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Published on: 13 April 2023

Updated on: 19 April 2023

Read time: 4 minutes

Hold on to your hats, hybrid working is here. Stragglers and refuseniks better sharpen up their acts and take heed - or risk being cancelled altogether.

According to the Office of National Statistics, using data from an Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, various degrees of home working have remained a constant post lockdown, regardless of the removal of fear of the spread of Covid and the increases in domestic bills.

of UK adults reported working from home, for a period of time, over a given week, earlier this year, according to the above survey.

40%

Apparently the trend for working from home, for at least a part of the week, hasn’t varied much over the last couple of years.

Note that the figures quoted don’t include those who are not able to, or who are not allowed to, work from home, who might otherwise wish to engage in a more hybrid style of working. The inference is, if more people were free to choose where they worked, the figures might be even higher.

According to Forbes, in an online article, this is borne out by global leader Accenture’s Future of Work study, which found that 83 per cent of workers would prefer a hybrid model. In terms of future growth, corporate culture and productivity, the same study also revealed that over two thirds of high-growth businesses have switched to a ‘work from anywhere’ model while the more static companies remain fixed on where people are going to work. The implication is clear – companies at the cut and thrust go hybrid; those that don’t, get left behind.

So, looking ahead, where does that leave our physical working spaces?

Space – but not as we know it

There’s no great appetite among companies for giving up the office altogether. Whether, for a proportion of companies, that’s to do with long leases and tie-ins, or to do with a reluctance to disband that comes from various psychological stalling points, only time will tell. Most corporates are agreed though, in the long-term, space can be used differently and / or cut back to some degree.

There are huge advantages to cutting back on commercial square footage – not least a saving on rent and the reduction of bills that can be a source of the most extreme outgoings for some companies, depending on where they are based. Think of the money that could be saved by corporates cutting back on prime rental space in major cities. The cost savings are potentially enormous for some.

In its article, Forbes quotes CEO of investment banking giant, JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, who forecast that, by enabling a mix of remote working and time spent in the office, the bank might “significantly reduce” its requirement for real estate and only need to allow for approximately 60 seats for every 100 workers. This could reduce real estate costs by up to 40 per cent.

Trimming down…

There are plenty of solutions for smaller concerns who may, at some point in the future, want to let space go. We’ve already had the advent of coworking space and these spaces continue to flourish and grow. Office workers can travel to pretty much any major UK town or city and find a co-working space to book as needed. This goes for meeting rooms too.

Larger companies can let go of an element of space and choose to hire meeting rooms as and when required. (Or maybe not, and choose to share their existing space with another company).

Then there’s the fit out... The designing of existing space or smaller new spaces to make them more flexible and appealing to the hybrid worker.

Knowing where to save and what to spend

Money saved on real estate costs can be reinvested in digital solutions to make remote working faster and more efficient. It can also be used to fund fit outs that are suited to a hybrid model.

A younger generation, on which the world of work will soon depend, is credited for placing a high value on sustainability. These younger workers demand honesty and transparency and are inclined to see through any form of lip service.

If a company boasts green credentials, Gen Z and millennials want to see signs of this in the workplace and know that they will benefit from considered and improved facilities. The visual power of biophilic design is a strong one, with plenty of natural light; the use of natural materials; living walls and foliage.

Employees can be helped to save costs too in order to draw them into the new hybrid world of work: Think bike racks and shower rooms to encourage cycling to work (supporting the environment and saving money on public transport and petrol); and subsidised eating, complete with a range of healthy alternatives, water and free coffee.

Flexible design in the office setting

Designed to provide different spaces for different types of working to fit a variety of needs, these new offices can compound quiet zones and more social spaces; shared working; creative hubs; meeting spaces; town halls; private booths and chill out areas.

To ensure the setting is put to best use, reconfigurable furniture and removable divides can be included so that space is adapted and maximised as needed.

The key to getting this right is in the planning.

To avoid employees being edged back home, every voice should be heard. Workers should be canvassed at an early stage to discover preferred methods of working and what individuals view as vital for their comfort and wellbeing. We all have different ways of working that bring out our best work; it’s in everybody’s best interests to make sure that that is tapped into.

The priority is that the office that’s designed to accommodate the hybrid model of working is fit for purpose and brings people together.

Call rooms and adequate meeting rooms are necessary to ensure that those in the office can communicate with those working remotely consistently and easily.

There should also be hot desking and social space available for those who come in intermittently, for meetings, to stay and work and meet with people from other departments.

The social needs to be encouraged in the new hybrid environment as these exchanges will be vital to impact positively on morale, promote good relations and feed into a shared corporate culture.

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