Hybrid working runs the risk of becoming a blanket term, interpreted on a very surface level, when it has the potential to offer a much greater opportunity for businesses to open up and re-examine the culture and experience of their staff, alongside where they want to take their business in the future, as well as fast-tracking mental health and wellbeing to play a central role in workplace strategy.
Research by the University of London into how businesses have responded to past pandemics and economic crises has helped us to identify four different categories of business ‘type’ likely to emerge from the pandemic. These are: the Business as Usual; the Temporary Pivoter; the Shape Shifter, and the Re-Inventor. While by no means hard and fast, these categories give a good indicator as to how hybrid working might be applied to a company, in a more integral way.
First off, within the categories, is the Business as Usual. This company ‘type’ will emerge from the crisis looking very much like it did when it went in. For this business type hybrid working implies improvements in technology and processes, a movement with the times.
The Temporary Pivoter is a business type that has been forced to adopt a wholesale change in its business operations – often including changing what it offered to customers and clients – but is enthusiastic for a return to the office where it can work more effectively. Ultimately it will return to its original place in the market. This business will need to delve deeper in terms of what to take forward from its temporary operating model, so as to stay firmly future focused, and avoid any leaps back into the past; a move likely to throw up many hurdles. Many law firms and investment companies will recognise themselves within this category.
The Shape Shifter is the company that has had to change and innovate and potentially be spurred into creating new product lines in response to events over the past year, and so the move to hybrid working will not be as simple as discovering the best home-to-office ratio. It is likely be approached as an opportunity to make much more courageous moves, including potential strategic business change, structural change, along with changes to cultural and people.
The Re-Inventor, the bravest of all business types exiting the pandemic, is likely, by necessity, to be doing something completely different post-pandemic than it was before. In seizing the moment to reinvent themselves, these companies will be reviewing talent, capital expenditures and overheads, and demands in office space are likely to change dramatically in line with this. An App Developer that needs to recruit many data scientists to a project for example may want one singular, highly collaborative space, to supplement a remote working strategy.
The underlying goal of hybrid working is the balancing of staff happiness, satisfaction and motivation, with business resources and productivity. While these categories help identify different starting points, the move towards hybrid working is something that demands a phased approach, whatever the business type, allowing for adjustment and re-evaluation.
It is a journey that will inevitably be guided by the appropriate constraints unique to each business, that can range from hard and fast factors, like terms, cost, location, and growth, to ones that may need more in-depth research and understanding, such as aspiration and appetite for change.
For workplace designers, and architects, this is a pivotal time for re-examining office design, and a time to think about the office in much broader term, as a platform for engagement, alongside many other physical and technological platforms. In this sense hybrid working will move us beyond terms such as agile working and hot desking, that have, in the past given the go-ahead to create Instagram-friendly project spaces, with every available working arrangement on offer.
The companies who will get hybrid working right are the ones who are bold enough about who they are and brave enough to challenge the way they have been working. Architects, designers and all workplace professionals need to be equally open minded, using design intelligently, and sometimes invisibly, to empower people and teams, and create tailored working solutions, always in anticipation of further transition and growth.