Redefining hybrid office space to boost employee productivity
May 10, 2023
May 23, 2023
By Dr. Gleb Tsipursky*
How should organizations reshape the hybrid office space to maximize productivity? What will the new workspace — from the office to homes — look like in the future? We know it will be different. But to survive and thrive in the post-COVID world, you need to adopt best practices on returning to the office.
Our Hybrid Future
Surveys say two-thirds to three-quarters of employers plan to operate on a mainly hybrid schedule after the pandemic. Most large companies plan to adopt the hybrid model. Some big corporations transitioned to having all of their remote employees work from home permanently. Employee preference is a crucial factor in the hybrid-first model. Eight major surveys (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) found a quarter to a third of employees want a full remote schedule permanently and over two-thirds a hybrid schedule. Less than 15 percent prefer full-time in-office.
An employee's desire for full-time remote work must correlate with task requirements and proven reliability. Some roles, like call center staff, are well-suited to remote work as they require no systematic collaboration.
Below, I outlined best practices on transforming workspaces based on 14 consulting projects of leaders and organizations I helped guide during these transitions.
Use of Work Space
The primary use of the office going forward will not be for individual work, as it was before the pandemic. Instead, the office will serve as a shared space for collaboration and team-building activities for the majority of the employees. Sure, some staff will end up doing individual work in the office, in-between collaborative tasks, but the large majority of tasks will be collaborative. Individual tasks will overwhelmingly be done at home, where they are much more productive.
Currently, typical offices have 80% of their space dedicated to personal use and 20% shared space. That needs to be changed. A hybrid model will cut costs on real estate and in-office services and products when staff less frequently come in.
While it feels nice to see each other more often to catch up but consider the following. Upon consulting, companies found that having their employees come to the office three days per week means saving about 20-30% of their costs. However, if employees come in only once a week, they can reduce about 60-70% of expenses, which is a much greater deal. Why should you pay more?
Reshape Your Office Space
Start adjusting your office space by planning for anticipated usage.
First, have the team leaders rank their preferred days of the week on a 5-point scale. Then, use survey staff and an algorithm to assign teams on various days to maximize satisfaction and avoid unjustifiable employee overflow.
Separately determine your space needs for massive events such as quarterly retreats and extensive in-person training, alternatively renting other spaces if needed.
Next, make plans to decrease your real estate footprint accordingly. Consider arranging some of your office space in coworking venues to mitigate the risks either of excess or insufficient space.
After that, you’ll want to transform your office space layout. In the hybrid model, in-office work will focus much more on direct collaboration with team members. It involves working alongside other team members who you can quickly ask for clarification or to whom you can provide guidance. Upgrade your video technology in shared spaces to facilitate meetings and cater to cross-functional teams.
Most individual cubicles and offices will have to go. Keep them at any level only for team leaders who need private spaces for sensitive conversations, as well as anyone else who needs such areas. Employees should use laptops, not desktops, allowing for primarily hot-desking.
Maintain current OSHA guidelines on pandemic precautions to reduce liability.
Funding for Home Offices
The hybrid-first model highlights the home office as a permanent arrangement for every company. A separate budget must be provided for employees’ well-equipped and comfortable home offices, or with their membership in a coworking space if necessary.
Providing employees with hotspot plans will alleviate risks of internet outages or slowdowns. Likewise, you could encourage employees to take various steps toward risk mitigation from their homes. Part of your responsibility is to incorporate them into your business continuity planning and Enterprise Risk Management strategies.
Altogether, an initial fund of $3,000 for the home office transition, plus an annual budget of $2,000 for maintenance, should be sufficient for most employees. Add at least $500 annually for working parents of young children to address parenting needs connected to working remotely.
Remodeling the work setup will help teams shift successfully across post-pandemic workplaces. Employers should consider their employees’ preferences within hybrid teams. Relevant needs must also be integrated into every business plan. Ergo, leaders should view research data objectively and use insights wisely to build a mutually satisfying workspace.
*Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams, as well as seven other books. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles in prominent venues such as Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and Forbes. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox and over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio.