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Office Design for Hybrid Workplaces

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With the shift from remote to hybrid work, organisations are rethinking office design with an understanding that what worked (or didn't work) in the pre-pandemic world does not work today. Office space needs to be redesigned to accommodate different ways of working and collaborating.

Studies show that the use and purpose of office space needs to change as organisations shift from pandemic driven fully-remote work to a hybrid structure where work time is split between working in an office, working from home and third spaces. The split of time between different locations depends on the nature of the work, the need for collaboration and a wide variety of other factors. Companies are re-evaluating the use and location of their offices and as a part of that shift they are relooking at the design of the office.

A World Economic Forum article titled How hybrid work is revolutionizing our office spaces gives examples of how COVID-19 has normalized hybrid working, leading to the traditional office layout undergoing a radical rethink:

  • Offices are being redesigned for flexibility with moving partitions, raised floors and more digital screens.
  • Collaborative meeting rooms will result in people no longer having to strain to hear or see, but conference tables will still play a vital role in negotiations.
  • Out with the giant conference table, in with the big screen.

Designing for hybrid work requires a completely different approach from what was the norm. Office design was flawed pre-pandemic and the shift to hybrid work is an opportunity to rethink and review office layouts with deliberate intent:

Pre-pandemic offices had become increasingly disliked. In one pre-pandemic survey 85% people said they were dissatisfied with their office environment. Whether in attempts to improve collaboration or reduce costs, offices had become increasingly open plan and higher density, sometimes less than 5m2 per person. Consequently they were often noisy, distracting and unhealthy. Also 40% of office staff suffer from poor lighting and the temperature was typically not only uncomfortable, but also impeded the performance of women.

The WEF article goes on to say:

There needs to be a shift away from rows of identical desks squeezed together to more varied, flexible and individually controllable environments that suit all workers and work styles. There still will need to be enough places for individuals to effectively concentrate and focus between meetings and for those who can’t or don’t wish to work at home. There may be quiet rooms, bookable desks, or touchdown spaces, ideally with individual control over lighting, temperature and acoustics.

This shift needs to be accompanied by technology to enable the mechanics of hybrid work, such as booking desks or collaboration spaces and making visible who is where both in the office and people’s availability remotely.

An ioffice+SpaceIQ articleThe Best Hybrid Office Spaces In The World looks at the design of eight office spaces and how they have been been optimised for collaboration and hybrid working. According to the article, key elements of a hybrid office include:

  • A mix of collaborative and private spaces
  • Multipurpose areas employees can use depending on the work they’re doing
  • Furniture that’s easy to reconfigure
  • High-quality conference room technology
  • Technology that makes it easy for employees to find and reserve workspaces anywhere

In a similar vein, Diane Gayeski writes on the Robin blog about five layout ideas for your hybrid office:

  1. The hot desk hangout
  2. The maker space
  3. Café collaboration
  4. The get-on-board room
  5. The home-away-from-home 

An article by PWC Australia Changing Places: Designing Hybrid Offices That Work looks at the Four C’s that need to be considered when looking at workplace design, and gives a variety of scenarios that could influence both design and policy making.

The office of the future will be different. It will no longer accommodate all activities associated with work, but provide a place for those tasks that cannot successfully be done at home. In order to successfully evolve and embrace hybrid working, businesses will need to consider the four C’s:

  • Concentration: Solo work, focus
  • Collaboration: Brainstorming, teamwork
  • Communication: Training, socialising
  • Contemplation: Reflecting, relaxing

A Salesforce article quotes Stewart Butterfield, CEO and co-founder of Slack:

This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for every company to reinvent themselves and make work more flexible, inclusive, and productive.

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