How to create a hybrid workplace that puts your people first

It’s not news that job satisfaction fosters employee productivity and, by extension, improves the bottom line. To reap the benefits in 2021 and beyond, companies will need to shift from a company-centric to a people-centric workplace strategy. 

Here are 7 steps to help you find the right balance and create a hybrid workplace that puts people first.


Let’s face it, this is not the easiest time for workplace and HR leaders. You’re trying to sustain a strong company culture and make collaboration a rewarding experience, when most of your people are likely to be working remotely at least some of the time. You need to embrace diversity and inclusion more than ever before, and ensure equal career opportunities in a hybrid workplace. 

Then you’re tasked with shaping a workplace policy that puts people first (employee engagement, job satisfaction) without sacrificing business outcomes (productivity, talent retention, profit!).  There’s no shortage of information and opinions to tell you what’s what. Only, while one announces the desk is dead, others argue that the best place for everyone is back in the office.

So which is the right answer? In short, the one that works for you and your people.


Understand employees’ hybrid work preferences

There’s nothing like investing in an expensive office redesign or employee perks only to find the majority of employees still prefer to work from anywhere else – their home, their favorite coffee shop, or a coworking space.

A 3-2-2 work week – three days in the office, two days remote, two days off – might soon become the new normal. 75% of workers want to retain flexibility in their schedule, but whether that means two days a week in the office or more isn’t unanimous. Nor are the reasons behind these decisions. 

Some prefer home because it offers more privacy. Others find it more productive than the office setting. However, those with up to five years of work experience often struggle to remain productive at home and miss the opportunity to connect and learn from their co-workers. And then there are those who vote for the office because it has a better internet connection!

What’s true is that people have gotten used to the flexibility of choosing where and when they work to accommodate their taskload, parenting, and other family needs. They’re not about to give that up. And why should they? Gensler workplace surveys reveal that a better balance between home and office leads to higher overall job satisfaction. 

So take the time to ask your employees:  

  • What would be your ideal work situation post-pandemic?
  • How many days would you like to be in the office? 
  • Are there specific weekdays you prefer to be in the office?
  • How do you prefer to collaborate with others?
  • Are there certain team meetings that should be conducted in person?
  • Are there any activities that should remain remote even after the fall of the pandemic?
  • Have you relocated or plan to do so? 

For a customizable version of these questions, use this template

Employee Survey Toolkit

Use our employee survey tool kit to better understand how your people prefer to work when they’re ready return to the workplace.

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Identify what employees value most in the workplace

The hybrid workplace is not a new concept. Global brands like Yahoo!, IBM, Reddit, Bank of America, Aetna, and AT&T had tried and mostly abandoned the attempt to implement hybrid work programs pre-pandemic. The reason: poor communication with and among employees, lowering motivation and performance. 

Today, we’re still up against the same challenges. Glassdoor research suggests that what workers value most is

  • Company culture and values
  • Quality senior leadership
  • Access to career opportunities within the organization

After the euphoria of the first months of freedom from the office was over, many started experiencing Zoom fatigue, the pain of ergonomically incorrect seating and longing for spontaneous interactions with colleagues. That said, some feel they’ve had more opportunity to speak up, as Zoom generally equals better meeting etiquette. 

In the same way, while there are folk who want team-oriented spaces and lounge rooms in the workplace, more safety-conscious employees fear the easy spread of viruses in open plan office layouts. To get job satisfaction and productivity soaring, you’ll want to cater to the different personalities that make up your workforce. Make sure everyone is heard by encouraging regular feedback.

Ask your people:

  • How important are agile working setups such as sit-stand desks? 
  • How important are various office perks for workplace satisfaction?
  • What work activities does the office need to support?
  • Have you felt any positive or negative change in the company culture or your career opportunities since the start of the pandemic?

Involving employees in such questions will help shape a productive and happy workplace that retains and attracts top talent. 

For a customizable version of these questions, use this template


Define the office’s primary function

Understanding what employees need most from the office, which activities are best performed from home, and how they affect bottom line performance will help you define the role and setup that create a positive workplace experience.

For most office workers, a typical day will involve collaborative and individual work. There are routine and research tasks, focused work, planned client meetings, unplanned phone calls, team building activities, and so on.  How can your office setup meet all of these demands on it? Should it?

You might choose to:

  • Design the office for collaboration. According to Liz Burow, former VP of workplace strategy at WeWork, this is the main role of the future workplace: a space to gather for cooperation, personal development, culture, and leadership. In the era of rapidly developing technology, you’ll need to offer “a kickass headquarters with a lot of amenities and a super slick experience”, to quote Brittney Van Matre, Nike’s director of workplace strategy and operations, if you want employees to have the motivation to commute to the office.
  • Create an activity-based workplace that allows staff to switch between quiet spaces, meeting rooms, and huddle areas, based on their needs that day. Nike’s employee surveys revealed this is by far the preferred option – to come into the office twice a week and adjust the setup to match the activity.
  • Mix core and flex office areas where part of the workplace is reserved for workers who need or prefer to be in the office full-time. The rest are flexible spaces where the design, the setup, or even the size of the area can be easily adjusted and scaled up or down. We can already see a rise in real estate providers offering such pay-as-you-go services – you pay only for the office space your teams need that day.
  • Introduce desk hoteling – People will relax knowing they can book ahead the desk or room they need. This serves as an extra layer for collaborative or activity-based workplaces. The advantage? Better space utilization, reduced cost, agility, and safety for employees.

All of these options require reliable desk booking software. The key is finding a solution that employees actually want to use. Ideally, it will come with easy user interface, customizable settings to set up company-wide or location-specific policies, or data to analyze the need for different resources based on employee work patterns. 


Improve employee experience

With overcomplicated, legacy booking systems people don’t want to use, you’ll be hard-pressed to get the data you need to create a safe and positive workplace experience. 

You don’t need to struggle to find the “like” button on Instagram or to figure out how to post new content on LinkedIn – it’s obvious. Workplace tech should be just as intuitive. 

Look for a solution that can:

  • Make desk booking quick and easy, whether that’s a week in advance or last minute, at home, in the office, or on the go.
  • Offer a choice of views for ease of use. Some employees may want to filter workspaces by amenities, others may want to do so with an at-a-glance floor plan view for clean spaces – give them the option to set the app to their preferences. 
  • Provide real-time updates on availability, powered by mobile check-in and occupancy data. Nobody wants to go through the process of booking a desk only to find it isn’t available after all. Or the opposite – walk through a half-empty office but see no desks available to book on the app. Kadence lets you take it a step further by using the app’s policy settings to automatically release a desk or a room if no one has checked in within, say, 15 minutes from the time it was booked. 
  • Boost daily productivity. Best practice software will detect the employee’s presence in the office, give them simple directions to the correct floor and desk and send check-in prompts to their smartphone. As an added incentive, Kadence equips desks with check-in spots that double as an availability status indicator as well as a wireless phone charger.


Design for flexibility

In today’s world, people expect flexibility from their workplace. Find ways to create it in:

  • Adjust real estate portfolio: Make sure it allows you to easily adjust the size of the office, reconfigure spaces as conditions change. Use data to understand how your people are using the spaces, identify trends and patterns to improve workspaces that best support your people and their needs.
  • Agile office design: Imagine trying to jump on a Zoom call with five other people ‘zooming’ right next to you. The modern office needs flexible spaces to cater for different work activities. Best-practice desk booking software can help employees identify the availability of each workspace, as well as the neighborhood it’s in with the facilities in the vicinity.
  • Cadence for smart collaborations. Flexibility in space and resource management is going to be a big success factor for the hybrid workplace. As the lockdown eases, Sales will prefer to meet potential clients face-to-face; the Head of Marketing may want to create a cadence for the team to collaborate face-to-face every Monday and Thursday. The Head of Product Development may choose to follow a similar cadence to cooperate more effectively with Marketing before a new product release.

