6 Ways to Improve Office Design for Hybrid Companies
Office design has long been a well-meaning, if not necessarily successful exercise to motivate the workforce. Cubicles, for instance, were once considered an innovative way to provide privacy to employees at a fraction of the cost of private offices.
Of course, numerous studies have since shown cubicles aren't as productive as once imagined. In recent years, we've seen cubicles replaced by the open workplace. But that hasn't been a clear winner either in terms of office space planning strategies.
Today, most organizations understand there's no one-size-fits-all design that is guaranteed to wow and motivate workers. Plus, the proliferation of remote and hybrid work means less time spent in the office, which begs the question: what should office design look like today?
The New Hybrid Workplace
Since COVID-19 forced office employees to work from home, there's been a lot of debate about which work model is best for business — and which is best for workers. Interestingly, research has shown that there's a happy medium between the two.
A 2021 PwC survey found that 54% of employees favored working from home three times a week. That number echoed a 2020 finding by Gensler that showed that proportion at 52%.
The good news is, business leaders agree that hybrid working is an excellent option, with 72% of global business leaders planning hybrid working patterns.
So, where does that leave office space design? What purpose does the central office serve when employees are spending sometimes more than half their time away from it? Turns out, there are several ways that companies can design the office for better productivity and improved connections for hybrid workers. Here are six considerations.
1. Conference Room Update
Virtual meetings are a centerpiece of today's digital and hybrid workplace, so conference rooms should emulate the experience of everyone being in the same room. This will help those not in the office feel more connected and included in the conversation.
Installing a large screen that can display the faces of virtual attendees should top the to-do list here, along with reliable microphones and web cameras to make it all seamless. Meeting rooms should also be closed off so that those attending are not disrupting others in the office — and vice versa.
Beyond these now-basic necessities, consider the synergy around the technology.
"Round tables eliminate the 'head of the table,'" said Sheikh Shourav, founder and president of Pleasanton, California-based Apploye. "Place a monitor, so remote employees and on-screen documents are visible. Use a video conferencing or 360° smart camera to capture conference attendees, [and] use a whiteboard or camera for notes and visuals."
Related Article: What Makes an Office Worth Coming To
2. Think Modular Designs
Part of the appeal of hybrid working is the flexibility it brings workers. But it also allows offices to become more fluid, without assigned purposes. For instance, one moment the accounting department could use an area of the office more suited to the monthly sales report; the next, that same space could be used for training new interns.
Having an office space that is adjustable to the specific needs of employees at the time is a great motivator to bring people on site to collaborate. It can also help reduce the amount of square footage needed to operate, thereby saving on overhead costs.
3. Some Privacy Please
While collaboration and group work is vital for the success of specific tasks, there are times when employees and leaders need to have some disruption-free time.
There are many sources of potential disruption in an office setting, but a pre-pandemic CareerBuilder survey had found office gossip and co-workers dropping by to chat among the top distractions — at 37% and 27% respectively.
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Providing options for employees to tap into distraction-free spaces as needed can help focus efforts and increase productivity.
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4. The Comfort of Home
One of the main bonuses of working from home is comfort. For an office space to compete, leaders need to consider the comfort it provides. Office chairs should be comfortable, and there should be areas within the office where employees can relax and take breaks.
"Create a space that is comfortable and inviting for all. This means having plenty of seating, ample natural light and access to reliable Wi-Fi," said Erik Pham, senior editor at Grove City, Ohio-based Health Canal, who also suggests companies get rid of plastic chairs in the canteen and replace them with softer sitting areas or sofas to create more inviting collaborative social spaces.
"Make sure there are plenty of communal spaces where employees can come together to collaborate or simply take a break from their workstations," Pham said. "These can be anything from casual lounge areas to more formal meeting rooms."
5. Toss the Tubes
One deterrent of the traditional office is often the achromatic, bland look of the space. Perfectly lined up desks with florescent tube lighting, white walls and grey industrial carpet can be very uninspiring and demotivating.
Some of the best offices today have been transformed to look less like a business area and more like a space where work, fun and social can all happen. Some companies have even given different looks to different areas of the office to suit different tastes and vibes. Employees can then move from one space to another, during the day, instead of staring at the same white wall day in and day out.
Related Article: The Future of Office Design After COVID
6. Booking Systems
Some hybrid workplaces have limited space, particularly when it comes to conference room availability. Integrating a booking system for collaboration spaces can help employees find the right day and time to meet or come into the office.
Most systems today are hosted on the cloud and can be accessed very easily by everyone. Adding this software can reduce any annoyances that workers may experience coming into the office only to find out the conference room or a certain collaboration space is occupied.
In the end, the idea of the hybrid workplace is to give remote employees an inviting place to conduct their work and connect with colleagues. Resisting to make the office comfortable and inspiring can increase the risk of resentment among those who are forced to commute to the office.
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