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Hybrid Work Environment, is it here to stay?

Hybrid Work Environment    

What is a Hybrid Work Environment? I just sort of took it for granted until I participated in a panel where we took a deep dive on the topic. I was recently a participant in a panel discussing the topic of the Hybrid Work Environment. The host was Andrew Wesner from Kayser-Wesner. His website has some current resources available via free downloads (no email needed) on this topic. The audience was the local chapter of the International Interior Design Association. It was a great event, and in a true hybrid fashion, was in person with remote attendees as well.  

This was the first in-person speaking engagement I have done since COVID. In-person, I was able to meet new people and catch up with colleagues “in person.”  There was a great in-person turnout, plenty of engagement, and the audience had plenty of questions. The added bonus for me: Attending in person gives you access to a spread of cheese, crackers, fruit, and charcuterie plates to graze on.

Popular topic

Incidentally, two weeks ago, I was asked by a good friend who supplies office furniture to the local FAANG companies to talk on his podcast. His topic was “Building an office space in a remote world.”  Two years ago, we would have done this in person. Today, all prep calls and the pod were over Zoom.  Apex Facility is an office furniture supplier that handles large companies nationally, including FAANG companies. These guys work with companies nationwide and hear firsthand how companies are handling remote and in-office work.  

This was a hot topic based on the attendance and engagement during the Q&A. When I was first asked to be a panelist, I responded as follows:

“Just for the record, it sounds like this group makes its living designing office space. I don’t think I am going to be a big seller for you because our company is going to shrink its office space when our lease comes up. We are in the office on a voluntary basis and have maybe 3% in the office. I would love to volunteer and help at this event so I can learn what is going on. What are companies, leaders, and folks in business thinking? Not sure I should be your panelist.”

A gracious response

“This isn’t for sales. No one knows has the answers. The group is getting together to learn. We have someone from one of the largest architecture firms in town and an interior designer from a FAANG company. Someone from a mid-size company like yours would add value. We are all here to learn.”

I figured with the topic so new;

  • It will be wrong to have a wrong opinion
  • I am going to learn from professionals
  • There will probably be a charcuterie plate

Well, sign me the F up!

Below are just a few of the questions and the discussion points:

How do you design a Hybrid workplace?

The common theme: Designers should ask, “What is the use case for the space.” Are we looking for collaboration? Are we looking for a place to hold meetings? Is the leadership aligned on what it wants? The space should be different for every company. For some leaders, Hybrid means 3-5 days a week required in the office? Other leaders may feel work in the office is completely voluntary. For some, it is butts in seats; for others, it is a place to collaborate.

We might not want to build a scaled-down version of the current workspace. Figuring out the intended use case and having leadership aligned is step number 1.

I have been responsible for the design and space planning of 4 offices in my career. These offices ranged from 10,000 sq. ft to 85,000 sq. ft. One new concept: If I design an office in the near future, I suspect I will be polling the company to see what they want out of the office. I won’t be able to satisfy everyone, but I will be able to say, “We heard you and took your idea into consideration for now and the future. We will prioritize the list based on company needs and financial resources.”

Our company has different generations and communication styles in the workplace. The goals of any new build-out should be reassessed. With so much change in the last few years, we should all start from scratch and not make assumptions about how people work. What got us here won’t get us there.

Is Hybrid here to stay?

The overwhelming answer was, “Yes, hybrid is here to stay.” Most of the room thought that it would be tough to force employees back into the office full time. Conversations with commercial real estate brokers suggest that most companies are shrinking their square footage.

I suggested that with unemployment in our sector so low, the candidate is calling the shots. If unemployment was a lot higher (and I hope it doesn’t go there), the company might have more leverage in asking employees to be in the office. 

What are the cultural effects of a hybrid workplace?

There were several comments on the concept of “Virtual Equity”. EG: If you are in a conference room and further away from the camera, are you getting the face time that the person is directly in front of the camera? Be considerate of where you place cameras when setting up your conference room.

Hybrid Work Environment

Tables that allow everyone to be seen on camera

Conference tables that are shaped in a way where everyone can be seen by the camera provide everyone “face time”.  

Bias and unconscious bias towards remote vs. in office

Who do we think will get the bigger opportunities? The employee that is getting face time with their manager or the employee who has never met their manager in person. I think it is unconscious bias. It is human nature to give the opportunity to the person that you know and are connected with. (It is your career, not your managers, so try to keep in touch even over video) Do employees who work remotely have the same opportunities if their home office is in a different time geo?)

If you are on a Zoom call, do the other participants on the call see your face? Or are they seeing an avatar or your initials? Managers will be hard-pressed to promote who they aren’t able to identify. 

Is there a way planning can overcome some of these cultural effects when designing a hybrid workplace? I don’t think we solved this question, but we walked away with new ways of approaching the design of a workspace.

I learned a ton, reconnected with old friends, and validated my own theories. 

 

Before you plan your workspace, ask yourself, “What is the specific goal our company is trying to accomplish with (or without) this workspace?”

 

See you at the after party

Good luck,

HRNasty

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”

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