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Before the pandemic, many organizations pushed back on remote work because they feared productivity would plummet if workers had the freedom to dictate where and when they worked. You can see the vestiges of this thinking during Goldman Sachs’ recent mandate that employees return to the office by June 14. There was public backlash over the announcement, as employees felt stressed because of Goldman’s lack of transparency in their return to office (RTO) plans. With 2020 introducing ultra-high levels of uncertainty into employees’ lives, the need for some level of control is vital. Organizations that don’t give employees the flexibility to choose when and how they want to work run the risk of ostracizing their employees. That’s where hybrid workplaces come into play.
Flaws in the Traditional Workplace Model
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but the opposite may be true as it pertains to the office. While people might sorely miss their work friends, it would be difficult to find employees who don’t enjoy eliminating their commute and having better work-life integration.
Offices are a remnant from the Industrial Age, where presence and “face time” were valued more than achievement and productivity. Senior managers wanted valued workers that showed up early and left late. But that antiquated model is changing, thanks in large part to technology. Mobile devices and smartphones have made it possible to accomplish tasks from anywhere in the world. The year 2020 showed us that it’s possible to form, manage, and nurture relationships through video calls. Because businesses quickly transitioned to remote work, workplace leaders – including IT, HR, and facilities executives – could see the negative aspects of in-person work more clearly.
Leading companies like Salesforce, Google, and Microsoft are moving toward a hybrid workplace model. Rather than forcing people to mold themselves around a static space, hybrid workplaces cater to the needs of employees. The office is built to support the work being done, not just house people that work for the same company from 9 to 5.
Would You Hire Your Office?
Forward-thinking businesses create purpose-built offices where people have the autonomy to use all of the company’s resources – collaboration spaces, tools, and people – to complete their best work. They are taking inventory of their physical and digital workplace tools and evaluating their worth within their hybrid workplace. Offices have a job to do: They need to unlock employees’ potential. Workplace leaders who undergo a thorough, honest assessment of their office’s ability to address employees’ needs – something similar to the Jobs-to-be-Done framework – gain valuable insights that enable them to adapt their space.
Think of this exercise as a job interview. Does the office offer adequate focus work areas for employees? Are the conference rooms equitably placed around the office so all departments can access them? Does your digital workplace deliver a consistent employee experience that is accessible for a multi-generational workforce, regardless of where people work? These are the questions that help IT, HR, and facilities leaders design effective workspaces that align with employees’ expectations and can help attract and retain top talent.
Hybrid Workplaces’ Goldilocks Challenge
Hybrid workplaces offer the best-case scenario for many businesses, but workplace leaders need to set clear guidelines on office asset usage and how to succeed in their new environment. Without that guidance, companies essentially give their employees sports cars with no speedometer and then tell them not to go too fast. People generally do the right thing when provided structure and proper context, so communication is essential from IT, HR, and facilities leaders. Employees need to be taught how to reintegrate into the workplace.
Education is critical when rolling out a hybrid workplace. It’s not realistic to open the office and expect people to operate right away effectively. Instead, workplace leaders should conduct all-hands meetings to provide concrete ways to maximize their time within the office. Employees’ growing love of remote work requires proactive management; otherwise, people may just not return to the office of their volition unless given a compelling reason.
To be clear, this isn’t an either/or situation. The moment a business has a single remote worker, the entire workplace dynamic has changed. Hybrid workplaces must support all people at all times. Finding the balance between employee empowerment and total autonomy is the biggest hybrid challenge.
It’s important to note that the perfect RTO strategy has not been created yet. Businesses are executing plans based on their business and employees’ needs. We’re all doing our best. However, IT, HR, and facilities leaders must create a feedback loop that includes both employee input and workplace analytics to refine their workplace strategy over time. It’s unlikely that businesses will create a utopian workplace right away. Still, an excellent goal to set for measuring the success of the organization’s RTO strategy is whether the majority of your employees can complete the sentence “I go to the office when__.” Purpose-built spaces paired with employee empowerment are the path forward. Businesses with a single-minded focus on employee experience that allows people to “opt in” instead of “opt out” will find success during this transformational period.