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Could the hybrid office of the future increase productivity?

The COVID pandemic has disrupted so many aspects of working life, but few more so than the traditional office, with thousands of employees forced to swap their regular workplace for home workspace.

Now, as they begin to emerge from the lockdown, what kind of office will they be returning to?

The desire to return to the daily commute to the office is likely to be low, for staff and managers alike. It’s equally likely that people won’t want to work remotely all the time, so a balance between the two seems a reasonable compromise. In fact, 60% of employees polled for the ‘Working from Home Survey’* by Engaging Works thought dividing their time between home and office working would be the ideal way to split their working week.

With this new pattern of work, the traditional office will morph into something less structured and more focused on employee engagement and wellbeing, completely transforming familiar working practices. Employers will need to find ways of adopting fluid remote work styles within the formal office setting, keeping employees content, motivated and engaged, without compromising critical business issues of productivity, innovation, and talent acquisition.

Welcome to the hybrid office of the future

On the whole, productivity appears to have been boosted by being away from the office. According to research from identity management firm Okta**, over half (55%) of UK workers said that home working had increased their productivity levels. But for some firms, it can have the opposite effect. Take the sales sector, for example, where employees tend to be at their best in a high energy, incentive-driven competitive environment. Even with the best technology, this is difficult to replicate, and consequently, some firms in this sector are anticipating a drop in productivity among their home-based sales staff especially at the beginning of the transition to home working.

55% of UK workers said home-working had increased their productivity levels

Clearly, while some types of work can be done more efficiently solo from home, in others, greater productivity relies on teams sharing the same physical workspace. A hybrid office, with the choice of where and when to work, effectively supports both. The model could also confer greater autonomy on employees, who will be able to choose what type of work they do when they are at home compared with being in the office.

Striking the right balance will be challenging, and some employers may resist a move away from the traditional office-based workforce. Others, having calculated the cost benefits of a home-based workforce, and the fact that remote staff can be just as productive, could question the need to maintain a centralised office workspace. However, while the concept of having thousands of people working in a building may be a thing of the past, as Barclays CEO, Jes Staley, recently pointed out, the office is far from dead and has a vital role to play in fulfilling employees’ emotional and wellbeing needs.

57% of home-based employees missed having in-person conversations with their co-workers

A huge benefit of working from home is the opportunity for a better work-life balance, especially for those with family and other responsibilities. But as the Okta survey revealed, 57% of home-based employees missed having in-person conversations with their co-workers and the relationships they have forged with those in the office. A pick and mix hybrid office model offers the best of both worlds.

Tech-enabled communications 

Technology has been the biggest driver of remote working, with videoconferencing software, and collaboration tools keeping people connected and able to ‘meet’ and complete projects from anywhere, at any time. However, when staff spend time together in the same physical workspace, they are able to communicate in deeper ways than remote technology currently allows. For example, by learning the nuances of each other’s body language and gestures, it becomes easier for people to share ideas and harder for them to mask their disapproval.

Communication technology is getting smarter, and in a hybrid office, technology will have an even greater role to play, seamlessly connecting two very different working environments by enabling people to maintain a ‘presence’ in the office when in fact they are somewhere else, supported by next-generation communication and answering service technology with built-in sentiment analysis capability.

That same smart technology will also enhance client interactions, collective energy and collaboration, regardless of where people are working; and out of effective collaboration and collective energy comes innovation, and in a climate of change, it is what businesses need to focus on.

The future workspace 

In establishing a hybrid office, companies will need to adapt their physical office, for example, downsizing work stations and reconfiguring space for events, training, socialising, and the final stages of the hiring process, when human interaction is imperative. It will become a place where workers can still go to engage with company culture, collaborate with colleagues and clients, and offer a welcome work environment if and when there are distractions at home.

In the past large organisations with traditional office structures and rigid hours resisted moves towards these more flexible work patterns. COVID -19 has forced them to test it out. But many businesses had adopted their own version of the hybrid office long before the coronavirus pandemic.

At fintech challenger bank, Monzo, remote working is described as distributed working.

Employees can work from home from time to time, and around 37% work remotely all the time. Every other Friday the whole company works from home. Meetings are recorded for their remote workers to stream later, and there are regular social gatherings to keep the whole team engaged.

At Zappos, whose culture and innovation has been driven largely by the serendipitous workplace interactions, or ‘collisions’, that have strengthened employee relationships inside and outside its Las Vegas HQ, remote working has become more prevalent in recent years. However, a hybrid office concept has always been part of the culture at Zappos, with coworking outside the office for at least three to four hours a day actively encouraged by CEO Tony Hsieh, whose own belief is that what really kills productivity and culture is working from home alone.

The future workplace has been the subject of debate for many years. Yet in just a few short weeks, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed how people work beyond all recognition, laying the foundations of the hybrid office that can reap the cost, flexibility, productivity and wellbeing benefits for businesses and their employees alike.

Data sources:
*Working from Home survey

**Okta survey

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