What does the future of work look like? With manufacturing facilities and other essential businesses continuing to work after remaining open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and many office jobs announcing that their temporary remote work arrangements will become permanent, other companies are adopting a hybrid approach to the modern workplace.
Such a hybrid approach is quickly transforming demand for commercial real estate and influencing architectural requirements, leading to an increase in the hot-desking trend, and causing some businesses to abandon commercial leases altogether in favor of co-working spaces.
This poses unique challenges and prospects for company culture—and a major opportunity for business growth.
What is a hybrid workplace model?
A hybrid work model is one in which employees spend part of their time working in the company office and part of their time working elsewhere. The company may be remote-first in that most employees are not required to regularly work from the company office, but the hybrid model still allows for the flexibility for some centralized corporate office work.
The hybrid model can take two forms:
- The company dictates when employees must be present at the office. Companies may preselect a certain amount of days or certain days of the week for employees to be in-house that may account for rotating schedules, synergy of departments, and office capacity for adhering to social distancing.
- The employee meets with their manager to discuss their preferences and establish a mutually agreeable schedule. If their job function does not require them to be physically present employees can elect to work in-office as frequently or infrequently as they’d like.
This hybrid model will lead to business model transformation.
Commercial office space and office-architecture trends
Tech startups garnered attention for their Millennial-focused perks such as pool tables and ping-pong, cold-brew coffee, and beanbag chairs to promote a laid-back work environment. This trend necessitated square footage that could accommodate an office structure in which employees were encouraged to spend time at the office outside of their regular 9-5 hours.
During the economic uncertainty of the pandemic, businesses felt the pressure of tightening budgets and fixed costs came under intense scrutiny. Physical office space, particularly as it went unused when non-essential businesses transitioned to remote work, came into focus as both costly and no longer necessary. The commercial real estate firm CBRE reports that new leases and renewals dropped 36% in 2020.
The need for large office spaces shrunk initially because, unfortunately, many companies were forced to downsize staff. However, as business ramps up again and hiring resurges, the hybrid model means that the entire staff will no longer be required to report to the physical office at the same time. Instead, departments will collaborate in the office on a rotating basis. Even if more employees are hired than once worked in an office during pre-pandemic employment levels, fewer desks and fewer square feet of office space are needed in the future of business operations.
Hot desking: How it works, how it will affect technology
By definition, hot desking is a practice in which office seating is unassigned and employees do not get exclusive access to a desk. Instead, desks may be used by several people who work at different times and/or on different days. This allows for a smaller office space when staff rotates in on different days and can therefore be a cost-saving organizational system.
Major companies across industry have jumped on the hot-desking bandwagon. Toy company LEGO keeps momentum going by offering flexible work zones, like open booths and huddle rooms. Consulting firm Deloitte offers 1,000 desks to around 2,500 employees. And the bank Citigroup gives staff a choice of where to sit each morning, and even the CEO doesn’t have a private office.
Some employees may prefer the stability and convenience of a personal desk, so offering small storage lockers may be a helpful solution. However, there’s much to appreciate about hot desking. It allows for the democratization of staff seating, with equal opportunity to sit by a window, and, with a little planning, near or far from upper management. Studies have also linked the trend to an increase in knowledge-sharing, greater social opportunities, and more innovation.
To avoid having more employees show up on a given day than the number of available desks, businesses should invest in scheduling software and apps that allow for convenient sign-ups and real-time availability. It will also allow departments and teams to book desks next to each other and meeting rooms together.
Hot desking will further accelerate the adoption of cloud-based technology. Whether there are stationary desktops at each workstation or employees are provided with personal laptops, cloud computing allows for the flexibility to access data anywhere, at any time, and in real-time.
That said, the move to the cloud poses cybersecurity vulnerabilities that businesses should account for.
As we posted recently on Thomas Insights, cybercrime is forecasted to cost the world $6 trillion by this year. It can take such forms as side channel attacks, denial-of-service (DoS), malware injection attacks, and other means. It’s critical, therefore, that businesses invest in training employees about how to avoid potential threats, such as phishing scams, and invest in cloud-based security. Companies should encourage strong authentication, enhance their security policies, and maintain secure APIs, among other measures.
Co-working spaces for cost savings and agility
Some businesses selecting to go the hybrid route may choose to give up commercial real estate altogether for what might be considered a more extreme version of hot desking: the co-working space. Perhaps best popularized by WeWork, a co-working solution is one in which various companies share an office space. Typically, these spaces include hot desking and bookable private conference rooms as well as a shared kitchen that is sometimes outfitted with snacks and beverages.
There are numerous advantages to co-working: it reduces costs through shared office space, furniture, equipment, and utilities, as well as shared mailroom, maintenance, and custodial staff. What many laud these co-working spaces for, though, is their culture. Their communal nature encourages synergistic opportunities. For example, other proprietors or freelancers using the space may offer a product or service that you are seeking, which may result in a natural collaboration. They may even help you expand your vision for your business by bringing new trends, technologies, and opportunities to your attention.
Even if you aren’t seeking external means to build your business, co-working spaces are reputed for the energy they bring to office culture—an energy that will carry over to your team. Individuals who work in coworking spaces self-report that they are thriving at higher levels compared to those who work in traditional offices, and the Harvard Business Review suggests this is because they find their work is meaningful, they have more autonomy and control over where and when they work, and they feel like they are part of a community.
How will the hybrid model affect company culture?
The hybrid model is a little like a two-headed beast. It has all the positives of a fully remote operation — as well as all the negatives. In the best-case scenario, it’s the best of both worlds.
Because employees have the option to return to the office — or a new co-working space — it’s easy to forget that there are still not regular opportunities for colleagues to come together all at the same time. The result could be disunity and a lack of team building.
That’s why it’s important to continue to invest in a strong virtual presence even if you go the hybrid route. Continue engaging staff on instant messaging platforms like Slack, hosting routine webinars, and offering virtual team-building opportunities like trivia nights and virtual happy hours.
Employees returning to the office may still be concerned about their health and safety given the evolving nature of the pandemic and the rollout of vaccines. Communicating clear guidelines and protocols surrounding vaccination policy, a culture of mask-wearing, and office cleaning schedules can assuage fears.
Because staff thrives when they have more flexibility and control over their jobs, a hybrid model is ideal. When implemented correctly, it can provide both more autonomy and more collaboration. The result is better-engaged workers who are more productive and innovative.