Hybrid Working – Creating the “Next Normal” in Work Practices, Spaces, and Culture

Almost overnight, COVID-19 forced millions of employees worldwide to work from home. In many cases, the adoption of remote working on a massive scale has demonstrated how employees can operate with the same (if not greater) efficiency and productivity while achieving a better work-life balance.

Hybrid Working - Creating the "Next Normal" in Work Practices, Spaces, and Culture
Hybrid Working – Creating the “Next Normal” in Work Practices, Spaces, and Culture

Yet this dramatic change suddenly overruled many business policies on when and where employees work. It also brought challenges around maintaining company culture and supporting home workers.

One thing is clear, however. The enforced changes brought about by the pandemic have opened the eyes of employees and business leaders to new ways of working. There is an opportunity to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, redesign the business, and reinvent the way people work.

Drawing on insights from experts on the future of work, workplace design, and cultural change, this report explores how work will evolve as we emerge in the “next normal.”

It sets out why 2020 will be the catalyst to radically accelerate hybrid working, where employees enjoy flexibility and choice, and businesses thrive through motivated, collaborative, and productive teams.

Table of contents

The Journey to the “Next Normal”
Hybrid Working: Practices
Post-Lockdown Working Practices
3 Steps to creating hybrid working practices
Hybrid Working: Spaces
Designing Productive, Connected Spaces
3 ways that hybrid workspaces will evolve
Hybrid Working: Culture
Giving Employees A Voice
3 Ways to give employees a voice
The “Next Normal”
What to expect in the next normal
4 Technology Trends
Hybrid Working: Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do
Conclusion

The Journey to the “Next Normal”

Redesign:

  • WORKING PRACTICES and policies
  • PRODUCTIVE work environments
  • A PEOPLE-FIRST culture

Reinvent:

  • EMPOWER employees to work from anywhere
  • CONSISTENT experiences across workspaces
  • DIGITAL transformation as a state of mind

Respond:

  • REACT to the crisis
  • MITIGATION and business continuity
  • SHIFT TO WORK from home

Hybrid Working: Practices

Challenge the status quo and rethink the way we work

For much of 2020, “working” hasn’t meant sitting at a desk in a company office for a set period every day.

Triggered by COVID-19, businesses have been presented with a unique opportunity to challenge convention, adopt new technologies, think creatively and innovate.

We can shape a new future by redefining what “work” really means. Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do and this focus on outcome-based working means the hours we work, where we are located, and who we meet are only relevant in the pursuit of results.

Hybrid working empowers employees to work anywhere, to be mobile and connected, to collaborate, and be productive.

85% of BUSINESSES believe greater location flexibility has led to an increase in productivity. – International Workplace Group

30% of COMPANIES say the right cloud collaboration tools can improve company productivity. – McKinsey Research

74% of CFOs intend to shift some employees to remote work permanently. – Gartner

Post-Lockdown Working Practices

Even before the pandemic, the nature of work was changing because the nature of business is changing. Low-friction communications technology has compressed our world and lowered the barriers to cooperation.

Today, a successful business is most likely to look like a network of people and technologies that together create value for the customer, and not like the monolithic organizations of old. These networks span the world, leveraging the power of multiple companies and many freelancers.

Inside these networks, location matters less and less, whether you are working from home, from a coffee shop, or on the other side of the world. What matters is your ability to add value, and your ability to communicate that value to partners.

WHAT ROLE WILL TECHNOLOGY PLAY?

We have known for some time that more flexible working arrangements allow people to deliver more value. But the usual inertia in corporate practice and personal behavior had slowed its adoption. The pandemic and the lockdown response forced many companies to overcome this inertia and allow, or even enforce, the remote component of flexible working. Today, few can claim that technology is a barrier to changing practices. But the lockdown has highlighted the need for investment into the cultural and behavioral components of flexible work.

EVERYONE IS A CYBORG

Today, every worker is bionic. We are augmented by technology that enhances our knowledge, memory, productivity, clarity, and reach. Lockdown proved both the power and robustness of these technologies, at least for those companies who had invested in the right hardware and tools. But it also showed that their application requires thought. Half the challenge with any new technology is always building the practices and etiquette around its use. And even though many of the critical technologies employed in lockdown have been around for a decade or more, there is still some way to go in the evolution of the etiquette around them.

EMBRACE CHANGE TO EMPOWER THE WORKFORCE

The future is a flexible working environment that caters to the needs of all employees, giving them the most fulfilling work experience and in return allowing them to maximize the value, they return to the organization. Achieving this goal means building a culture of trust, where work is packaged and briefed transparently and workers are given the autonomy and responsibility to complete it in the way that best fits their working patterns. It means ensuring that junior members of staff get the critical career development they need when so much of their learning comes from simply being around their more experienced peers.

