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With hybrid working likely to increase after Covid, what will that mean for how the workplace looks and what we need from it?
What will the office of the future look like? It’s the 20 million dollar question as employers seek to accommodate growing demands for hybrid working – mixing remote and office working.
A webinar this week hosted by global design and architecture firm Gensler discussed their research findings on what employees want.
Their survey showed there is still a strong need for the office for in-person collaboration and human connection and that there is a direct correlation between time spent in the office and collaboration. While 21% said they could collaborate more easily from home and 34% said they could do so through working in a hybrid model, 45% felt collaboration was easier from the office. People also felt coaching and mentoring worked better in an office environment, particularly for younger workers. The global research, which had significant and interesting regional and country variations, also showed that people are not in favour of open offices and want some degree of privacy and that only 17% like hotdesking. However, over half of British workers are happy to trade having their own desk for more remote working.
The survey also showed interesting changes in workers’ priorities around amenities, with tech help desk availability rising up the ranks, possibly due to people’s experience of technical difficulties when working from home.
In a discussion after the findings were presented, Kerri Henderson, Strategy Director of Gensler London, said it was clear from country-specific findings that hybrid working is here to stay in the UK. “There’s a growing expectation for flexibility and choice to continue,” she said, adding that the purpose of the office needed to be redefined according to employee and business needs.
That meant a shift away from assigned desks and towards collaborative, shared hubs, with innovation and employee performance being more important than space. For Henderson the big questions for employers concerned workplace density, what the purpose of the workplace was and how often employees would be on site. She reckoned most employers could drop between a quarter and a third of their office space or around 28%. She also predicted that London would see a big move of people to more rural locations and an increase in the value of land around major transportation hubs. There could also be more used of blended work spaces such as in hotels.
Jose Luis Sanchez-Concha, Design Strategy Director of Gensler Costa Rica, predicted that conference room design would change as more people called into meetings. The office would be more like a convention centre, he said – ie it will be a space that is hyperflexible. Collaborative technology would be critical. Philippe Pare, Managing Director of Gensler Paris, added that meeting rooms would be smaller with more tech because more people at meetings would be remote. There was also a need for more private team spaces, reflecting the dichotomy between people’s desire to return to the office to collaborate and socialise versus their antipathy to open plan spaces.
There was a brief discussion of how to build a corporate culture within a hybrid model, with Henderson talking about the need for “town hall days” to share knowledge. These would need to be more planned and consistent and they would be times to build a sense of corporate culture, she said. The office would be a hub which connected people and helped them to develop, added Sanchez-Concha.
Asked what words summed up what people would need from their workspace, the participants said it was important to focus on purpose, to embrace change, to reinvent and to foreground agility, empathy and trust. Trust implied asking employees what they need.
Pare ended by saying that, after months of working at home where employees could have good facilities and tech, they needed the office to be “better than home”.