The COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted traditional notions of the workplace, forcing a rapid shift to remote and hybrid work models. Now, as companies start bringing employees back to the office, it’s become clear that workspaces built for a pre-pandemic world no longer align with how we work. Offices designed for employees to be present 9-to-5, Monday through Friday, don’t match the needs of a workforce splitting time between home and the office.
To create positive and productive in-office experiences that serve both employees and the organization in the hybrid era, workspaces require reimagination and reconfiguration. I spoke with workplace expert Samu Hällfors, CEO of Framery, about how offices should be changing to enable the best results from hybrid teams. Here’s his guidance on creating the office of the future.
Video Calls Require Dedicated Space
The pandemic triggered an explosion in video conferencing, with virtual meetings becoming the default mode of collaboration. Even with employees back in the office some of the time, the elevated use of video calls will remain a fixture of how we work.
Unfortunately, most traditional office layouts don’t accommodate the needs of constant video calls. Open floor plans allow noise to carry, creating distractions that harm productivity. And there’s typically not enough meeting room space to meet demand if video calls are dispersed throughout the office.
This inappropriate environment breeds frustration, not just for employees on calls but also for surrounding coworkers. Hällfors notes that overheard conversations have a scientifically-proven detrimental effect on concentration since listening activates the same areas of the brain needed for focused work.
To enable successful video calls without disrupting others, private spaces designed expressly for conferencing are a must. In addition to meeting rooms, offices should incorporate single-person phone booths offering the proper lighting, acoustics, ergonomics, ventilation and adjustability. Workers can then take calls in a space tailored specifically for that purpose.
Balance Collaboration and Focus
While remote work provides the optimal environment for individual task focus, offices remain better suited for collaborative teamwork. Therefore, as Hällfors recommends, organizations should both design offices for group interactions that generate innovation and creativity but also learn from what has made the home office so productive.
Video calls will inevitably occur during office hours to connect with remote colleagues, clients and others. To prevent these necessary calls from interfering with the collaborative workspaces, quiet zones dedicated for concentration should be incorporated as well.
This balance enables both team-based creative sessions as well as spaces for members of that team to shift into online meetings or focus without disrupting their group. Breakout areas, phone booths and other small private spaces scattered throughout the office can serve this essential role.
Rightsize by Role Rather Than One-Size Fits All
Many companies instinctually view hybrid work as an opportunity to dramatically shrink office real estate. And employees dread losing their personal desks as cost-cutting companies shift to hoteling and hot-desking models.
While the broad assumption may be that less office space is naturally better, Hällfors argues this perspective reflects the wrong priorities. An office’s purpose is to serve the employee experience and productivity, not maximize leftover square footage after downsizing.
Organizations are best served by rightsizing intelligently based on how different roles actually utilize the office. Analyze through the employee lens to discern which teams crave permanent desks for their frequent in-office days and which thrive through flexible shared spaces. There’s no one-size fits all approach that optimizes for all workers.
Also recognize that an initial negative response to losing assigned seating could be powered by the powerful status quo bias where people prefer to stick with their current situation. With smart change management and empathetic communication, comfort levels may shift over time.
Listen to Employees (They’re Saying Offices Are Too Loud)
Too often, executives undertake office redesign through a top-down lens focused narrowly on cost savings. They overlook the true purpose – creating spaces optimized for user productivity and comfort.
The preferences and pain points expressed directly by employees must lie at the heart of any workspace evolution. And in study after study, surveys highlight noise and distractions as one of the top complaints about open offices.
Rather than forcing a one-size-fits all approach to space and desk assignments, truly listen to what workers say they need. Meet them where they are by responding with spaces engineered for both collaborative teamwork as well as quiet moments of deep focus. Don’t resign them to distraction.
The Solution: Variety and Flexibility
Repurposing offices for the hybrid era necessitates fresh thinking about how space gets utilized. Uniform rows of desks no longer cut it in a work paradigm where time in the office serves specific needs around relationship building, innovation, events and culture. As I tell my clients who I help figure out their hybrid work models, employees should only come into the office to collaborate, socialize, learn, and be mentored, and the office space should reflect that.
Enable the variety inherent in hybridity through workplace variety and flexibility. Thoughtfully incorporate spaces optimized for both collaboration and concentration. Consider mobile furniture like whiteboards and monitors that can easily shift locations to suit different meeting styles. And match assigned spaces to each role’s office-usage patterns, rather than forcing one-size-fits-all configurations.
The future of work requires companies to break free from rigid notions of what an office should look like. Fresh thinking will reveal solutions where employees can seamlessly toggle between group creative sessions and online video meetings without constant disruption. By listening to your people, you can reimagine offices as environments optimized for your hybrid teams.
Hybrid work success demands flexible spaces: prioritize collaboration, quiet zones, and employee preferences for an optimized office. Click To Tweet
Image credit: Ivan Samkov/Pexels
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 boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb 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: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.