As the dividing line between work and home life becomes ever fainter, organizations must ensure the well-being of their staff and give them the confidence and skills to operate remotely and independently.

3 Steps to creating hybrid working practices

Step 1: RETHINK WORKING PATTERNS

Hybrid working brings flexibility on location, times, and days that work is carried out.

Review and revise work-from-home policies and focus on what employees need to be productive in their role.

Step 2: FOSTER BETTER COLLABORATION

Encourage inclusive and productive work as teams become more virtual in nature.

Create engaging and productive virtual workspaces, using noise-canceling and intelligent acoustic solutions in dynamic headsets and video soundbars.

Step 3: OPTIMIZE INVESTMENT

Banish under-utilized office spaces that bring little return on real estate costs.

Prioritize investment beyond the office walls to create flexible, collaborative, technology-enabled personal workspaces everywhere.

Hybrid Working: Spaces

It’s time for a radical rethink on how we can create the best environments for employees to be productive

In the “next normal,” we need to create workspaces that give people choice—places to collaborate, think, create, or simply check in with others.

Homeworking and co-working spaces will rise in prominence, but even with all the benefits they bring, we’ll still see a need for a central company workspace for idea generation, collaboration, and to give the workforce its sense of identity.

Across all these workspaces, the focus will be on creating environments that motivate and empower hybrid workers to be productive and do their best work.

55% of REMOTE WORKERS that didn’t use co-working before stated that they will consider it in the future. – Coworking Insights

91% of GLOBAL ORGANIZATIONS now support work from home, up from 63% prior to the outbreak. – Nemertes Research

70% of PEOPLE will work from home at least some of the time following the COVID-19 outbreak. – Japan Time

Designing Productive, Connected Spaces

People are at the heart of every company. Even before the pandemic, many organizations began to offer working-from-home benefits to secure the best and right talent.

Now that we’re completely outside of that paradigm, we need to re-examine what it means for talent to be productive and connected.

We spend a third of our lives in the spaces that we work from, and we need to rethink how these spaces inspire us to want to be there—no matter where “there” is.

Now is the time to consider how our working spaces are shaped, prioritizing acoustics, and our visual representation to others.

The amount of change we’ve become accustomed to in a short period is unprecedented, but we are more malleable than we think. Now, more than ever, we are in a position to accept even more dramatic changes.

HOME OFFICES

RETHINK SPACES. Home offices will be given as much attention as the kitchen and be as ergonomically organized into highly functional places, decorated with objects that inspire. It’s not about what you do, but about how you feel received by the space—it’s critical to enjoy being there and feel creative within it.

OVERCOME PSYCHOLOGICAL BARRIERS. We need multiple physical and mental layers to make it clear to ourselves and others that we are “going to work.” We’ll see more offices above garages and in garden outbuildings for a psychological distance from home and a sense of going somewhere different—a new zone.

PRIORITIZE LIGHTING. Good lighting welcomes you into space and encourages you to linger. Poor lighting, whether too dim or too uniformly bright, can make you feel cramped or under the spotlight. Lighting needs to offer pools of warmth, with good task lighting for concentrated work and a warm glow for space as a whole.

DON’T UNDERESTIMATE NOISE. We are bombarded with noise from inside and outside our homes and are sensitive to this. Ensure you are in an acoustically separate space to others and adopt solutions that ensure a quiet environment. If you are constantly distracted, then accomplishing any work becomes extremely challenging.

OFFICE SPACES

A PREVALENCE OF CO-WORKING. To attract talent who want to optimize their time and financial resources, organizations will invest in co-working spaces in the outskirts of cities. These workplace hubs allow group collaboration and social connections with colleagues and others, leading to the cross-fertilization of ideas, with resulting innovation.

CITYSCAPES WILL CHANGE. Office towers as we know them will likely become a thing of the past. However, the city as a vibrant social structure will remain, with its amenities extending the apartment space; coffee shops become an extension of the living room; restaurants an extension of the kitchen-diner; and walking everywhere becomes the workout space.

INDIVIDUALITY. Office layouts with a sea of standard-issue desks and lighting have to change. When we walk into space and everything is the same color, texture, and lighting level, it’s deadening. Humans thrive on contrast and variety. We gravitate toward spaces with spatial variety and objects that inspire.

Humans have an incredible capacity for creativity, and businesses need to liberate this largely untapped reservoir. If we embrace hybrid working, then the future is set to be very exciting!

3 ways that hybrid workspaces will evolve

ENTERPRISE HOME SET-UPS

During the pandemic, kitchen tables, ironing boards, and even garden furniture were used to create at-home workspaces. But as home working is embraced in the long-term, employees’ makeshift set-ups will become more professional home working spaces with the enterprise-grade technology that they need to work effectively.

