How to design a hybrid workplace that cultivates employee connection and experience
By prioritising employee experience, businesses can create a hybrid workplace that runs efficiently and supports workplace culture whether people are in the office, working remotely or in other spaces.
The worker experience has become a key factor of workplace design as flexibility becomes the new norm and businesses implement hybrid work strategies.
But while reducing costs may be tempting for many businesses, designing and running a hybrid workplace specifically suited to the people and culture of an organisation will ultimately prove more efficient.
“Prior to the pandemic, being in the workplace was the only choice for many people so the space had to be designed for a myriad of functions. This approach often compromised the experience of each space. Companies can now choose three or four key experiences — like spaces for individual work or areas for creative collaboration — that are best suited to the workplace and execute them well. This creates a more efficient use of space and greater amenity for users,” says Anthony Walsh, design director at JLL.
Designing a hybrid workplace is a multi-stage process that prioritises end users in order to achieve equality of experience between people in the office and those working from other locations.
Done right, it can provide experiences and amenities that can improve people’s days and support their preferred ways of working in the office or other spaces.
On the other hand, a hybrid workplace that doesn’t prioritise end users can cultivate employee dissatisfaction and risk losing talent, as well as the community and connection fostered in a company.
“A lot of good has come out of the pandemic from a workplace perspective,” says Walsh. “We have to think differently about what an office can and should be, and it starts with people and culture. This approach needs to be embraced at a senior level to succeed.”
What do workers want?
Every approach to create an equal, enjoyable, and engaging experience for employees starts with understanding how they want to work. This can be achieved at the very least through a survey, Walsh says.
A survey should ascertain what types of work, activities or initiatives employees want to come into the office for, and what types of spaces, amenities and technology they need in the office and from other locations. For example, a JLL survey of 3,300 office workers found 63 percent of respondents want to alternate between different places of work. This data can be used to design a workplace that meets these needs.
At the same time, businesses must develop a clear vision of their workplace culture. Internal surveys can also achieve this, along with discussions about a company’s culture and the physical spaces and amenities needed to support it.
The office as a social place
As well as providing a place of work, the office should be viewed as a place of collaboration and connection.
Socialising is one of the main reasons people come into an office. As JLL research shows, half of employees consider socialisation spaces crucial to their experience.
“Previously, workplaces were designed around efficiency and once the desired number of workstations were in place other support areas were introduced if space permitted,” Walsh says. "Workplace design now has an opportunity to focus more on delivering experiences that support culture, collaboration and connection — the most fun elements of being in the office.”
Technology as a source of truth
Technology is playing an increasingly valuable role in achieving people-centred design by offering a data-driven picture of how employees use different spaces.
IoT sensors, which gather a range of people, organisational, and environmental data, can be used throughout the design process to better understand real-time office occupancy. This way, managers can determine how people actually use an office, as opposed to how they say they will or do. Spaces can then be optimised and reconfigured to suit work habits and patterns.
“Sensor technology detects signs of life so designers and space managers can identify how an office is working and what is needed,” says Sophie Cornell, sales director for JLL Technologies. “Sensors will track if someone has booked a desk and left their laptop and jacket there, but not actually sat down.”
Sensors can also be used to track where and when people are congregating, as well as how efficiently and effectively meeting rooms are used.
“A worker experience app, which helps deliver a smarter employee experience, in conjunction with a desk booking system, allows people to reserve a desk from their phone, see what colleagues are around them, and what managers will be in the office on a particular day,” Cornell says.
Cornell stresses that a successful hybrid workplace is not only about how an organisation manages who works from the office or home, but how employees are empowered with the autonomy and flexibility to manage their day and week in order to accomplish their goals.
Technology is key to creating this equitable and frictionless experience at a time when employees are more in tune with their work habits than ever before.
“By understanding and prioritising people and culture, companies can design a hybrid workplace and deliver a worker experience that adds value to people’s day, benefits their work habits and is ultimately more efficient for their business and operations,” Cornell says.