With Kadence, individuals too will be able to set up cadences to meet on specific days and work alongside friends from different teams (think Taco Tuesdays). If you can make it easy for your teams to set up a cadence, you’ll not only improve employee experience, but also strengthen the company culture and team collaboration.

  • Technology to enhance hybrid workplace experience. We’ve already seen the developments in remote meeting, conference, and VR technology. More than 60% of executives plan to increase budget for virtual collaboration tools while 50% plan to raise investment in desk hoteling apps to manage hybrid workplaces more effectively. With Kadence, for example, you can create neighborhoods governed by specific sets of rules to provide teams with what they need to collaborate and perform at their best.
  • Rethink people strategy. Only 38% of employees enjoy an equally great experience working from home and the office. Some find Zoom exhausting, others believe it has given them the opportunity to speak up. One feels more productive at home, another struggles with poor internet connection. 34% of junior employees say their productivity suffers when working remotely. Workers struggling to remain productive tend to cite difficulties in balancing work with home.

A great hybrid workplace will need a people strategy that can respond to different employee needs. It will also need managers with access to guidance and training to understand how to manage people, ensure equal opportunities, and provide feedback in a hybrid workplace.


Focus on employee wellbeing and safety

Employees who are happy with their work environment are 16% more productive and 30% more attracted to their company in comparison to competitors. As a workplace manager, the questions you’ll need to answer include:

  • How will I work without knowing where to sit?
  • Where are my teammates?
  • In the event of a pandemic with high infection rates, how can I know this desk is safe to use?

Take a holistic approach to employee safety and wellbeing in the workplace, covering:

  • Health: Strict cleaning protocols in the event of a pandemic, adjustable social distancing measures, technology and automation all help create a safe workplace environment. A cloud-based desk and space booking system, coupled with accurate occupancy data, help you respond to changes in real time.

With Kadence, for example, you get touchless check-in, hyperlocal occupancy data for contact tracing. You can set safety policies, employee permission levels, or block off a hazardous area – all at the click of a button.

  • Office environment: 80% of company wellness programs in the US have largely failed. Why? Because they focused on perks like coffee shops and fitness facilities rather than what their employees valued much more – good air quality and access to natural light. 
  • Emotional wellbeing: From biophilic office design and flexible working conditions to virtual and in-person team building, choose a workplace strategy that supports employee wellbeing. Ease their hot desking anxiety by providing a workplace app that instantly indicates the status of each room and desk, helps them to find their co-workers and book a workspace they are comfortable with.


Effective measurement of workplace satisfaction

When it comes to workplace satisfaction, offices are increasingly judged by their capacity to nurture collaboration, problem solving, and knowledge transfer. It’s not just the comfortable seating or good coffee, but a combination of 

  • The physical office setup and amenities 
  • Service features 
  • Support for productivity, physical and emotional wellbeing
  • Foundations for the work activities employees perform most

With a desk booking system like Kadence you can gain a detailed breakdown of how and when office spaces are being used. Its real-time occupancy data means you can:

  • Offer a faster desk turnaround.
  • Improve workplace safety through contact tracing.
  • Manage your heating, air conditioning and lighting by showing you when and where your highest energy demands are.

Historical space usage reports:

  • Identify constantly underused areas where cost savings can be made or repurposing can improve employee experience.
  • Highlight the elements your employees value most in their workplace.
  • Reveal whether the intended purpose of any workspace aligns with its use in practice.

To create a workplace that works for people as well as profit, you need to be able to measure results and make data-based decisions. Regular workplace satisfaction surveys combined with technology that gathers hyperlocal occupancy data will give you the information you need to match resources with demand, and offer an amazing workplace experience.

The hybrid workplace isn’t hybrid just because of a new work routine. It’s also a hybrid of different activities,  experiences, spaces, and strategies. But when you put the needs of your people at the heart of it, you know you’re going in the right direction.

Wondering how to implement these steps in practice? Download our employee survey tool kit to better understand how your people prefer to work when they’re ready return to the workplace.

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