The FM Professional

Hybrid workplace change strategies for the future of work

Nick Mason
October 5th, 2022

While navigating hybrid workplace change strategies is no simple task, many organizations have stepped up to the challenge. They’re creating new, more flexible work environments that better serve both their people and their long-term business goals. 

Moreover, after 18 months or more of experimentation with different return to the office strategies, some key best practices are emerging. 

In this article, we explore hybrid workplace change strategies that can future-proof the office.  This includes ideas for creating a curated, purposeful approach to hybrid work. This can help with both talent retention and talent attraction efforts. 

We’re drawing on observations from a recent panel discussion hosted by OfficeSpace Software’s Senior Workplace Solutions Consultant, Mary Carnes. To glean more insights into hybrid workplace change strategy management, Mary spoke with Savills Senior Managing Director of North America Workplace Practice Group, Surabhi Raman, and Johanna Rodriguez, Senior Managing Director of Occupant Experience.  

Is hybrid actually working? These hybrid workplace change strategy experts share what they’re seeing ‘on the ground,’ along with how they’re coaching their clients along this journey. 

Click here to access the full webinar.

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What is a hybrid workplace strategy?

By now, we’re all familiar with hybrid working. Hybrid is a workplace strategy that blends some amount of remote work with some amount of in-person, in-office work. 

Post-pandemic research finds that “organizations that offer a hybrid working model have a very high score of positivity and effectiveness in providing the best place to work,” locking in benefits even when companies shift to hybrid “at scale and at pace.”

But while the pandemic has pushed many companies to adopt a variety of hybrid work models at scale and at pace, not every rollout has been an easy or seamless one. Which is where good hybrid workplace change strategy management and the right hybrid workplace strategy comes in. 

Indeed, companies will struggle to create the right hybrid workplace experience, unless they have a good strategy in place. 

And, like Mary underscores, the strategy for your hybrid workplace will be an evolution.

“It’s a process of trying, learning, adjusting, and trying again,” she says.

“In terms of what’s successful in returning to office, taking a ‘no policy’ approach doesn’t tend to work very well. Even if you’re not sure what the best possible strategy is going to be at the start, you still want a strategy regardless.” 

Kathleen Archerd, Senior Product Manager at OfficeSpace
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How can you create an effective hybrid workplace strategy?

Adopting any new way of working should always start with the right workplace strategy

And developing a new hybrid strategy starts with asking the right questions. This is along with including the right stakeholders in the process (as we’ll explore further below). 

To do this, Johanna stresses that it’s key to first understand where an organization is in their journey. Are they constricted by policy? Are they trying to improve space utilization? What is the company culture?  

“It’s a true deep dive on understanding multiple levels of the organization, to understand what their experiences are, so you can then help figure out where to go from there,” she says.

To answer these questions, workplace strategists should continue to use company-wide employee surveys. This is in addition to leadership engagement and a variety of departmental interviews. 

Johanna also says she tries to reframe the pivot to a hybrid experience as an opportunity for her clients. 

“Now is the time to take a step back and understand what is key and really important to your physical office space. This is an opportunity to realign what you have in your space to what is actually needed,” she says.  

“Hybrid work is here to stay, but it does not look the same for everyone.”

Mary Carnes, OfficeSpace

Every approach to hybrid will be different

When thinking through their hybrid approach, companies often want to know what other companies are implementing. Along, of course, with any overarching trends. 

While this can be helpful, Johanna stresses that each of her clients is coming up with a unique plan that is very specific to their organization. 

“There’s such a wide spectrum,” she says. 

That means that your approach will likely look very different from any other company’s. Even companies that ‘look’ like yours, either by size, industry, or culture. 

“You need to first understand what the problem areas are in your organization. It’s not a copy paste,” says Surabhi. 

“Your approach is tailor-made, to a certain extent, in terms of really relating to the vision and the needs of the company and then driving some of their core values.”

Surabhi Raman, Savills
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How do you transition to a hybrid workplace?

Change can be a scary thing! Especially in uncharted waters, like adopting a new workplace model without historical data to lead the way. 

This is as true for employees as it is for managers and space planners. Which is why the latter need to make the transition as simple, painless, and as organic as possible.  

“I think it’s important to create a genuine desire and compelling reasons for employees to return to the office,” says Surabhi. 

That starts with communicating the ‘why’ of the office. Whether that’s team building and collaboration in the workplace (always critical, since having work friendships increases productivity and engagement), supporting their work style (not everyone can easily focus at their home office), or providing or receiving mentorship. 

Employees need to clearly understand how being in the office, even occasionally, can be good for them, their colleagues, and their company. 

With the right messaging in place, companies can then create the right policies and pick the right workplace technology to support their future of work. 

From there, with the right goals, messaging, and technology in place, companies can begin the process of rolling out new strategies. 

“There is a need to evolve frameworks and playbooks which will then start to streamline the hybrid model that an organization is heading towards,” says Surabhi.

“It really comes down to understanding what your business is, what your priorities are, and then aligning the space type in the office space for that need.”

Johanna Rodriguez, Savills

Get people back—without mandates

Despite all the work done to engage the hybrid workforce, office attendance is currently lower than many leaders were expecting (and/or hoping). This is due in large part to a push-and-pull with remote workers. Many remote workers have come to enjoy the benefits of working remotely and are reluctant to come back.  

As such, many companies don’t want to mandate that people be on-site. Especially given the amount of pushback these types of mandates have been receiving. 

At the same time, we also know that while remote working can certainly be productive, there are also benefits to face-to-face collaboration.

This is why Forbes contributor and Ph.D. sociologist Tracy Brower insists that “wise companies are making the office a magnet, rather than relying on mandates.”

