Hybrid Working Needs More Than Digital Enablement

Image credit: iStockphoto/Chaay_Tee

Companies must prepare for a future where the bulk of their employees work-from-home at least part of the time.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that many workers are as productive or even more productive in a WFH environment, companies must recognize that most employees need an office environment on a part-time basis. The requirements for that office space are changing.

Cloud-based software company Salesforce, which employs about 54,000 people globally, clarified its position in a February 2021 blog-post written by president and chief people officer Brent Hyder. “The 9-to-5 workday is dead,” wrote Hyder. “This isn’t just the future of work, this is the next evolution of our culture.”

Hyder, who noted that 80% of employees want to maintain a connection to a physical space, outlined a three-tier scheme for Salesforce employees:

  • Flex: employees will “be in the office 1-3 days per week for team collaboration, customer meetings, and presentations.”
  • Fully remote: “...employees who don’t live near an office or have roles that don’t require an office will work remotely full-time.”
  • Office-based: “The smallest population of our workforce will work from an office location 4-5 days per week if they’re in roles that require it.”

Most of Salesforce’s employees fall under the flex tier. Tech giants like Microsoft and Twitter are implementing similar schemes.

New workspaces

For digital leaders, the WFH phenomenon seems like work-from-home-forever. But many will still make office visits regularly. This hybrid work environment poses challenges and opportunities.

“In the wake of COVID-19, organizations are now forced to redesign their digital and physical workspaces for resilience and adaptability,” wrote Forrester analysts Dan Bieler and Andrew Hewitt. “As a result, remote workers will no longer be second-class members of the workforce.”

Bieler and Hewitt have suggestions for managing newly diversified staff. Employers should “pursue a spoke-and-wheel approach for a hybrid workforce.”

The Forrester analysts point out that while there will still be main offices in city centers, companies will make “greater use of regional offices as sub-offices. This arrangement will make it easier to attract and retain that pool of talent who prefer to work from outside major urban areas.”

The analysts suggested that employers “provide in-office experiences that stimulate collaboration among employees.” They admit that “this approach requires more space—potentially stemming the trend of office space reduction in central urban areas.”

Bieler and Hewitt predicted that divergence between class A office space (boasting infrastructure, location, and health & wellness facilities) and class B office space will widen, with top talent attracted to businesses offering class A office spaces.

Hygiene measures for the new normal

“If people have a well-designed office, they want to go back to it. This is especially true if they are at home with their dogs, cats, and kids climbing over them, and they don’t have space to work,” says Fiza Malhotra, global marketing director for Bangalore-based design consultancy Space Matrix.

“COVID-19 came along, and it was a leveler,” she says. “Everyone had to work from home, and then we had to change how we looked at the workplace.”

Space Matrix sees a move away from maximum space utilization and towards flexibility, distancing, and hygiene. “Aside from seating plans being de-densified, we’re also seeing corridors being widened and open to unidirectional traffic only, HVAC systems being upgraded to filter and decontaminate air better, and biometric systems and common area facilities becoming touchless,” said the firm in a statement. “For example, fingerprint authentication [will] be replaced by face recognition, automatic soap/sanitizer dispensers and sensor-based taps [will] become common in washrooms, and automatic doors will become the standard.”

Forrester affirms that emerging health and safety regulations will transform physical offices. “To meet new health and safety regulations, offices will introduce measures such as contact tracing plexiglass barriers between office workers,” wrote Bieler and Hewitt. “A challenge will be to combine the desire for increased collaboration with the need for stricter health and safety regulations.”

Going forward, companies need to provide more space, more facilities, more amenities, and in general, a better working environment for their employees, even if those employees most often work from their homes or from a sub-office.

COVID-19 has transformed the science of human resources into more of an art form. This brings new opportunities for digital leaders but also brings fresh challenges.

Image credit: iStockphoto/Chaay_Tee