Over the past two years, companies big and small have struggled with the new reality of hybrid working. Even now as we return to the office, speculation on the future role the office will play continues to dominate conversations around the watercooler, and around the globe. As organizations reenter the workplace in full force, we wanted to reflect on how the workplace can be enhanced to match the needs of employees and the new realities of the latest hybrid working trends.
In April 2021, we did exactly that. To better understand the global reaction to hybrid working, we assembled a diverse panel of experts to discuss their unique approaches. The conversation ranged from how they initially adjusted to the pandemic, to their biggest learnings of the past two years, and how they approach the office moving forward. Because the world is changing fast, we’re looking back at the last Mapiq Talks session we had in April and sharing some of the key insights that you can also use to enhance your own workspace.
An expert approach to hybrid working
As we strive to understand the impact that the pandemic will have on the future of hybrid work, we were lucky to get in touch with a panel of passionate individuals who were open to sharing their experiences managing offices around the world. These experts included:
- Maaike Roseboom, Global Director of Real Estate & Workplace Experience, Liberty Global
- Yannick Kok, Smart Office Advisor, Mapiq
- Sander van Lier, Manager Projects & Workplace management, PVH
- Olivier Dubuisson, Head of People Experience, Novartis
- William Wardle, Director of Intelligent Workspace, NTT Ltd.
- Timothy Ahrensbach, Head of Workplace Experience, LEGO
- Jeroen Heunen, Corporate Real Estate Manager, PWC
During our discussion, the representatives shared the highs and lows of their experiences with hybrid working, employee engagement, and office technology integration over the past year.
Here are five takeaways on how to upgrade your own workplace strategy:
1. Listen to your employees
While data can be key to improving the workplace, it won’t guarantee employee happiness—for that, you need to listen to the wants of your employees. Regardless of whether you renovate your office, or recalibrate your meeting rooms to cater to hybrid meetings, employees will be driven by their own desires to work where they are most comfortable and productive. Try to understand why and how your employees work from home. As Oliver Dubuisson from Novartis put it “We can’t dictate how people reach their peak performance and therefore can’t be telling them where to work from—that’s the employee’s decision as an individual and as a member of a team.”
A company should consider who their employees are and how they like to work, and let real estate decisions follow from there. By listening to your employees, you signal your attention to their needs. That way you can prevent the hasty implementation of costly changes that don’t mesh with their desires.
2. Determine your necessary workspaces
While many predict that moving forward, the office will be a center for meetings and collaboration, there still need for spaces where employees can sit down and ‘do the work.’ Even if you provide employees with WFH essentials, bad WIFI or noisy roommates can drive workers to use the office as a focus area. The question then becomes, how many workspaces does an office really need? We polled our experts and found that 50% of them determined occupancy data by workspace quantities, 25% by employee surveys, and 25% by the potential growth of the company.
Consider gathering occupancy data or polling your own employees to better understand how they are using the office. By utilizing this kind of behavioral data, you can get the insights you need on how to create, remove, or modify your individual workspaces.
If your organization is already running smoothly, you may not feel the need to reevaluate your workplace productivity. But you’d be surprised at how much impact small improvements can have on both your budget and the engagement of your employees.
3. Eliminate wasted space
Once you’ve started evaluating the needs of your employees, you can begin collecting more general data related to space usage. A recent study found that 85% of employees feel their workplace environment hinders their productivity. To make your office more attractive for employees, you can use this data to make changes where required, including eliminating wasted space. Keep tabs on your areas and identify which are the most popular and which are underutilized. Then, try to identify and modify the reasons behind these discrepancies: something as simple as changing the lighting in a room can make a space more appealing. Focus on encouraging collaborative spaces: consider replacing unused privacy desks with a coffee corner or prioritize making meeting rooms more comfortable for brainstorming sessions or catered towards hybrid meetings.
William Wardle from NTT mentioned that in his experience, data is the only way to effectively determine what space should be eliminated. He noted that within NTT, they rely on sensor and occupancy data, as well as meeting room booking behavior, to make the best use of their office space.
4. Get creative with low-traffic days
It’s inevitable that many businesses will run into the problem of the office being nearly empty on some days and bursting at the seams on others. For different industries, these specific days may vary but the problem is unavoidable. During our discussion it became apparent that Tuesdays and Thursdays were often the most popular days to visit the office, leaving many spaces empty on Fridays and Mondays. To balance your occupancy, our experts recommended trying different initiatives to attract employees to the office and spread attendance throughout the week. For example, Sander van Lier from PVH outlined the methods he’s taken to bring workers into the office throughout the week: "We have an in-house gym, and we work with a variety of gym classes to get employees to come together…. We’ve also started offering discounted lunches and free parking on Fridays, and now we can also nudge people to come to the workplace via Office Shifts.”
Jeroen Heunen, stated that PWC manages its occupancy by asking certain departments to come in on specific days that match the schedule of all team members. This way, PWC can encourage teams to come into the office and collaborate, while avoiding overcrowding on the most popular days.
5. Consider your organizational values
Every company has a set of unique values that drives its mission. Consider using these as a jumping-off point to determine your workplace model. For instance, have you pledged to uphold sustainability as one of your core values? Then consider reducing the number of days your office is open to decrease Co2 emissions from excessive commuting. Or perhaps your organization prioritizes mental health and well-being. In that case, look into transforming your office into a hub for socialization, creativity, and community.
Aligning workplace changes to your existing values also assures the acceptance of these changes. Since any adjustments to the office and work model would align with your company culture, communicating these changes will be smoother and set up a more positive reception.
Sail into the future of work
In times of uncertainty, it’s hard to make any firm decisions regarding your workplace. Going forward, companies need to remain agile since it’s impossible to know what the future holds. In that way, as William Wardle implied, the best workplace strategy is one that is flexible for what is yet to come. As for our panel of experts, they came to the consensus that eliminating space, listening to your employees, measuring your data, and making decisions that reflect your business ethos, are key to any workplace upgrade.
As our conversation drew to a close, we quipped that when it comes to the new way of working, we’re all in the same boat—but maybe it’s clearer to say that some of us are on cruise ships, some of us are in lifeboats, but we’re all in the same storm.