It’s 2019. You’re a business owner, and you’ve been toying around with allowing your employees to work remotely one to two days per week. But you’ve got a lot of questions —Will they still be productive? Will our company culture remain intact? Is this option even something employees want?
Fast forward to March 2020 and that decision has been made for you.
Future of Office Space
Due to COVID-19 and the forced, immediate adoption of remote work by many, the future of office space may never be the same. As leaders reimagine workplaces, some envision maintaining 100 percent remote work, some are anxious to return to 100 percent in-person, yet many will seek a hybrid, or blended, workplace, one which includes a combination of remote and in-person work.
As companies contemplate next steps, “leaders should be cognizant that a seismic shift has occurred.” There’s broad variation amongst how companies will handle the future. A BBC article states some are allowing employees to remain remote until 2021, some are alternating schedules within the office, and some encourage the employee to decide.
A Case for Remote Work
If you take a look at technology companies, you may think no employee will work in an office again. A recent CNN article offers the following examples:
- Facebook anticipates 50 percent of employees could work remotely in the next 5 to 10 years
- Twitter and Slack plan to allow employees to work from home permanently if they desire
Office Is Not Dead
With that said, some recent real estate deals suggest that the office sector is by no means dead:
- Facebook inked a 730,000-square-foot lease in the James A. Farley Building in Midtown Manhattan, according to the New York Times
- Commercial Property Executive reports Microsoft leased 523K SF of office space in the West Midtown submarket of Atlanta
Pre-COVID, 15 percent of BOX’s employees worked remotely, and CEO Aaron Levie says this number will rise. “At the same time, we know the power of having office hubs where in-person communities, mentorship, networking, and creativity can happen…That is why our future is a hybrid one,” says Levie.
The Advent of the Hybrid Workplace
HR News claims that company leaders must create a hybrid model based on the company’s culture, employees, distancing protocols, business model and cost-reduction strategies. A new workplace model calls for a new set of management tools—with specific focus on the employees’ remote work needs, like technology.
Best of Both Worlds?
Some argue the hybrid workplace is the best of both worlds, with “structure and sociability on one hand, and independence and flexibility on the other.” Employees can collaborate on in-person days and use remote days for individual work. Stanford Economic Professor Nicholas Bloom suggests working from home two days per week is optimal to achieve this balance.
The configuration of in-person and remote days can be decided by leadership. Kissflow, a provider of digital workplace services, uses a blended working model called REMOTE+, combining three weeks of work from any location and one week of office-based work.
Potential Problems with the Hybrid Workplace?
Of course, leadership needs to anticipate and plan for potential problems with the hybrid workplace.
This BBC article identifies possible issues:
- Racial inequality due to lack of access to resources, like high-speed Internet, home computing and a quiet, dedicated workspace
- Employee personalities which require structure and a consistent schedule for productivity
- Potential of “in-group and out-group dynamics” between remote and office teams
- Possible magnification of the gender gap, if remote women workers are disallowed a voice
Is the Hybrid Workplace for Your Team?
The Workforce Institute recommends company leadership to develop an employee survey now, one that asks questions about employees’ preferences, schedules, obligations, home workspaces and access. Leadership should also consider their own management style and if it translates well to a hybrid workplace.
What’s It Going to Be?
It’s clear there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this challenge. Companies need to assess their unique culture and specific needs to make the best choice in these unprecedented times. They just may find an answer that delivers a more optimal workplace culture – pandemic or not.