Ok, so we’re dreaming of the days where we can have the choice of going to an office again – but definitely not 5 days a week. The pandemic has accelerated the genie escaping from the bottle and hybrid working is the talk of the town.

People want the ability to have some structure and social aspects but still independence and flexibility; a mix of the office working, home working and everything in-between. But where organisations are is on a continuum of: the wishful thinkers, the short termers, the seekers and the brave and rebellious.

Exactly where Organisations are on this continuum is changing daily (even hourly), across leadership, across departments, across the people. Organisations have been left wondering what exactly is the next right thing to do? What do their people want? How are they most productive? What technology do they need? What processes need revising? Can they be productive without their manager around? Can we trust them? (The last two questions don’t half boil my piss by the way!)

The Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management (IWFM) warns employers must act now to forge a new role for the office, or risk cultural and productivity challenges.

Why hybrid?

Although the global experiment can be seen as being successful, the office is not dead, many have been left mourning the office, connection, choice…and a comfy workspace set-up. Hybrid allows us to have our cake and eat it (I’ll have carrot cake if you’re buying).

Heart and gut vs mind

The amygdala is where “conditioned” fear responses are born and perpetuated and our ventro-medial pre-frontal cortex (vmPFC), at the front of our brain, enables us to feel emotions, regulate fear and make decisions.

We make hundreds of decisions every day, and despite wishful thinking, many are not logical, even the big decisions where we are convinced that we are being logical, the research shows that most of our decisions are made unconsciously and involve emotion.

We are faced with 11,000,000 pieces of data every second and our conscious minds can’t process all of that. Our unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time. This is the genesis of “trusting your gut”, and most of the time it works!

There is a neuron that fires up in the brain that triggers people to take action when the brain decides it is confident of a decision. This is subjective. It’s not necessarily based on the amount of information you’ve collected — it’s a feeling of confidence.

Rather than just making logical arguments to persuade, you are more likely to persuade people to take an action if you understand how they are feeling about the decision and feed their feeling.

If we rewind 12 months, there were so many questions and unknowns surrounding how productive people could be when working from home. Organisations have seen that working from home can work for them and consequently executives have started to feel confident and are preparing for change.

The British Council for Offices found that 62% of senior executives and 58% of entry-level workers would like to divide their time between their homes and workplaces. Only 30% said they were considering returning to the office five days a week, while 15% said they would prefer to work exclusively at home. 

Another survey released by the Institute of Directors comes to a similar conclusion, with three-quarters of respondents anticipating more home-working after the pandemic, and more than half planning to reduce how they use physical office space in the future.

There are still organisations (the wishful thinkers) who want people back in an office 5 days each week, they are pushing back the changes and requesting business cases and hard facts.

As people, we like to think that we are being logical and thorough, in this instance you may need to offer logical reasons so that the person making the decision has a rational reason they can give themselves and others. 

The business case

  • The most obvious point here is that it’s (probably…) what employees want. Over half (51%) feel this period of home-working has made the concept of office-working unnecessary  (IWFM) and in fact the number of employees who do not want to return to the office has nearly doubled since lockdown began.
  • Allowing choice, freedom and showing you trust your people will drive retention levels, increase productivity and lower hiring costs – people want to work for companies who value people.
  • Individual Productivity: BCG have found that 75% of employees said that during the first few months of the pandemic they have been able to maintain or improve productivity on their individual tasks.
  • Collaboration: BCG found that more than half—51%—of all respondents said they have been able to maintain or improve their productivity on collaborative tasks. They found four factors that correlate with employee perceptions of their productivity on collaborative tasks, whether working remotely or onsite: social connectivity, mental health, physical health, and workplace tools. Where employees were satisifed with those 4 areas, 79% said they have been able to maintain or improve productivity on collaborative tasks.
  • Win the battle for talent: International Facility Management Association (IFMA) have found that 81% of SMEs expect more than a quarter of employees to work remotely most of the time, even when the pandemic is over – and even more so in tech.
  • Property savings: Desk costs thousands in rent, business rates, service charges, insurance, lighting, cooling and heating, space management, facilities management resources. Hybrid working models will allow you to reduce, repurpose or reimagine your spaces.
  • Less germs: There’s always that person who crawls into the office with a box of tissues and consequently shares their germs leaving half the floor sniffling through the head fog.
  • Reduced absence and sickness: I’ve certainly had times where I’ve felt well enough to work, but not well enough to work in an office. Homeworking lets these people work from home, instead of having a day off sick, at short notice.
  • Business continuity: That’s it, no more panic when it snows!
  • Go green: Covid could trigger the largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions in 2020, more than during any previous economic crisis or period of war. Research by Loop suggests that reducing your commute by just one day per week could save 379.2kg of CO2 emissions. This amount of carbon is equivalent to 2,433km on a short-haul flight or a passenger trip from London to Istanbul.

