The facetime factor: How to make collaboration work in the hybrid workplace

What do you think the hybrid workplace will look like in 2025?

The office is great for collaboration, team building, and those chance encounters that, instead of interrupting work, lead to creativity and help things move along a little faster. The key is creating an on-site collaboration experience that beats the online alternative – one that values the importance of face-to-face time and the productivity that it brings. 

Key findings

We surveyed 1,500 workers across the US and the UK and discovered that:

  • More than half (54%) want to return to the office 2-3 days a week.
  • They expect more spaces for teamwork in addition to quiet areas for focused work. 
  • 44% expect to have more chance encounters.
  • 60% believe being in the office will facilitate collaboration with colleagues.
  • 54% describe returning to the office as the equivalent of going out to meet with friends.

The office is far from dead. Our work and life choices have become more intentional, and the workplace experience needs to follow suit. 

The key is creating an on-site experience that beats the online alternative – one that values the importance of face-to-face time and the collaboration and productivity that it brings. 

Sounds like hard work? Not if you take the right approach with the right tools, read on and find out how.

Collaboration 2.0: The hybrid edition

1. Bring back the magic of being offline

Companies that reward social cohesion see more job satisfaction and higher-quality social interactions among staff

There’s a good reason for that – in-person meetings allow our brain to draw meaning from different social cues and body language. They provide more opportunities for rich, informal conversations that build trust and strengthen the company culture. 

Technology, on the other hand, creates “digital static” – a gap between what’s communicated online and what we perceive. Accumulated over time, it leads to anxiety, burnout, and loss of motivation (which explains the infamous Zoom fatigue). 

Ongoing remote work is linked to a sense of isolation and decreasing motivation, particularly among junior employees and Gen Z. And we’ve had a lot of it. In the Microsoft universe alone, the time spent on video calls has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic while the number of emails has grown by 40.6 billion.

Failure to create a strong culture of teamwork and regular in-person meetings risks creating a workplace plagued by digital burnout and unequal career opportunities, particularly among women and new employees working remotely.

The conclusion is simple: we need more offline interactions – for our productivity as well as mental wellbeing.

Hybrid working is more than just a mix of office locations and work routines. It is a new approach to teamwork and getting things done. To get it right, we need to balance digital work with a healthy dose of face-to-face interactions.

Hybrid working is more than just a mix of office locations and work routines, it is a new approach to teamwork and getting things done.

2. Orchestrate the irreplaceable water cooler moments

Chance meetings or water cooler chats are often behind great breakthroughs, innovation, and creativity – all crucial to business success. They’re also the hardest to replicate in the digital world. 

And we’re not talking about a fleeting moment of happiness. 48% said the positive effects lasted at least 30 minutes afterward with nearly a quarter (21%) feeling boosted for more than an hour. 

And yet, digital is here to stay. In 2025, we won’t be talking about “virtual” work and “online” meetings. Digital, virtual, online, and offline will all shape the new reality. 

So, how do you orchestrate these moments of serendipity in a hybrid workplace? How do you organize a spontaneous coffee chat that sparks new ideas and makes it easier to reach out to colleagues for help or feedback? 

Take the guesswork out of planning office time

Tools like Donut for Slack can be helpful, but what if you gave your people the opportunity to create their moments of serendipity?

Imagine they had an app that blended the best of Airbnb and Ticketmaster – an app that showed them exactly who’s in, who’s not, who’s reserved a spot and where. Imagine your company staff had a desk booking app that let them find and review any desk or meeting space in the office, the amenities, or an office neighborhood.

They could book a space precisely when and where is most convenient. They could reserve entire rooms for collaboration or team building (how about those Taco Tuesdays?). Use a workplace app like this, and your people will be equipped to create their own water cooler moments. 

Make networking and team building part of the company culture

  • Turn team building into a proactive effort by holding more in-person team lunches or events.
  • Curate opportunities for chance meetings and internal networking by:  
    • deliberately leaving free time in meeting agendas for spontaneous discussions; 
    • organizing more one-on-ones;
    • creating virtual coffee rooms where remote workers have a chance to “run into” other team members; 
    • facilitating optional collaboration times and cadences (more on these below). 
  • Encourage teams and managers to look for alternative perspectives, share their findings, ideate with colleagues, and challenge business-as-usual.

3. Balance on-site / online collaboration with cadences

Say you regularly end up doing your morning run with John who lives at the other end of the park. You don’t ponder the reasons why. It’s clear – your morning routines and itineraries coincide. 

