Hybrid workplace

Finding Harmony in a Hybrid Work Environment

Mary Carnes
May 7th, 2024

The transition to hybrid work models has presented a unique set of challenges for businesses:  How do you create a workplace that seamlessly balances operational needs with the evolving desires of employees? OfficeSpace Software, a leader in workplace management solutions, tackled this complex question in its recent LinkedIn Live, “Finding Hybrid Harmony.”

The webinar hosted by Yoni Rouache, Chief Sales Officer at OfficeSpace Software, featured  Karen Jarvis, a workplace expert and Operating Principal at DORIS, and Mary Carnes, Workplace Insights and Community Lead at OfficeSpace. Their insightful conversation offered practical strategies and a fresh perspective on designing a hybrid workplace that genuinely works for everyone.

We’ll touch on the three pillars of creating a rock-solid culture and the challenges business owners face in building said culture. We’ll then discuss trends in space optimization and how businesses can ensure a seamless transition into the office for remote and hybrid workers.

The four hybrid workplace models for the future of work

Explore 4 hybrid work models that companies are using to create a flexible environment, boosting work-life balance and optimizing office space usage.

Creating a Company Culture

A strong company culture is one of the most fundamental aspects of a successful hybrid workplace. A company culture breeds honesty, trust, and employee rapport when done correctly. Karen Jarvis, workplace expert and Operating Principal at DORIS, breaks down culture into three key components.

Space: The physical or digital office environment, layout, and design choices.

People: This is everchanging. Anyone interacting with the space – from employees to delivery drivers.

Resources: Anything in the space that can be used or interacted with. This includes computers, desks, furniture, tissue boxes, outlets, and everything in between.

She claims that if you can nail down those three aspects of your business, you will ultimately build a much stronger culture. So how do you do that? You can start by simply listening to your employees. Ask them questions like:

  • How do you like to get work done?
  • Where do you prefer working?
  • Are there any tools you need in the office that we don’t have?

Consider breaking away from the traditional survey-style questionnaires. As stated by Karen Jarvis, the general workforce is burnt out on surveys in a post-pandemic world. She has found that long-form, one-on-one interviews help operational leaders better understand the concerns of their employees, which they can then bring to the attention of decision-makers and stakeholders.

Balancing Efficiency & Experience

One of the biggest hurdles business owners face today is maximizing operational output while keeping employee satisfaction high. It’s a challenge that cannot be solved in one specific way as every organization has different goals they’re trying to reach. Considering the three key components we previously touched on is wise: space, people, and resources.

While space design certainly contributes to workplace efficiency and experience, it cannot be the only factor into which you invest financial resources. Building a new office or redesigning an old one is a potentially great start toward improving company culture, but it also takes ample time. It may be months before your office space is fully completed. This emphasizes the importance of the other two factors: resources and people.

Resources and people are much easier to adjust than an entire office space. Once employee feedback and insight are gathered, you can change your office layout which will immediately impact your business, sometimes overnight. This can be anything from installing new computers, adding more furniture, hiring new people, implementing new tracking technology, etc. Overall, these two factors come with more flexibility.

Consider these three factors when planning to improve your balance between operational efficiency and the employee experience. Space design is undoubtedly essential, but it’s not the only thing you should consider.

hybrid working

Determining the Space Your Office Needs

Speaking of space design, how do you determine the best way to build your office?

Determining the right amount and type of space is critical when optimizing a hybrid workplace. The panel discussed the importance of identifying ‘non-negotiables’ – the absolute necessities for your business to function well in an office setting. They also discussed areas where companies can be flexible regarding their workspaces.

In the example Jarvis provided in the discussion, we learned about a business consolidating its office space into one building. The new office they moved into had a desk capacity of 500. All fine and dandy, except they had over 700 employees who needed to use that office space.

The non-negotiable part of this equation is the desk space capacity. The office cannot have more than 500 desks; nothing will change that. The flexible aspect in this scenario is how frequently you mandate employees to come into the office. While you have 700 people who want to use your office space, that doesn’t mean they all need to be there on the same day. Maybe implementing a rotational schedule where groups of employees come into the office bi-weekly would be a better alternative.

Laying out what is non-negotiable and weighing it with where there is room for flexibility is the recipe for creating an office space that accommodates everyone’s needs.

