How to build your workplace for a hybrid future

The new norms are currently being written – here’s how to get one step ahead and ensure employee engagement

In just a few short years, hybrid work has gone from a nice to have to a need to have. More than half of UK workers say they’d consider leaving their employer if the option to work in a hybrid manner was taken away from them, according to YouGov data.

While the idea of mixing time at home and in a physical workplace, alongside colleagues, is still in the early stages of evolution, workers have voted – and they’ve said it’s here to stay. “A large number of people who work in offices have got used to the idea that they can also be productive working from home or a café, or even a different country,” says Steve Vatidis, executive chairman at workplace analytics company HubStar.

Employees want a say in their working schedules but need to know that the time they do spend together in a collective workplace is going to be time well spent. They want the right tools, employee experience, and evidence for collaborative opportunities.

Concurrently, that means employers need to meet that demand, building a modern, hybrid workplace and culture that allows workers to thrive – with all the halo benefits that brings. Happier workers are more content workers, and more content workers are more likely to stay with a business, despite more competition among employers than ever before. But that costs money – and is challenging for businesses already scrutinising their bottom line.

Employers find themselves in a difficult halfway house. The business case for keeping offices is apparent: you need a physical workspace to which your staff can commute in order to realise the benefits of collaboration and community that result in better employee retention. Yet hokey-cokey employees – with one foot in the office, and one foot out of it – mean that costly real estate can often lie fallow, silence ringing around the corridors of a company.

Balancing operational efficiencies with employee wellbeing and empowerment is a difficult thing to do. It’s compounded by the fact that every employee has differing perceptions and expectations of the new world of work, and that many of the old pressures, including the need to meet environmental goals, remain. Yet staff recruitment, motivation and retention remain major factors employers need to consider. “Staff experiences at work affect what you do; they affect turnover; they affect collaboration,” says Vatidis. “They’re at the core of the performance of any company, business or organisation.”

The team at HubStar have spent 30 years helping large companies make better use of their space and real estate – a mission that has become more important than ever as the workplace goes hybrid, and senior business leaders consider the role their land and office portfolio plays in their companies going forward.

The world has started recognising the inevitable, there’s going to be significant change, and there’s a chance to bring about a change for the better if we do the right things

There is a place for the physical workspace, says Vatidis, but it needs to be explained and presented to employees and employers in a much more cohesive, sensible way, given the changing face of work. There was a time, pre-pandemic, when businesses could rely on tradition to make the case for their workspaces and their economic value to a company’s bottom line. Workers came into the office every day because it was what had always been done; businesses kept costly workplaces on the balance sheet because it was the norm.

Now new norms are being rewritten – and both business leaders and rank and file employees need to be convinced of the value of the physical workspace. “The world has started recognising the inevitable, there’s going to be significant change, and there’s a chance to bring about a change for the better if we do the right things,” says Vatidis. But in order to make the case for a new, improved office that works for everyone, you need to be in a position to understand that case yourself.

HubStar provides that by designing, building, selling and servicing technology platforms that deliver an ever-improving workplace experience in a hybrid working world. It uses data to help businesses work better, achieving sought-after objectives and utilising workplaces in a better way than before the pandemic. Vatidis says that businesses that build their workplaces for the hybrid future of work are those that use data-driven tools and platforms that manage workplace utilisation intelligently while also respecting the choices and privacy of their workers. “Without intruding in any way into any kind of privacy, you can still have a reasonable idea on an anonymous basis of what goes on,” says Vatidis. “You can inform the decisions people make in terms of when and where they want to come, and give them a chance to also make longer-term plans.”

Businesses that utilise this data can work with their employees to provide a way of work that meets their needs, while also ensuring the company runs smoothly. Rather than dictating when workers come in, it provides options for employees to choose from. “And at the same time, it provides awareness of what other teams are doing for collaboration,” says Vatidis. “It’s able to adapt to what the constraints are, and when there’s more or less space on a minute-by-minute basis, as other people make their decision.”

Take something that was once seen as simple in the physical workspace that has become more challenging in the hybrid one: organising a team meeting. Fifteen people who want to collaborate with each other can mean an awful lot of mails bouncing back and forth, and results in siloed thinking without many opportunities for informal collaboration – the kind that sparks the most innovative thinking.

Using data-driven workplace platforms like HubStar enables those meetings to be better organised, taking into account when workers who need to collaborate together are likely to be in the same physical space, and suggesting times that work. “The hybrid workspace becomes more moulded around your needs,” says Vatidis. People don’t feel compelled to come in, which has a positive impact on productivity. “Information has been shared effectively about how this can work,” he says. “It’s about being able to actually influence things that reduce stress, and gives employees satisfaction that we’re actually making something happen rather than being carried along in the river.”

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