CO-WORKING SPACES

Co-working spaces will become more prevalent, where remote and flexible workers can fulfill the craving of being alongside other people, without the ties to a specific desk or location. These spaces, already projected to increase more than 40% worldwide7 before the COVID-19 lockdown, can deliver better choice and flexibility for employees and offer a more cost-effective way for businesses to operate.

SATELLITE OFFICES

There’s an obvious benefit to ridding the P&L of overheads by shutting or downscaling office space. Research from Gartner8 shows 13% of CFOs have already made cost reductions in real estate. Rather than using large, city center offices, businesses will look to smaller “satellite” offices dispersed across more locations.

Hybrid Working: Culture

Create a culture of inclusion and collaboration for the virtual workforce

Organizations have policies and working practices in place, but it is the culture that binds them—those shared experiences, behaviors, and beliefs that bring people together.

Through COVID-19, employees have gotten into the habit of working remotely, and it’s one that many don’t want to break, so how do organizations ensure that every voice is heard and everyone feels they belong?

In the new age of hybrid work, organizations need to rally a collaborative state of mind; one that drives productivity and retains the very essence of their brand’s identity, while making employees’ work lives manageable, engaging, and rewarding.

85% of COMMUNICATION is lost through the absence of body language because we don’t necessarily pick up on others’ non-verbal cues appropriately. – Northern Illinois University

70% of an EMPLOYEE’S engagement is owned by a manager, whether they are remote or not. Meaningful conversations still need to continue. – Gallup

4.6x EMPLOYEES who feel their voices are heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. – Salesforce

Giving Employees A Voice

Agile, innovative, ethical, and compassionate. These are the capacities that the leaders I have spoken with have on their “culture wishlist” having been catapulted into a level of virtual, flexible working we never imagined and facing an uncertain future, to say the least. They can help organizations emerge from this crisis—and be ready to face the next one.

However, such cultural capacities cannot develop unless employees can speak up on ideas, challenges, and mistakes. And employees don’t speak up if it feels unsafe or if those in positions of power aren’t listening.

Culture can be understood as persistent patterns—habits—in our interactions and conversations. These habits, infused by national and organizational norms, dictate who speaks up and who stays silent, who gets heard, who gets ignored, what subjects are spoken about, and which aren’t.

Silenced voices have huge consequences and spell the difference between adaptive, innovative, flourishing teams and inflexible, unethical, unsafe ones.

While we don’t know what challenges lie ahead, we have learned that there are some habits worth “hardwiring” into our teams’ cultures, which help employees to speak up—enabling teams to be agile, innovative, ethical, and compassionate.

TRUSTING

Like it or not, the days of the team all sitting together working the same hours are gone. If team members can’t trust each other to get on with things and work with positive intent, then an inordinate amount of energy will go into anxious micromanagement. DO YOU FEEL TRUSTED BY YOUR COLLEAGUES AND DO YOU TRUST THEM?

INCLUSIVE

Diverse teams do better. But you must be able to harness and appreciate the difference. That means stepping out of your world and seeing things from other perspectives. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU FELT CHALLENGED BY A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE?

INQUIRING

You can’t generalize. “One-size” management doesn’t fit all. Employees respond differently to virtual, flexible working. They have different circumstances, personalities, and perspectives. So managers must learn the skills to inquire, be curious, and ask questions. HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU SPEND INQUIRING RATHER THAN ADVOCATING WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES?

PURPOSE DRIVEN

We are seeing a well-overdue widening of purpose from “profit for shareholders” to stakeholder needs and responsibility in society. This focus on impact not only serves as a compass in times of change, it makes for a more meaningful workplace. WHAT IMPACT DO YOU AND YOUR TEAM WANT TO HAVE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION AND IN SOCIETY— AND WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU HAVING RIGHT NOW?

Your habits sow the seeds of your future. To reimagine that future means you must change conversations. Different voices need to be invited and heard. Now.

3 Ways to give employees a voice

EMPOWER LEADERS WITH NEW TECHNIQUES

As workforces become more virtual in nature, inclusion, and belonging are critical, ensuring every employee feels valued.

Invest in the skills and communication and collaboration tools that managers need to monitor, engage, and interact with teams in new hybrid environments.

HARNESS VIRTUAL WAYS TO HEAR, SEE AND WORK TOGETHER

Video services and collaboration tools keep virtual workforces connected, driving productivity for work, but also bringing the virtual workforce together.

Harness audio and video calls to enable more social interaction, with colleagues coming together over coffee, lunch, sharing experiences, or simply creating virtual “water cooler” moments.

CONNECT PEOPLE, NOT THINGS AND PLACES

With dispersed workforces, virtual collaboration brings the opportunity to include everyone in the organization in a way that location-based interactions never could.

