is that office space use an activity-based work (ABW) model and move away from a traditional office design with dedicated work areas. “In an ABW environment, employees choose between a variety of different workspaces,” she explains. “Employees do not have a single dedicated workstation and can work in the kind of space that best supports the type of work they are going to be doing on any given day. “Spaces are designed to create opportunities for a variety of activities, from focused work to impromptu collaboration or more formal meetings,” she adds. Just as many companies have been examining the pros and cons of a hybrid office, landlords have to think about how to make their properties more attractive to rent in the new reality. Fischer, who herself works in a hybrid office, says most businesses are considering moving to a hybrid office situation, if they haven't made the change already. She suggests companies discuss the idea with employees and use a pilot project to determine what works best. From July 2021 through November 2021, Deloitte conducted an online assessment that garnered responses from more than 8,000 business professionals from hundreds of organizations and asked their preferences for virtual versus in-person work. Just over 10 per cent of respondents said they want to work almost exclusively virtually, and just under 10 per cent said they preferred to work almost exclusively in person. At the same time, 22 per cent said they would like to opt for a bit more in-person time, 23 per cent preferred a bit more virtual time, and 35 per cent wanted an even split. “Planning to make sweeping changes that will affect your organizational culture and performance for years to come could be a risk without a clear understanding if these changes are the right solutions for your organization. Piloting new spaces provides a low-risk and high-reward solution,” Fischer says. One way to make the physical office attractive to employees, she says, is by emphasizing the social aspect and “celebrating the unplanned by fostering a sense of being together in a post-pandemic office.” “During the lockdowns, we’ve said goodbye to casual connections or ‘collisions’ where we had impromptu conversations,” Fischer says. “If we think about the physical space, it really has to deliver on a great experience in order to make it worth the commute, so you're really competing with the comfort of home that has developed over the past couple of years and then also competing with whether or not it's worth making the commute in and out of the office,” says Fulford-Roy. “That doesn't mean there's necessarily pool tables everywhere and free food all day every day, but thinking effectively about what the experience needs to be to connect back to the business priorities, objectives and culture of the organization.” Fischer stresses the need to create spaces around what she calls “moments that matter” by using the five Cs (collaboration, community, creativity, coaching and culture). There needs to be space for in-person collaboration and shared workspaces for “teaming,” she adds. The goal is to provide an “environment rich with opportunities for interaction, connection and socialization,” she notes. Fischer cautions that remote work reduces opportunities for spontaneous creativity. Equally, she says, engaged employees need strong connections and development opportunities with managers and other team members. “The five Cs are meant to represent the common motivations for employees to come to the office – not necessarily to work solo on a spreadsheet or spend the day on calls. “What spaces do companies need to enable the five Cs in the physical workplace? In blanket terms, the answer is often more open space, conference space, whiteboard, collaboration and interaction space,” Fischer says.
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