Proceed with caution:

  • Avoid the kneejerk. Hybrid isn’t right for everybody and every organisation. Choose what’s right for your organisation, and the people who drive it. Ask your people, collect data, measure and act.
  • Don’t start with the lease breaks until you know how your people want to work and are enabled to do so.
  • Your organisation will need a ‘remote first’ mentality, is your culture, leaders, technology and systems ready?
  • There’s always that person who sends an email and then walks to your desk to tell you they sent an email (eye rolls). In a hybrid world, we’re at risk of some people creating their own cultures and venting frustrations at the slowness of reply.
  • BCO found that 7 out of 10 said the office was important for learning and development, while two-thirds said their career had been helped by relationships they made in the office. How will you ensure the development of your people?
  • The IFMA survey finds that 56% of SMEs expect a shift in company budgets away from the physical workplace and towards improving employee digital experiences. BCG reported that 87% of employers said they anticipate prioritising tech and digital infrastructure investments that support sustained remote work. The business plan needs to consider expenditure to drive functional and effective hybrid working – don’t scrimp!
  • Leaders, your people need support. Pandemic or not, we all have struggles with balance, boundaries, responsibilities and a lack of routine.

Get answers to some key questions:

  1. How do your people want to work?
  2. What’s working what’s not?
  3. How do we create a fulfilling and equitable experience for all?
  4. How do you foster a culture in which leaders see it as their responsibility to design and execute social-connectivity practices for their teams?
  5. When employees work remotely, how do you replicate the ad hoc, serendipitous encounters with colleagues who work on the same team or were once down the hallway
  6. How do you maintain team cohesion when some people are working remotely while others are onsite?
  7. What steps should you take to help employees manage the blurring of work-life boundaries and the cognitive overload from being digitally engaged all day?
  8. What benefits, incentives, and structures might you put in place to encourage well-being?
  9. What digital tools do employees need in a non-office-centric workplace—particularly to support collaborative tasks?
  10. What role does the company play in either providing the physical tools and equipment needed to work from home, such as external monitors and ergonomic chairs, or compensating employees so that they can purchase them?
  11. When part of the team is in the office and part of it is at home, how do you develop norms to ensure that everyone feels included?
  12. What does our organisation want and need to use the office for?

Top Tips:

  • Listen: What are your people saying? What’s working, what’s not?
  • Support Services: FM / HR / IT / the Exec all need to talk to each other. How can they work together to enable the people to achieve their potential?
  • Knowledge/Task workers: Ensure clarity about each of the job roles involved to help people decide which tasks are best suited to which environment.
  • Culture: There needs to be a culture of trust and autonomy for hybrid working to work.
  • Collaboration: Get your collaboration platform(s) right (and make sure they are secure!).
  • The Physical Space: The office(s) will need some changes. You may need more collaboration space, streamlined ways to book a desk/meeting room, day storage lockers, improved AV, a way of managing visitors or improved catering facilities. In a dispersed working world, the meeting rooms need to be good enough that everybody feels seen and heard no matter if they’re in the room, or working outside of the office. A sparsely populated office maybe great for social distancing, but it will reinforce isolation, not increase those coffee machine conversations and leave teams feeling disparate. The physical space needs to be a destination people want and enjoy going to.
  • Mobility: Make sure the technology enables, not hinders. Nobody wants to work from home if it means lumping a 10kg laptop round with you that you’d love to throw out of the window.
  • Digitisation: Processes need to be slick and documents accessible from anywhere. No more ring binders and dull grey filing cabinets.
  • Change Management: Invest resources heavily in bringing hearts and minds along the journey.
  • Values: Not the ones just written on the wall; the ones which your people truly live and breath. Do the values of the organisation need revisiting? How do you ensure your people are engaged and connected to the purpose of the organisation?
  • Mirror: Nobody is exempt, people need to see people of all levels in the organisations embracing the change.
  • Rules for all: When teams are split between home and office, remote members often feel at a disadvantage during meetings vis-à-vis those who are physically together. To counter this concern and promote equal participation in meetings, one option is to have all participants dial in to the call individually, even if they are onsite.
  • Evolution: Measure, refine, deliver, repeat. Focus on continuous improvement and the marginal gains.
  • Be Human: Who’d have thought it! Look after your people and they’ll look after you.

Final thoughts

Despite the initial panic following the mass exodus out of the office, thanks to the hard work of the workplace ninjas, technology, conscious leadership and a ton of resilience we’re functioning; the impossible has become workable.

There is a space in your employee experience for the Workplace and it’s important space which needs to be used to drive connectedness, collaboration and belonging.

We’ve been presented with a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine work and the workplace, we need to grab hold of it tight, take the learnings and focus on the recovery. Our people need our focus to enable them to recover from what, for so many has been a traumatic and stressful period. Hybrid is good for the people therefore it’s good for the business.

Physically distant, emotionally connected, just keep going.


Further Reading:

  1. New ways of working (or not). | LinkedIn
  2. A world of pure re-imagination. | LinkedIn
  3. Why we still need to talk about, ‘The Human Workplace’ . | LinkedIn
  4. Performance Management Must Evolve to Survive COVID-19 (gallup.com)
  5. A fifth of workers feel employer prepared for hybrid working – Personnel Today
  6. KPMG replaces desks with meeting rooms as hybrid working takes over (telegraph.co.uk)
  7. Aviva to close offices in hybrid working plan – Personnel Today
  8. Could ‘hybrid working’ usher in a golden age for workers? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
  9. Reimagine The new future of work to shape a better world | JLL
  10. Hybrid working gives managers the chance to excel – Workplace Insight
  11. Hybrid office models are the future of work | Employee Benefit News
  12. Managing expectations for the future of hybrid working (consultancy.com.au)
  13. WFH Doesn’t Have to Dilute Your Corporate Culture (hbr.org)
  14. Thriving in the Age of Hybrid Work (hbr.org)
  15. People Matters – Interstitial Site — People Matters
  16. AXA rolls out formal hybrid working strategy | HRD Asia (hcamag.com)
  17. Why Dropbox’s ‘Virtual First’ model could be the future of work | WIRED UK
  18. The future of work is hybrid with a firm focus on employees – Workplace Insight
  19. How to decide if hybrid work is right for your company (hrmagazine.co.uk)
  20. Employees not wanting to return to the office doubles over course of lockdown (iwfm.org.uk)
  21. What 12,000 Employees Have to Say About the Future of Remote Work (bcg.com)
  22. Responsible Business Travel – 9 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint | LoopUp
  23. Emissions Gap Report 2020 | UNEP – UN Environment Programme
  24. Analysis: Coronavirus set to cause largest ever annual fall in CO2 emissions | Carbon Brief
  25. How our daily travel harms the planet – BBC Future

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