Companies rewrite the rules for managing hybrid workplaces

Office design, technology and an agile mindset are preparing workplaces for future demands

December 20, 2021

With flexible models taking the workplace beyond the office walls and into people’s homes and other alternative settings, businesses are thinking bigger to manage the shift to hybrid work.

They are designing offices so people talk to each other more, embedding wellness activities into diaries, and scrutinising the use of space and energy like never before.

These measures reflect a more holistic, strategic and technology-driven approach to the workplace so it is set up for future demands.

“Real estate managers are finally in a position to create the dynamic workplaces they’ve always dreamed of,” says Cheryl Stevens, head of corporate business, JLL.

Tech drives the experience

Office design that enhances connectivity between colleagues is at the top of managers’ lists. This comes as JLL data shows only 36 percent of the workforce are able to maintain strong working and personal interactions with colleagues remotely.

“Fluid layouts, ample light, and cosier interaction spaces are helping foster genuine in-person connection,” Stevens says. She highlights user-friendly AI technology, such as the JET app, which diligently learns a worker’s day, helping facilitate room bookings, visitor management, community activities, check-in records and more. 

Meanwhile, several organisations are trialling the human-centred Experience / Anywhere platform, an AI-driven business tool able to streamline a vast catalogue of user setup needs for hybrid working across a company. In addition, it provides distinct wellness opportunities for staff to embed into their diaries, reducing disparity between teams and regions.

For enhancing interactions between people and teams, managers are also honing heavily on AV improvements, including videoconferencing, virtual whiteboards, and sophisticated project management software.

“Adequate expenditure on communication and visual tools can’t be underestimated,” says Ben Tindale, managing director of accounts, Work Dynamics – Australasia, JLL. “Prioritising digital infrastructure investment to support remote and in-office working, results in better people engagement, cost benefits to organisations, as well as efficiency improvements.”

Cleanliness and safety

The ongoing pandemic is ensuring that real estate operations continue to focus on safety in the workplace, introducing hygiene protocols only previously seen in hospitals.

UV sanitising lights and ventilation that follows World Health Organisation guidelines are delivering sufficiently improved office air quality.

The management and monitoring of these measures are being handled by smart solutions like Dynamic OM which connects existing systems to new technology to anticipate and manage varying office occupancy levels. Many companies are also finding AI planning apps to deploy cleaning and maintenance teams at logical times invaluable.

“Building submetering for specific energy measurements, plus data analysis of people flow, usage and energy consumption are all being ramped up now because of the invaluable scope they are providing owners and managers to address inefficiencies,” Tindale says.

Governments too are moving fast to take this data-led approach as trends suggest the tight competition for good staff, the need to reassess office space, and push towards more people-centred metrics are universal, Tindale adds.

Constant improvement works

While hybrid work naturally calls into question the place of the office, progressive companies are reaping rewards by thinking ahead and not necessarily calculating how to downsize their office space, but how to squeeze more value out of it.

Offering comfortable and impressive facilities with healthy food, outdoor and green spaces, even local group classes and fitness centres is a good start for the human-centred workplace, says JLL’s Stevens.

She also suggests negotiating with landlords for communal spaces in return for longer lease periods.

While the workplace beyond 2022 will be more consolidated than it is now, the challenge will remain to ensure they continue to be productive, functional and welcoming, Stevens says. Companies that achieve balance in this hybrid evolution will celebrate productivity, accomplished goals and continue to hold the best talent.

“Adopt an agile approach. Make considered policy improvements, trial them, review the metrics, get feedback, refine and repeat. Above all, be flexible,” Stevens says.