At Kadence, we call that cadence. Fitness apps already exploit this phenomenon. You can publish your cadence, switch between classes, and find workout buddies with similar routines. It’s time to make cadence part of the workplace experience. 

Most see their desk booking app merely as a means of booking a workspace. But what if it was also flagging Jen’s habit of staying in the office a few hours after Monday team meetings? You’d be able to replicate her cadence by syncing some of your office time and booking a seat near Jen’s for regular chats and feedback. 

The same can be applied to entire teams. HR and Facilities could set up a cadence to design the new workplace policy. Marketing and Product Development could sync their cadences to cooperate more effectively before a new release.

By combining desk booking software, cadences, and effective office design, you’re creating a new and better way for individual productivity and teamwork to flourish – on top of that, you’re orchestrating an infinite number of ‘water cooler moments’.

4. Mix synchronous and asynchronous collaboration

Do you really need the 9-to-5 workday of real-time collaboration? 

Probably not. Nearly half of US and UK workers believe presenteeism will be more of an issue after returning to the office.

What you need is good ROI – prompt responses to customer queries, effective supply chains, or projects completed by the deadline. You need results and leaders that motivate rather than micromanage. During the pandemic, the average workday went up by 2.5 hours often leading to a constant state of panic

Counter that with the power of asynchronous collaboration.

  • Balance remote and on-site collaboration. Have a clear process and set expectations for what’s communicated where and when, which meetings and activities are best conducted on-site, and when remote, asynchronous communication is the optimal choice.  
  • Limit the number of meetings. Ineffective meetings cost companies $37 billion a year. Meet for creative brainstorming, team building, one-on-ones, and to tackle urgent matters. Leave technical discussions and status updates to a dedicated Slack channel.
  • Create an agenda with a set goal ahead of each meeting. Invite only those who need to be there and make sure everyone is aware of their role and expected input.
  • Show trust in your staff. 35% of office workers fear hybrid work will mean having to be “always on”. Nearly half feel the same way about working at home (44%) and the office (43%). Allow your staff to work and answer queries in their own time – you’ll still hit your goals with higher quality work. 

While most roadblocks can just as well be cleared in 15-30-60 minutes, they become real annoying if it’s a one-day turn-around every time.


5. Create inclusive meeting experiences

It will not be unusual for a meeting to take place between part of the team sitting together in a meeting room and others joining in remotely. 

To facilitate inclusive and productive hybrid meetings:

  • Rotate meeting facilitators and structure contributions.
  • Keep an eye on remote and introverted team members. 
  • Introduce small talk before the call. It can increase meeting productivity better than anything else.
  • Consider an open doors policy for certain meetings. Inviting other teams to join may not only lead to richer contributions but also strengthen relationships and build a sense of purpose at work.

A workplace worth returning to

67% of workers crave more in-person time with their coworkers. What motivates them to commute to the office, however, has changed.

For most, the office is not the best place for focused work. Remember all those times when you were in the flow, working hard when somebody suddenly popped in to pick your brain or to have a chat because they were on a break? 

The office is great for collaboration, team building, and those chance encounters that, instead of interrupting work and increasing anxiety, lead to creativity, new initiatives, and help things move along a little faster. 

1. Design spaces that encourage teamwork

Over a third (34%) of employees expect their employer to provide more collaborative office zones. Design hubs for different forms of social interaction and collaboration, from team meetings and town halls to water cooler chats and small social gatherings. 

Fujitsu, for example, has created an ecosystem of workspaces: hubs in major cities for client meetings, and chance encounters; shared offices near urban and suburban train stations for focused work; satellite offices for undisturbed team meetings.

Have an entire building to yourself? Take a look at the first floor. Tech companies are creating spaces that extend the workplace out to the street. These can take the shape of a semi-enclosed park, a membership experience center, an office-lookalike restaurant, or an event and coworking space like Camp Charleston Google is currently testing for large team gatherings.

