Getting the right hybrid workplace takes radical intentionality
Over the past two years, a lot has changed in the way we work. According to Microsoft’s latest report Work Tendency Indexeven the “why” of work has changed, as employees now have high expectations of what they get out of their work and what they are willing to give in return.
In my opinion, the most compelling conclusion is that the employees who went home to work in 2020 are not the same employees who return to the office in 2022. To be successful in the future, employers need to reconnect with their employees and finding a balance as they strive to find a new normal.
From an employee’s point of view, the notion of flexibility is anything but flexible, it has become non-negotiable. As many organizations prepare to reopen their doors and welcome their employees back, others are questioning the value of the office. And who can blame them? After two years, we not only survived remote work, we got pretty good at it.
This does not mean that there is nothing to gain from an office, quite the contrary. Our research shows that it plays a vital role in building relationships, job satisfaction and engagement. Not to mention how it facilitates problem solving and innovation.
Related: Putting Wellness Before Work
But getting those benefits in a hybrid world is not a given. Getting it right requires flexibility, new standards, and radical intentionality. For example, I may still be in the office most days, but the time and people I see will vary depending on the needs of my team and the type of work I have to do that day.
So much about the way we work has changed – shouldn’t the office too?
Redesigning the office starts with intentionality
Faced with ever-changing conditions, organizations have found themselves stuck in the “messy middle” of hybrid, not quite remote, not quite hybrid. And employees feel the pain. Half (51%) of hybrid employees plan to transition to full remote working within the next year, indicating that they are not yet convinced that they really need to come to the office to do their job.
Ambiguity is one of the biggest frustrations cited by employees. More than a third (38%) don’t know when or why to come to the office, but only 28% of organizations have created team agreements that help answer these fundamental questions. By clarifying the “who, why, and where” of the in-person meeting, leaders prepare their employees and teams for success.
The “who” of the office
At its best, the office is a place for in-person collaboration, team building, and casual connection. At worst, employees make it through peak hours to find themselves alone in a sea of cubicles, joining video calls all day and missing the convenience of being in the hallway from their refrigerator.
Much of the value of the office is in the magic of human connection – and that magic requires more planning in a hybrid world. Coordination at the team level or between key groups of partners maximizes the value of time spent in the office. For example, parts of my team will try to make “Team Thursdays” a priority (but entirely optional) workday to help achieve critical mass and recreate some of what we’ve lost in work at distance. We also make an effort to indicate whether we will be in person or remote when responding to meetings, and to clearly designate on calendars when we will be home, in the office, or in transit.
The “why” of the office
Historically, the office was where employees went to tick the clock. Today, it’s up to leaders to ensure that the office adds to the employee experience – an experience that makes them feel productive and connected. Managers should work with their teams to identify the best ways, times, and opportunities to meet in person.
For some teams, this may mean prioritizing team connection to recreate bonds or helping new hires feel immersed in the team culture. Others might prioritize in-person time for creative brainstorming or solving complex problems. And that will likely vary between hybrid and remote employees as well: hybrid employees might go to weekly team meetings, while their remote colleagues might only come to the office once a quarter for “on-site” team planning. “.
The “where” of the office
While the desktop of the past was a purely physical destination, today leaders must give equal weight and focus on the digital and physical desktop experience.
Meeting Room 2020 was all about the in-person experience. As a hybrid, we design for those do not in the room, giving everyone a place at the table. Reorienting seats in the room to face the video display places participants face to face. AI-powered camera technology creates individual video feeds for everyone at the physical table, adjusting in real time as people move around the room and zoom in on those speaking. Designating someone to moderate the chat, monitoring which hands are up and which ones are muted helps ensure that every voice is heard.
Build the hybrid office to work it’s not just about coming back into a shared physical space, it’s about entering a shared headspace. Leaders will need to be intentional to foster connection, create team agreements, and redesign physical space. It will take new standards and flexibility to adapt and learn along the way. The desktop is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution, and I think that’s a good thing.
Jared SpataroCorporate Vice President at Microsoftleads the company’s Modern Work team, which looks at the future of work and the technologies that will get us there. His team is also working to deliver new products and features within Microsoft 365.