This blog post walks through the new definition of a workplace strategy, post-COVID workplace conundrums, and three steps you can use to tailor your workplace strategy to the needs of your organization and employees.
The very fabric of the workplace has changed dramatically--and likely, forever. In 2020, like a flip of a switch, organizations everywhere were forced to send their employees to work from home, and conduct their day-to-day workplace business from kitchen tables, makeshift home offices, and living rooms, everywhere.
While this sudden shift caught many companies off-guard, it’s safe to say that most companies (and their employees) have developed a solid rhythm with working remotely. The initial chaos that came with the first COVID lockdown was uncomfortable at first; however, like the adaptive species we are, many employees have become accustomed to working remotely. In fact, many workers don’t want to go back to the way things were as approximately 50% of US employees “won’t return to a job unless remote work is allowed.”
On the other side of the spectrum, the remaining 50-or-so% of employees desire some sort of a hybrid model where they split time working from home and working from an office. In just over a year, the trend is changing yet again––and while we can always depend on our natural tendency to be adaptive, we can’t just rely on our adaptiveness. Establishing a hybrid (or “blended”) work environment takes a lot of intentionality and most importantly, strategy.
To the forefront of ways to approach a hybrid work environment is the development of a workplace strategy. And while this type of strategy has existed (to some extent) in the past, it now holds much more weight. In the past, many companies didn’t really think about it with much complexity––previous workplace strategies were simpler because all their employees were under one roof, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sure, strategizing the layout of an office was a consideration to optimize performance and reduce cost, but the hybrid work revolution has made the need for a more advanced workplace strategy all the more critical.
Because workplace strategies weren’t as complex as they are today, it may be helpful to adequately define what an effective workplace strategy actually means, today. Why? Because sometimes defining something (in the context of now) is a pain point in and of itself. A “workplace strategy” is no longer just the alignment of mere work patterns with work environments to increase performance and reduce costs––it’s much more.
An advanced workplace strategy can be defined as a way to integrate “the key elements of physical space design, information technology (both infrastructure and devices), and effective HR policies to better enable work and increase operational efficiency.”
The intersection of the physical layout of a space, technology infrastructure, and modern HR policies can be hard to navigate––especially when workplace trends have changed so dramatically in such a short amount of time. Many leaders are unsure of how to develop a workplace strategy that not only works for their business objectives and employees' preferences, but furthermore optimizes space and doesn’t send costs through the roof.
Assuming you want some employees back in the office, the trend of hybrid work environments make workplace strategies all the more relevant and necessary. The chances of your company having a demographic of employees who want to come into the office half the time (and those who want to work from home for good) are likely high.
Let’s say for example that during pre-COVID times, Company X had an employee roster of 200 workers––all of whom were in the office. The office has a mix of open desk and office space as Company X’s HQ houses multiple teams. Common areas (such as conference rooms and huddle rooms) are numerous and the employee kitchen and lounge areas are spacious. For the sake of the example, let’s say this office was 50,000 square feet (SF).
Now, post-COVID, Company X’s HR department sends out an employee survey, asking their 200 employees if they want to work:
The results of the survey come back and half of Company X’s roster wants to stay totally remote and the other half wants to split their time between remote and onsite work––no one wants to be in the office full-time. The decision to stay at the 50k SF office doesn’t make sense––not only because half of Company X’s employees don’t want to return to the office, but also because half of them only want to be at the office, half of the time.
This type of conundrum is common among companies in our post-COVID world and while the development of an advanced workplace strategy takes intentionality (and the balance of many complexities), it is a worthwhile and doable effort.
Like many strategies, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to your workplace strategy. With all being said, there are some basic steps you can take to outline what your strategy should look like. From adapting an existing space, to getting an entirely new one, the number of combinations you can take to fully optimize a space are more abundant than you may think.
The first (and most obvious) step to developing a workplace strategy is to get the headcount of those who want to have a hybrid schedule and those who want to stay fully remote. If you find yourself in a similar scenario as the previous example where half of your employees want hybrid and the other half want fully remote, downsizing your HQ may be your best bet. This allows you to maintain an office presence and accommodate new employee preferences, all while simultaneously cutting costs––whether you lease or own the space.
Side note: Downsizing but still allowing for growth
While downsizing may be the best option for maintaining an office presence with a smaller, in-person roster, you do want to consider future new-hires who may want to be hybrid employees. It’s a good idea for HR to go to the company’s various team leaders and collect data regarding their needs for future headcount. Once HR gets a rough number, they can partner with the CFO, who can potentially forecast future budgets and allowances for talent acquisition. That way you can still downsize the space while factoring in potential growth as it pertains to future headcount. Furthermore, it would also be prudent of HR to engage with the CIO to ensure the proper technology stack is in place to allow a hybrid workforce to function seamlessly.
One of the biggest reasons why employees (79% of them in fact) have become accustomed to remote work is the elimination of the commute. In 2019, the average one-way commute for US workers (commuting in cars) was approximately 30 minutes, while workers who commuted via public transportation had an average one-way commute of just under 50 minutes. In a culture where time seems to be the most precious commodity, we can’t blame workers for wanting to get back a collective one to two hours back in their daily lives.
With all being said, many companies with more dispersed employee demographics are opening up multiple, smaller satellite offices so hybrid employees can choose an office that’s closest to them. You can also provide all employees multi-location access to any workspaces in your portfolio.
If you find yourself in a situation where your lease for a space is nowhere near close to being done (or you own a property you don’t want to sell), another option would be to realign and reimagine the space in general. As travel restrictions are getting back to normal, ask yourself about how your company tends to work (or how they are starting to work, now):
Many teams (that balance hybrid and remote workers) are enacting monthly or quarterly meetings so that every employee gets the opportunity to meet and collaborate face-to-face, which means there’s much you can do to “redesign, reorganise, or repurpose your workspace to better support the kinds of interactions that cannot happen remotely.” In other words, many companies are ditching many of their individual workspaces and increasing the amount of collaborative spaces and meeting rooms.
To measure if your workplace strategy is successful, it would be prudent to look at utilization data––i.e., who is using what space. This reveals not only how productive your workforce is but further allows you to measure employee engagement.
As we’ve previously mentioned, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid-centric workplace strategies--the above considerations are just the tip of the spear. In all likelihood, your workplace strategy will incorporate a combination of the above considerations and more. Developing a workplace strategy that accommodates employees, enables good work, and increases operational efficiency is no easy task, but luckily with changing work trends comes innovative platforms and services that can help you make the best use of your hybrid work environment.
Saltmine allows you to redesign and reimagine your current workplace as well as any prospective spaces you may want to add to your portfolio. Configure floor plans in a seamless, all-in-one solution to better align your workplace design needs with your workplace reentry goals.
Want to see how you can redesign and reimagine your workplace for your hybrid workforce? Click the button below to connect for a demo.
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