Understanding “We” vs. “Me” Spaces

Mary Carnes dove into the concept of “me vs. we” spaces, and the challenges operational leaders face in determining how much of each space they should have in their office.

It’s essential to understand the differences between the two types of spaces. 

  • “Me” spaces are dedicated spaces for individual, focused work. 
  • “We” spaces focus on collaboration, meetings, and social interaction.

With the rise of hybrid work in a post-pandemic world, we see a significant spike in the amount of “we” spaces available. Business owners love the idea of spaces that unite their employees, breaking down the rigidity of the standard office space. Undoubtedly, the lockdown in 2020 gave employees a new appreciation for human connection, which is why so many businesses are adopting these collaboration spaces.

Carnes warns us of the dangers of relying too heavily on these “we” spaces, though. While team collaboration is essential to building a strong culture, we cannot disregard those who prefer to work in quieter “me” spaces. Some people get too easily distracted by “we” spaces and need a private area to put their heads down and work.

Listening to your employees is imperative to balance the “we vs. me” spaces effectively. Figure out how you can best support each individual. This could mean implementing new technology, booking systems, tactile signage, focus hours, etc. It all comes down to communication at the end of the day.

The Oversaturation of Collaboration Spaces

We briefly touched on how Carnes views the rise of collaboration spaces as a double-edged sword. She does not claim business owners need to stop creating collaboration zones. There are several benefits of collaboration spaces that cannot be disregarded. However, she does claim that we may have “tipped the scales too far” in the direction of collaboration spaces.

People still need personal head-down time, which will never go away. Unfortunately, in many cases today, the options for dedicated workspaces are dwindling fast. Businesses everywhere are adopting collaboration zones as the new norm, encouraging everyone to work in an environment where ideas are free-flowing and not bound by cubicle walls.

This, according to Carnes, is causing businesses to misuse conference rooms. Historically, conference rooms were meant to be the “we” spaces. Spaces where meetings would be held, brainstorming sessions would sprout, and video conferences would occur. In today’s collaborative climate, all these things are happening out in the open.

Meeting rooms and private offices are now used as “me” spaces. Employees who get easily distracted by others prefer to confine themselves in a meeting room to complete their work. This is where we see a disconnect between employees and decision-makers. Those who prefer “me” time may prefer to stay home if they’re not provided with the tools that suit their needs.

As an operational leader, it’s important for you to consider the different personalities and work styles of your team. No two humans are the same. A blend of dedicated workspaces and collaborative zones will create a more welcoming office space.

Trends in Workplace Design

To combat the everchanging needs of employees, businesses have implemented many different design models into their workplace. The panel touched on a few emerging trends in workplace design that lead to a better balance of employee experience and operational efficiency:

Hoteling and hot-desking: Allowing employees to reserve desks or workspaces on demand, rather than having permanently assigned seats. Can be challenging for those 

accustomed to a dedicated workspace, but has been shown to improve operational efficiency.

Activity-based working: Providing a variety of workspaces designed for specific activities (e.g., quiet zones, collaborative areas, phone booths) to enhance employee choice and flexibility.

Emphasis on technology: Implementing seamless booking systems, sensor technology for space utilization data, and robust communication tools for remote team members. This is where OfficeSpace changes the game.

A common thread in all these workplace trends? Flexibility. Offices built to adapt to sudden change and accommodate different working styles will see the greatest success in today’s work environment.

Understanding the “Why”

Getting insights from employees helps business owners make tough decisions, leading to a better balance between workplace efficiency and employee satisfaction.

Ultimately, data should drive every decision you make as a business owner. This is true for both quantitative and qualitative data alike. Understanding why these workplace utilization trends lead to better decision-making is as important as implementing them.

Employees want to be engaged, but they also want to feel like they’re being heard. Frequently checking in with your staff, conducting interviews, and providing a line of open communication will only lead to more impactful solutions.

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Data

The panelists drove home the importance of utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data to find this workplace balance. Tracking metrics like space utilization, meeting room usage, and technology adoption can point to areas where efficiencies can be gained. This data-driven approach can help justify real estate decisions and optimize operational expenses.

However, gathering qualitative employee feedback through one-on-one interviews, focus groups, and informal conversations is equally essential. Understanding employee preferences, pain points, and overall satisfaction with the hybrid work experience provides valuable insights. It helps ensure that operational changes don’t come at the expense of the people they’re meant to serve.