Whether a separate part of a workplace or the entire office itself, collaboration hubs should be:

  • Easily accessible by public transport, ideally, close to where the majority of your employees live. 
  • Well-equipped to support onsite and remote teamwork, with high-speed internet, connected workplace tools, and technology. 
  • Flexible – equipped with a mix of amenities, comfortable seating, and adjustable furniture such as mobile whiteboards and space dividers. 
  • Easy to navigate. More than a third (32%) of workers expect to be able to book a desk when they come to the office. 25% worry they won’t be able to locate a workspace that matches their needs. Help them focus their talents productively by providing a desk and room booking app that provides a convenient overview of the workplace, different zones and amenities, and offers instant check-in.
  • Safety – with flexible cleaning schedules, touchless technology, and agile setup to enable social distancing or close off a potentially infectious area. A best-practice desk booking app will be able to facilitate all of that as well as ensure contact tracing for an additional layer of security.

2. Build feedback into the company culture

  • Most Facebook and Twitter employees will continue to work remotely. 
  • HubSpot and Salesforce will remain hybrid, allowing their employees to choose between home, flex, and office work. 
  • Asana is building an office-centric culture with flexible working hours.
  • Dropbox has taken the individual workspace out of the office algorithm.

What’s your approach, or perhaps you’ve already tested a few ideas and went through a similar experience to Trivago’s? The travel company tried a scenario of three weeks working from home, one in the office. They did their best to make the office appealing – there was coffee, muffins, and balloons, and employees who couldn’t focus on their work. 

Trivago eventually settled with two days a week in the office scenario so their employees could “socialize, have extended lunches and work with their teams”. The rest of the week? Focused work, no distractions.

When you’re a people-first company, you don’t need to imitate the “new normal” of others or replicate the old work setup with all its flaws in the hybrid setting.

You create the You Normal. Survey your people to understand:  

  • when and where they are the most productive; 
  • which work activities the office needs to accommodate;
  • how they coordinate collaboration with others;
  • decide how much office space you’ll need and whether to stick with one HQ or decentralized workspaces; 
  • assess how well the existing workplace tools and strategies work.

Use desk and room booking software to:

  • uncover work patterns among staff;
  • optimize workspaces; 
  • forecast demand for different office spaces and amenities.

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.

Get the tool kit

Hybrid working

3. Prioritize a people-first user experience

Technology will be key to the success of the hybrid workplace, whether that’s provisioning the right equipment to work from home or organizing logistics and optimizing workplaces for a dispersed workforce. Give your people the tools to maximize their workplace experience and you’ll have a productive, self-organizing staff. 

For this to work, you’ll need a user-friendly desk and room booking app that employees actually want to use. A workplace app that:

  • is easy and obvious to use;
  • provides a simple, visual overview of spaces, from car parking and meeting rooms to desk availability; 
  • offers instant short- and long-term desk booking;
  • automatically updates the booking system as you begin to use a workspace and notifies the cleaners once you’re done;
  • adds value to the workday with relevant notifications such as your colleagues’ cadences or smart suggestions of spaces to book based on your needs;
  • supports touchless experiences through app check-in; 
  • comes with seamless integrations with other scheduling tools like Office 365 and Google Workspace.

4. Optimize workspaces for competitive advantage

Whenever an employee books a desk or a room, for themselves or a team, they provide insights that stretch from practical to profound. A best-practice workplace app will translate this data to show you:

  • Real-time check-ins so you can eliminate “zombie bookings” and release unused spaces back to the pool without delay. 
  • Typical desks-to-people ratio in your office to determine how much you could shrink the floor space.
  • The most populated areas on any given day, week, month. You’ll see whether they’re used as intended, if any office areas are favored over others, which might need a redesign, and where to adjust the cleaning schedule.
  • Emerging patterns and cadences among teams and individuals. 

These insights will allow you to improve the workplace experience as well as optimize the use of resources. You’ll know where to adjust the office setting and how. You’ll be able to forecast demand and make the necessary provisions, for example, by using “pay as you go” coworking spaces or setting up an “overspill neighborhood” for the days when the office is busier than usual.

You’ll make data-backed decisions and strengthen a culture of feedback, development, and innovation.

Businesses talk about experience marketing to build brand engagement and client experience to grow customer loyalty. It’s time to look at the workplace experience the same way – with the employee as a client at its epicenter. It will take a healthy balance of online and face-to-face collaboration.

It will need a people and workplace policy that supports healthy, equal experiences and opportunities, as well as physical spaces that prioritize engagement and productivity.

And it will require technology like Kadence that’s designed for people-first companies with great user experience and actionable insights in mind – a workplace app that supports private, focused work sessions as well as spontaneous social interactions and shared cadences.

Those days at the office? They’ll feel special. They’ll spark new ideas and celebrate the freedom of choice. 

The office will have become a destination.

Get started with Kadence

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