Integrate culture directly into your digital operations. Make it something your people see and experience daily, wherever they work.

The “Next Normal”

THE “NEXT NORMAL” IS HYBRID WORKING — flexible working across multiple locations, new workflows, immersive workspaces, and consistent experiences. It’s about creating productive environments that accommodate the work style of every employee.

BUSINESSES WILL ACCOMMODATE HYBRID WORKING

68% of EMPLOYERS say they will adopt broader, more flexible work-fromhome policies in the future.

25-30% of EMPLOYEES are predicted to work at home on a multiple-days-a-week basis by the end of 2021.

What to expect in the next normal

  • Home office spaces built into residences
  • Increased flexible work across multiple locations
  • Smaller company footprints over more dispersed locations
  • Work from home; meet in the office, bringing everyone together virtually
  • Seamless workflows between home and office
  • Recruitment over larger demographic areas
  • Only necessary business travel
  • Technology designed for ease of use with personal devices

If hybrid working brings choice over when, where, and how employees work, then businesses must deliver the optimal technology and communication tools to drive productivity and collaboration.

It’s not good enough to focus on technology investment in a central office. Organizations need to expand their technology investment to create consistent, enterprise-grade experiences for every worker, whether they are at home, in a co-working location, or a company office.

Professional Home Set-Ups

The move to home working showed us the majority of knowledge workers could work at home for prolonged periods, but in the longer term, the home office needs to become fit for purpose.

It’s not enough to use DIY set-ups or provide a laptop and expect employees to work productively. We need to bring enterprise-grade technology into the home.

High-quality set-ups include professional headsets, HD video conferencing cameras, high-end audio, and active noise-canceling headsets. Introduce these alongside new guidelines so that employees avoid video fatigue and maintain a fresh perspective.

Built-In Native Experiences

As employee work patterns change, the focus is on creating spaces that are human-first and centered on empowering ideation.

Video conferencing bars, with built-in native software experiences (e.g. Zoom and Microsoft Teams), will play a starring role in the development of collaboration spaces in offices.

The integration of cloud-based services directly into such hardware will help to ensure that workers have a consistent experience no matter where they sit or when they meet. This integration results in simple and quick user experiences that speed up adoption.

Low-Touch And Voice Control

Low-touch and voice-based technologies will limit contact with shared screens and surfaces.

Meeting spaces will not require physical interaction, with user recognition, voice-based services, and smart integration capabilities allowing workers to connect wirelessly to meetings via video bars and consoles.

Out-of-the-box video conferencing hardware that integrates with any platform will enable an employee to walk into a meeting space and join a meeting from their personal laptop or smartphone. Content can also be shared by in-office and remote participants in the same way.

New Levels of Immersion

We are already seeing the rise of AI in video conferencing solutions and this will only increase, bringing richer ways to collaborate and share.

For example, cameras with automatic speaker tracking and split-screen functionality ensure participants both in and out of the office are fully immersed in the meeting.

Systems will intelligently monitor what’s happening in a meeting and within its wider environment, blocking out distracting sounds to ensure voices are crystal clear. Employees will be placed in the spotlight, with technology in the background, resulting in efficient, productive meetings that simply work.

Hybrid Working: Work isn’t a place, it’s what you do

LOW-TOUCH MEETING ROOMS

  • Video conferencing bars and room systems will turn large meeting rooms into spaces for ideation while ensuring social distancing.
  • Cloud meeting applications that integrate with any native platform e.g. Teams, Zoom, for easy, one-touch meetings.
  • Proximity joins to walk into any meeting space and join a meeting instantly from a personal device.

REMOTE WORKER

  • Enterprise-grade headsets for instant communication that blocks out background sound to optimize productivity.
  • Next-generation desk phones for executive quality audio for the home office.
  • Video conferencing cameras with a 74-degree field of view to make calls feel like you’re there in person.

OPEN WORKSPACE

  • Enterprise-grade headsets with USB connectivity for ease of use with multiple devices.
  • Mobile to a desk made easy with desktop mobile phone stations for simple transitions between the two.
  • Video conferencing cameras with HD quality that integrate with any native platform like Teams and Zoom.

FLEXIBLE WORKER

  • Enterprise-grade headsets that transition with you from home to car to office and everywhere between.
  • Portable webcams that can connect to any device or screen.
  • Bluetooth speakerphones for exceptional audio.

Conclusion

Workers are gaining flexibility and freedom in how, when, and where they work. It’s about creating environments that foster productivity, collaboration, innovation, and safety. Poly end-to-end solutions elevate the experience of Teams, Zoom, or any other meeting service and enable organizations to adapt their infrastructure to changing work styles and technologies.

Source: Poly