The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally transformed how we work, with many companies adopting hybrid work models that allow employees to work remotely or come into the office flexibly. As the pandemic wanes, however, companies face the challenge of bringing employees back to the office. This is particularly challenging, given that many employees have grown accustomed to the flexibility and convenience of working from home. According to research from human resource agency Randstad, 80% of Hong Kongers want some form of flexibility in their work, and 40% of Singaporeans wouldn’t consider taking up a job if there was no degree of flexible working or workplace choice. In this article, we will explore the benefits of traditional vs flexible/hybrid work models and provide a framework for finding the right balance to attract employees back to the office.
The Case for Flexible & Hybrid Work Models
One popular approach to instantly enhance a business portfolio with agility is to utilise flexible workspaces and activity-based work models, which provides employees with a variety of spaces to work in, depending on their needs at any given time. Another way to incorporate flexible workspaces could include private workstations or dedicated desks for focused work, collaborative spaces for team projects, and breakout areas for informal meetings or relaxation. Another approach is hotdesking, where employees don’t have a fixed desk but choose a workspace daily based on their needs. A third approach to incorporating flexible workspaces into a corporate real estate portfolio is creating Workplace Neighborhoods. Workplace Neighbourhoods are similar to activity-based work; however, it considers the employee experience by proactively surveying and asking employees how they want to build their flexible workspaces. For example, if employees come into the office to do heads-down focus work, the shared workspace may be designed purposely more like a library or quiet zone. If, on the other hand, employees report that the main drive for them to return to the office is to network, hold meetings, or collaborate then the workspace may be tailored to facilitate such interactions by providing more huddle booth areas, more open spaces, and comfortable seating. Essentially, the office neighbourhood is a trend in office design that blends the best of activity-based workspaces, dedicated offices, and coworking which promotes work-life balance without scaling down the capacity to be agile and collaborative between teammates that work closely together, no matter where they are physical.
Framework for Attracting Employees Back to the Office
To attract employees back to the hybrid office, companies need to reevaluate their people and workplace mix. This involves considering the unique needs and preferences of their employees, as well as the business requirements of their operations. One key aspect to consider is the concept of ease, engagement and equity. Employers should ensure that their approach to the workplace offers ease of access, equal opportunity, and equity to all employees, regardless of their location or work style.
‘Ease of access’ can involve providing the right tools and technology to support remote work and ensuring that in-person workspaces are safe and comfortable. Examples of things to consider include ensuring employees in-office and working remotely have access to robust internet connectivity, seamless audiovisual technology for online meetings and a work environment conducive to taking calls and virtual catch-ups.
‘Engagement’ involves workspace designers considering how spaces will be used, and how to curate a workspace to ensure optimal usage. After all, a conducive workspace will promote productivity; conversely, a badly designed workspace will distract and detract from employee satisfaction and motivation to go to the office. Engagement also requires considering the differences between colleagues holding impromptu water cooler moment catch-ups versus structured online catch-ups with their compatriots working remotely.
‘Equity’ takes into consideration factors that go beyond the baseline requirements to hold virtual catch-ups. Things like “How different is the employee experience working from home compared to working from the office" and “What does each employee need to work optimally?" For instance, graphic designers, compared to legal secretaries, will have different confidentiality and privacy requirements, different hardware needs and require different levels of collaborative and focused work needs.
In conclusion, companies need to reevaluate their people and workplace mix to attract employees back to the office, focusing on ease, engagement, and equity. Employers must ensure that their approach to the workplace offers ease of access, equal opportunity, and equity to all employees, regardless of their location or work style. Employers must consider how spaces will be used and curated to ensure optimal usage, considering the differences between colleagues holding impromptu water cooler moments versus structured online catch-ups with their remote colleagues. Additionally, employers must consider each employee’s different hardware needs, confidentiality, privacy, and collaborative and focused work needs. By taking a thoughtful and strategic approach, companies can find the right balance between traditional and flexible workspaces, attract employees back to the office, and create a workplace that fosters collaboration, innovation, and creativity while also allowing employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance.