Workplace leaders have a lot on their plates these days. They’re trying to grow a strong organizational culture, one built upon a foundation of collaboration and a great employee experience, at a time when so many people are working from anywhere – home, the office, or a third place like the local coffee shop.
Should everyone be back in the office full-time? Would fully remote be better, or should we give employees the flexibility to choose? What about three days per week mandatory in the office? As Apple CEO Tim Cook famously said, “hybrid work is the mother of all experiments” and nobody has the answers.
Goodbye to Static Workplace Strategies
Workplace strategy used to be a simple matter of having enough office space available and creating the right configuration of desks and chairs and conference rooms. Back in the pre-pandemic good (or not so good) ol’ days, a standard office configuration was generally “one employee and one desk,” with people coming in five days per week.
The days of static workplace strategies are long gone, likely never to return.
This blog post will provide workplace leaders with the information they need to develop a hybrid workplace strategy for their organizations. We’ll clearly describe the steps needed to develop, execute, and iterate on a workplace strategy, enabling you to answer these three essential questions:
- What factors and resources must be considered when developing a workplace strategy?
- How does a hybrid workplace strategy present new challenges that require innovative solutions?
- What must be included in my organization’s hybrid workplace strategy, and how can we drive its adoption/effectiveness?
What is Workplace Strategy?
The term “workplace strategy” can be defined in multiple ways, but let’s examine a definition offered by global consultancy Deloitte: “a workplace strategy integrates the key elements of physical space design, information technology (both infrastructure and devices), and effective HR policies to better enable work and increase operational efficiency . . .it can be a significant driver of real estate portfolio savings and contribute to talent recruitment and retention programs.”
The Deloitte definition provides the WHAT, the key ingredients of any workplace strategy: the physical office (space, desks, meeting rooms, etc.), your people, your technology (which should enable connection and collaboration), and your organizational policies and processes around work.
Why Does Workplace Strategy Matter?
The end of Deloitte’s definition also points toward the WHY, the purpose of any workplace strategy, which is to have positive impacts on the productivity, engagement, and retention of your people, as well as driving cost efficiencies with your real estate/office utilization.
Having a workplace strategy is critical because it helps organizations to align their physical space, technology, and culture with their business goals and objectives. Here's a snapshot of why having a workplace strategy matters:
Enhances Workplace Productivity
A well-planned workplace strategy can improve productivity by optimizing the use of space and technology to support employee work styles and needs.
Supports Business Goals
A workplace strategy that is aligned with business goals can help organizations to achieve their objectives by creating an environment that enables employees to perform at their best.
Attracts and Retains Talent
A modern, flexible workplace can be a key factor in attracting and retaining top talent. Employees are more likely to stay with an organization that provides a supportive and adaptable work environment.
Improves Peer-to-Peer Collaboration
A workplace strategy that encourages collaboration and teamwork can improve communication, knowledge-sharing, and innovation among employees.
Supports Team Well-Being
A well-designed workplace strategy can support employee well-being by creating a comfortable and safe environment that promotes physical and mental health.
Optimizes Office Resources
A workplace strategy that is well-planned and efficiently managed can help organizations to optimize their resources, reduce costs, and increase efficiency.
Hybrid Workplace Strategy: Two Essential Points
While it’s great to know the what and why of a workplace strategy, you must also (and always) keep two perennial truths in mind:
1. There's no "one-size-fits-all" workplace strategy.
Every organization is unique, and taking a competitor’s hybrid workplace strategy from “off the shelf” and applying it to your organization will only lead to failure. The nuances of your organizational culture, your physical space, your employee preferences, and more, really do matter when it comes to developing your workplace strategy.
2. No workplace strategy is ever “set and forget.”
If the last few years have proven anything, it’s that workplace leaders must be ready to accommodate rapid cycles of change. Every workplace strategy is built upon a set of “guiding assumptions” that are subject to change. The capacity to remain flexible and make strategic pivots when needed is as important as your workplace strategy on paper.
Remember the workplace strategies carefully crafted at the end of 2019 for the fateful year 2020? When a global pandemic forced nearly everyone to work from home in the Spring of 2020, those workplace strategies weren’t worth the paper they were written on. The organizations with the highest levels of agility fared much better than those with “perfect strategies” on paper who sought to stay the course.
6 Components of a High-Performing Hybrid Workplace Strategy
Workplace leaders must begin by humbly acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers about the “right” workplace strategy. They should therefore work collaboratively and cross-functionally to pursue solutions. The novelty and breathtaking complexity of hybrid work, for organizations, leadership, and individuals alike, can never be ignored: this stuff is hard.
A successful hybrid workplace strategy requires a combination of technology, policies, and culture that support remote and in-office work. What are the different needs that hybrid work has created, which should be components of any hybrid workplace strategy?
1.Robust Workplace Technology Tools
A robust technology infrastructure is necessary to support a hybrid workplace. This includes reliable internet connectivity, collaboration tools, and video conferencing software.
Enable how people connect with each other and with the office, no matter how people choose to work. Desk booking tools are essential for hybrid work, for instance, as is the capacity to book meeting spaces.
2.A Well-Defined Workplace Strategy
Clear policies that outline guidelines, expectations, and communication protocols are necessary for successful hybrid workplaces. These policies should be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of both remote and in-office workers.
Effective communication is critical for a hybrid workplace to function smoothly. This includes regular check-ins, feedback sessions, and transparent communication channels.
3.Hybrid Workplace Scheduling Coordination
This is an essential capability for hybrid work because your people want to collaborate in the office and see colleagues. You should empower them with tools that support scheduling coordination. Nothing kills employee experience faster than commuting into an empty office to sit on Zoom calls. You can do that at home. People come into the office to see, and work with, other people.
4.Configuration of Desks and Office Space
This will be different with hybrid work (as compared to the traditional, pre-pandemic office) because of staggered and uncertain in-office schedules. The days of the fixed desk and designated office are over, and organizations are now experimenting with an array of approaches, including hot desking and hoteling.
5.Plans for Employee Feedback and Team Training
With the “one employee, one desk” workplace long gone, you’ll need to ask (and keep asking) your people what they want, need, and expect from the office. Collecting data from employees is the way forward when it comes to evolving and optimizing any hybrid workplace strategy. It’s an endless and essential conversation that can lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction.
To ensure that employees are equipped to work effectively in a hybrid workplace, they need adequate training and development opportunities as well. This can include training on virtual collaboration, time management, and communication skills.
6.Clearly Defined Performance Metrics
Clear performance metrics are necessary to measure the success of a hybrid workplace strategy. These metrics should be based on outcomes, rather than time spent in the office or online.
By implementing these core components, organizations can create a hybrid workplace that is productive, collaborative, and adaptable to the needs of their workforce.
How to Build Your Hybrid Workplace Strategy
1. Define your hybrid work policy.
Begin with a clear understanding of how your people want to work and then create a plan (your hybrid work strategy) to accommodate those different ways of working, whether immersive, collaborative, at home/remote, in the office, or otherwise.
Do whatever you need to do, with the resources you have (including real estate and technology tools), to enable your people to do their best work.
2. Set clear expectations for office work.
The office still matters, and always will, as a locus of collaboration, organizational culture, and value-adding human interactions. People want to come into the office, but organizations still need to ensure that the office has a clear purpose. Define what the office is for, and make it as attractive a destination as possible.
Make coming into the office a frictionless experience by providing tools (like Robin) that enable visibility and scheduling coordination, so people can see when their colleagues and teams are coming in.
3. Create mechanisms for employee feedback about your office space.
Decisions around your hybrid work strategy cannot be based on hunches or the “gut instincts” of your CEO. Instead, workplace leaders need to constantly collect, evaluate, and make decisions based upon ongoing feedback. Opening up these lines of communication is critical to building a culture of employee satisfaction.
“The right feedback channels will tell leaders what employees want, what they need and their greatest fears,” explains a Gallup Workplace article. “Ultimately, surveys themselves don't solve problems -- they prompt the right kinds of conversations,” that lead to solutions.
4. Set metrics for measurement.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure. So you’ll need to define “what success looks like” in terms of the key outcomes, metrics, and KPIs your workplace strategy is trying to impact (e.g., employee engagement, productivity, and office utilization).
The right measurement framework and workplace analytics will reveal not only what's going well, but also what isn't, uncovering opportunities to optimize your approach.
5. Make plans for iteration.
Your workplace leadership team will need to meet regularly to discuss what changes you need to make to your hybrid workplace strategy – and then prioritize those changes.
If most of your employees say the temperature in the office is too high, it should be easy to lower the thermostats. However, if your people want to upgrade from snack vending machines to a full cafeteria, that’s a much bigger investment of time and money.
You should be setting priorities and deciding which changes can be made daily, monthly, quarterly, or each fiscal year. No matter what, clearly communicate your priorities to employees so they understand that you’re turning their feedback into action.
Finding the Right Hybrid Strategy for Employee Engagement
Hybrid work places a heavy emphasis on an organization’s capacity to remain agile and change-ready. It demands a more fluid workplace that can flex as needed to accommodate change. You’ll need a workplace experience platform to make it happen.
Workplace strategies today must go far beyond “just” real estate to put people before places. A Harvard Business Review article gets it exactly right:
“The office . . .must offer people a better experience than what they have at home and that means giving employees the right mix of spaces for the types of work that need to get done.”
A workplace experience platform is what helps you keep mixing and matching so you can optimize what you’re doing.
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