And it’s why Johanna insists that leadership needs to help employees actually grasp the benefits of coming in. They need to help people understand the great reasons to come into the office… Both for their job, their well-being, and their career development.

Beyond this, focus on what your employees are actually asking for, instead of blindly following workplace trends

What do employees actually want?

Yes, everyone enjoys a free lunch, so it’s no surprise many companies are now springing for food and catering. But companies can also ask employees about their personal decision-making around coming in or not, and adjust their perks accordingly. 

If it’s commuting costs, then companies might want to cover parking or transit passes. 

If it’s health concerns, they may want to consider a social distancing planner and/or workplace health checks

Or maybe it’s a kiosk when you enter the office. That way, you can easily check-in and find your seat right away. 

Creating fun moments—Surabhi mentions team lunches, comedy shows, and heading out as a team to a good old-fashioned ball game—can also give people a reason to step out of the cocoon they’ve enjoyed for the past few years.

In short, it’s much better to remind people how much they actually enjoy their colleagues and being in the office, versus strong-arming a return. Especially when all the numbers show that today’s empowered employees are simply not willing to work in inflexible environments anymore. 

“Forcing employees back to the office will force passionate employees out, to a new company and workplace culture,” Mary warns.

“There has to be a balance of social connectivity along with purpose in the workplace today.”

Surabhi Raman
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Technology, space, and hybrid change strategy management

Getting technology and space right is critical to hybrid workplace change strategy management. If employees have a bad experience on day one, they’re going to be a lot less likely to want to come back for day two.

According to Mary, technology can support a hybrid work environment in two key ways. 

The first is people-focused: using technology to enhance employee experience and the workplace experience overall. 

The second is real-estate focused: using technology to make data-informed decisions for your corporate real estate.  

Regardless of your goals, you need to adopt the right new technology in the workplace to adopt the change. 

Moreover, when it comes to space, companies will need to develop a modern office floor plan. One that adheres to their recommended office space per employee

Of course, this will look different, depending on how frequently people are using the office, and the types of workspaces they’ll need/want.  This is especially true with flexible seating arrangements. This is where it can be much more difficult to get an accurate picture of true employee presence in the office. 

“If you’re going to have this flexible space and people can sit anywhere, then it’s so important to make sure that they are aware of what space is available,” says Johanna. 

Ultimately, flexible working software is what enables and enhances employee engagement and experience in a hybrid environment. And collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams help create a digital workspace that supports employees full-time.  

The right space management software can also provide advanced analytics to support both workplace management as well as any efforts to optimize the real estate portfolio.    

Finally, when choosing to adopt technology, Surabhi underlines the importance of finding scalable solutions that are actually in line with your goals. 

“This is how you’ll achieve the employee experience that’s desired,” she says. 

“If people need to go to the office, and if they go there for connection and collaboration, then we need to ensure the office is set up and adopted as a tool to support this work.”

Mary Carnes

Give people what they need

For many companies, the office will be a community and collaboration center. This leads to space composition that includes a lot of meeting and collaborative workspaces. When planning for this new hybrid workplace, always keep employee needs top of mind. 

Given demands for work-life balance (and bolstered by the long-term effects of the Great Resignation), most workers today are looking for some amount of location and/or schedule flexibility. 

So if you want people to use the office more, can they create their own hybrid work schedule? Can they embrace work strategies like coworking or reduced work weeks? 

Surabhi also reminds companies that remote employees have enjoyed working in their homes—the most personalized of personal spaces—for the better part of two years.

“The workplace they left behind is not the one they want to return to,” she says. 

She also stresses that people with different working styles or from different generations in the workplace will have their own ideas of what they want in their new normal. 

“All this needs to be considered when making choices around optimization and strategy,” she says. 

Ultimately, the right initiatives will be those that embrace all these differences and considerations, and are able to stay flexible; workplace agility will certainly be critical going forward.  

“It’s about creating and understanding what the real reasons are for that office.”

Johanna Rodriguez
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What are some of the barriers to a hybrid workplace?

One of the biggest challenges of hybrid working can be summed up with one question. When employees come into the office, are their colleagues there, too?

Yes, hybrid workers will need and want a variety of workstations, private/focus areas, and collaboration spaces. But if the office is to be a place primarily for collaboration, that means they’ll also need tools to help them connect with employees. And also, see when they’ll be in the office so they can plan their own schedules accordingly.  

They’ll also need guidance and support from workplace experience software that will help them access space and resources. 

Ultimately, a nonlinear work day makes things more challenging for managers, space planners, and facility managers (FMs). It requires them to carefully think through the tools they need to best support it. 

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Key partners in a hybrid transition

Like we’ve covered, employees are the ultimate stakeholders in this hybrid journey. To ensure companies are maximizing both their hybrid workplace and the employee experience, they need to keep their needs at the forefront. 

Two key partners need to work closely together in this process. 

First, HR and people management plays an important role in both setting policy, as well as in communicating it to team members. 

And second, IT and office facility management will be responsible for implementing the right hybrid workplace technology to create a seamless transition. 

“Everything really stems from people’s behavior, which is then supported by the very important technology, especially in office environments where there is seat sharing and dynamic use of space,” says Johanna. 

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What is the future of the hybrid workplace? 

There is no one future of the hybrid workplace. Each company’s approach to hybridization will be nuanced, and ideally informed by real-time data and specific employee needs.

“It’s really more about understanding the experience, including what people are looking for in that experience, as well as increasing the efficiency of the space when they do come in,” says Johanna. 

To do this, you need the right technology, the right policies, and the right hybrid workplace change strategy management.

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Photos: Anchiy, Pekic, mixetto, time99lek, Drazen_, jeffbergen, Anchiy