The advantages and challenges of implementing a hybrid workspace for your employees

How does the new workspace look in a post-pandemic world?

By | 4 minute read | March 15, 2021

Before the pandemic, many offices in expensive real estate markets were moving toward layouts that provided employees with just 50-square feet of workspace, not to mention shared communal spaces and huddle rooms. The idea – in addition to cost savings – was to promote a startup mentality where free ideas could simply flow because employees were “all in it together.”

But, as we pass the one-year mark for our new ways of working, the expectations have shifted to require more flexibility in our workplaces and our workspaces. Some employees relish working from home – they’re more productive, have done away with the hassle of a commute, and feel safer. Others long to come back to the office to collaborate in person (with appropriate distance, of course) and enjoy the social interactions they’ve missed for the past year. The Remote Employee Experience Index, a survey of more than 9,000 employees over a three-month period, found that nearly 40% of employees surveyed want to return to the office.

As you consider when and how to re-open your facilities, you may be grappling with how to keep your employees healthy, happy, and productive. Let’s look at the advantages and challenges of building a hybrid workspace model.

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The hybrid workspace

The IBM Institute for Business Value 2020 CEO Study says, “Remote work will be a permanent fixture as part of a hybrid workforce that blends in-person employees with virtual colleagues.” And 56% of the CEOs surveyed said enhanced operational agility and flexibility is their top priority in the next two to three years.

Traditionally, a hybrid workspace was one that offered a mix of offices and cubicles. Now, the term more likely means a workplace that allows someone to split their work between home and the office, and it’s gaining in popularity in the post-pandemic era among both employers and employees. In fact, the Remote Employee Experience Index found that 72% of those surveyed preferred a hybrid model.

Screen capture of a floor plan

Data is key to creating the right floor plan, including hybrid workspaces, along with a system that lets you quickly adjust as needed.

Advantages: The hybrid workspace allows employees to enjoy the best of both worlds. And it’s quickly becoming a “must-have option” for employers, so embracing this approach will help keep organizations competitive in hiring. It also allows employers to predict their space needs and potentially reduce the amount of space needed, thereby reducing costs, too.

Challenges: Creating a part-time system for your workspace requires a comprehensive approach to adapt and monitor that space. Automatic, in-depth cleaning is needed, and you’re wise to choose automation over manual notifications, to be sure you’re covered. It also requires management to stay in close contact with employees. The IBM Institute for Business Value study found that 78% of employees want their employers to clearly communicate plans for ensuring sanitary conditions in the physical workspace and 76% are concerned over the social distancing guidelines for physical workspaces and common areas.

The workplace as a destination

Like your employees, you might be grappling with the question, “Where will I be most productive and happy today?”  The answer very well might be “the office.”  If employees are allowed to choose where and how to work, many will choose a well-designed workplace that puts an emphasis on employee experience.  Then the workplace becomes a destination, more of a hub, a place where employees want to gather and collaborate — connecting safely with each other. It also helps foster the most visible representation of your company’s culture.

Advantages: It’s the best of both worlds, really. Structure and sociability on one side with independence and agility on the other. Many companies are already embracing a hybrid workplace model, using remote working on days when employees need to deeply concentrate on projects — no interruptions or water cooler chatter—and come to the office for meetings. This also helps reduce video conference fatigue.

Challenges: According to the BBC, many companies will retain physical office space, just not quite as much, choosing to right-size their real estate portfolios in response to the hybrid workplace model. Other companies, however, are opening smaller, satellite offices in the suburbs so employees don’t have to commute so far when they do come to the office. The difficulty with this is that companies will now require more square footage per employee, and space needs will be driven by the number of employees in the office each day.

Balancing everyone’s needs

Employees value the flexibility they’ve gained working remotely, and employers must recognize this or risk losing valuable talent. Executives, on the other hand, are still balancing employee health, safety, and happiness along with cost-effective real estate models and return to work plans. There are no easy answers, but solutions like IBM TRIRIGA® can help you develop a workplace experience that works for everyone.

Beyond the hybrid workspace: create a return-to-the-workplace strategy

Employers everywhere asking: How do you reopen safely and smartly, and in a way that lets you adapt to changing circumstances? Discover the right return-to-work strategy for you organization, and see how IBM Watson Works can help you make those difficult decisions. Available now, Watson Works solutions use data, AI and blockchain technology to help you make decisions in three critical areas: workplace re-entry and facilities management, workplace safety, and contact tracing and care management.

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