In the TV drama Madmen, high flying ad exec Don Draper enjoys a plush corner office complete with power desk and views across Manhattan. Arriving mid-morning, he strolls past rows of junior staff. He walks in, pours a whiskey from a cut crystal decanter, lights a cigarette, and puts his feet up. It’s certainly a long way from the inclusive, healthy and positive workplace culture that many of today’s leaders strive for.
From cubicles to open plan, yesteryear’s office culture was static. Same arrival time, same desk, same everything. Managers got quiet space and perks, the rest didn’t. Offices themselves were arranged with efficiency in mind. How many desks can we fit in this space? For many, typical workplace design stifled creativity and enforced hierarchies. The pandemic has shaken things up. No more Madmen-style offices. Dynamic, responsive and flexible, the future workplace stands to look much fresher.
The pandemic has sparked a seismic, hybrid-shaped shift in workplace culture. If the past was humdrum, the future is dynamic. People will engage with the workplace on their own terms. They’ll choose when to come in and spaces will flex to accommodate different work styles – but there are also different ways in how companies are approaching it.
Some are just dipping their toes; others are going the whole hog, closing down main offices and encouraging workers to be remote for most of the time. And some will nail this future workplace culture and create a high-functioning hybrid office; others won’t. The big question is, what makes a hybrid winner and what makes a hybrid laggard?
Some companies will inevitably struggle to make hybrid work. They’ll end up getting left behind and out of touch. How can you avoid this happening to you?
Those too focused on tradition won’t do well. Hybrid demands a mindset change. A focus on “the way things were” won’t help. Top-down structures will be difficult to maintain with workers distributed across different locations. Hybrid needs trust rather than micromanagement. Asynchronous communication will become the norm, face to face meetings the exception. Managers judge employees on the quality of output rather than how early they turn up at the office, or how well they can schmooze with senior colleagues.
More than a third of workers now list hybrid working as a top priority. In the future workplace, people will expect flexibility and a good work – life balance. Job adverts that list remote work as a perk are now a common sight.
Hybrid laggards will struggle to attract the top talent and retain staff. According to job recruitment website Glassdoor, 17% would consider quitting their job if they were required to return to the office five days per week.
There’s a difference between remote-first and remote-allowed. Remote-allowed doesn’t address the cultural and infrastructure changes needed to avoid remote employees feeling like second class citizens. An equitable experience with in-office counterparts is important.
Remote-first, on the other hand, represents the future of remote work. People work away from the central office by default, but can come in if they need or want to. Making it work involves addressing the missing piece in the puzzle – inclusive remote meetings. Remote-first places the emphasis on people, and encourages companies to provide the culture and tools to make it a positive and fair experience for everybody.
A high functioning hybrid workplace is not a given. It takes a particular leadership culture to make a hybrid workplace work. Hybrid winners will embrace it as an opportunity to reimagine company culture, empower employees and become more dynamic. They’ll focus on flexibility, the right tools and their people.
A flexible workplace culture is integral to realizing the benefits of going hybrid. This isn’t about continuing a 9-5 presenteeism, just using different locations. Hybrid is empowering for employees. It gives them autonomy and responsibility. Being able to start late, pick up the kids from school, or spend the morning working in a café. It will boost work-life balance, morale, and productivity.
For flexibility to work, trust is important. Micromanagement and judge employees on output rather than time spent in the office. This might represent a mentality shift, but it cann free employees to fulfil their potential and democratize opportunities. Crypto currency exchange Coinbase has embraced flexibility, and found it means “career outcomes are based on capability and output rather than location.’
Flexibility equals agility too. Future Covid variants could mean organizations need to respond quickly to unexpected restrictions. Hybrid winners will be ready and able.
In the past, the office provided all of the essential workplace infrastructure. Now, a distributed, hybrid workforce relies on digital infrastructure. Clunky processes that aren’t fit for purpose will leave employees frustrated and disengaged. Workplace digital systems must enable employees to work anywhere, from HQs to satellite offices to kitchen tables.
Make cloud based software a given, and provide workplace apps that help people manage the logistics of their working week, such as app-based desk and room booking software. You could call it the workplace operating system. Digital systems provide data too. With desk and room booking software, you’ll know exactly how employees use desks and rooms. Invaluable insight that can drive real estate and office layout plans.
Would Don Draper and his fellow ad men of the 1960s be hybrid winners? We think not. Thankfully, things have moved on. Be prepared to embrace change, adopt the right tools and focus on your people. You’ll put your company in a strong position to make a success of going hybrid. A company is ultimately a group of people pursuing a collective goal. The things around them – office, company brand, workplace culture – all exist to help those people do their best work. Hybrid winners will be the companies that put their people front and centre.
With people working away from the office for part of the working week, successful companies will be ready to implement new practices to look after their people, such as:
They’ll be winners because they’ll be able to attract and retain top talent, create a dynamic and positive company culture, and get the most out of an empowered workforce.
Get our guide to discover the 5 key steps to build a strong return to the office plan.