Many companies are giving their employees the freedom to choose where they work from after the pandemic. That means they introduce hybrid work. However, this poses a number of challenges for space planning in the office. Who is going to sit at which desk and when? Are there always enough desks for everyone? And is there enough space for concentrated work or video conferences? A flexible office concept and efficient planning are needed to design and successfully use the future workplace.
The Future of Work is hybrid
Looking at a study by Microsoft, hybrid work seems inevitable. For the "2021 Work Trend Index" the company surveyed more than 31,000 employees and freelancers in 31 countries and found that 73 percent would like to be able to work remotely on a permanent basis. At the same time, 67 percent also want more personal contact and direct collaboration with their colleagues post-pandemic. It's no surprise, then, that 66 percent of the executives said their company was considering redesigning its office space for hybrid work.
There are significant benefits to this model. It can increase employee satisfaction and productivity because the ability to work remotely often improves work-life balance. Companies can save on rent and energy costs by using a flexible office concept in a smaller space. A hybrid workplace also boosts employee-centricity. It gives employees flexible places to use that fit their needs exactly: open areas for communication, soundproof booths for focus, and collaborative spaces where teams can meet and work on their projects together.
Hybrid work means more collaborative and technologically enhanced spaces
Obviously, hybrid work can hardly be implemented in the old office space concept. Companies who stick with it are faced with rows of empty desks, while at the same time meeting rooms are inadequate and colleagues do video calls in the hallway so as not to disturb anyone. Hybrid work often means a remote-first model to keep all employees involved, regardless of their current work location.
This leads to a significantly higher amount of video calls. During the pandemic, video conferencing software Zoom saw a 2,900 percent increase in meeting participants, increasing their 2020 revenue by 317 percent compared to the year before. According to a Fortune Business Insights Report, the global video conferencing market is to grow significantly over the next few years and reach $12.99 billion in 2028.
To face this evolution to hybrid communication, meeting rooms need the appropriate technical equipment to make video calls possible for larger groups of people. 180-degree cameras with automatic zoom on the speaker, adequate monitors and audio equipment, even hybrid whiteboard tools all upgrade the hybrid group conferencing experience. Soundproof telephone boxes like the HUUS One are an ideal solution for individuals, so they don’t have to disturb colleagues with their calls and do not occupy valuable larger-sized collaboration spaces.
The office is being transformed from a general workspace into a space for on-site meetings and collaboration. Teams will arrange to meet in the office for brainstorming and strategy development, but they will do the focused preparation for the meetings at home. Most likely, this will result in a need for more meeting rooms and fewer workstations.
If desk sharing is the rule and employees often work from home or from anywhere, this also means that fixed PCs will become a thing of the past and laptops will be needed instead. Hybrid working therefore also has an impact on hardware requirements.
Company (hybrid) culture, key determinant and goal of space planning
There’s a wide spectrum of what hybrid work can mean. For example, companies could have a mix of remote-only and office-only employees, but they could also have fixed in-office days for all teams, or they might give the employees a free choice about how many days a week they want to work from home - and even let them decide spontaneously.
The decision about the hybrid work model a company wants to use is an important one. It’s not only about the wishes of the employees, though they should be considered in the process. A very important factor is the company culture, which should be reflected in the hybrid workspace.
If flexibility is one of the main values, complete freedom of choice for the teams could be a consequence. On the other hand, if a company wants to create a culture based on belonging and personal contact, the office should be designed accordingly and employees should be incentivized to go there and meet in person. Artists’ online marketplace Etsy provides great examples of offices that reflect the company’s mission and values. Their stylish and cozy offices have many relaxed collaborative spaces decorated with crafting materials and showcase items made by Etsy sellers.
Companies should define their goals for their office spaces and come up with a concept. The shift towards hybrid work is a great opportunity to rethink the purpose of the office and to create a beneficial set-up for everyone.
Determining occupancy and matching space planning
When the philosophy behind the office is clear, the next steps are more practical and related to the actual space planning. The first question is how many days employees will spend in the office on average. If there is no rule from the company side, it makes sense to conduct a survey that shows the wishes of the workforce. Based on this, it is already possible to determine the approximate occupancy and thus the need for workstations. This will naturally be higher with four office days per week than with two.
Roughly speaking, there are two options for the day-to-day organization: fixed rules or intelligent planning. With the first option, the company sets up a schedule of who comes to the office when. The teams must adhere to this and can only swap with colleagues on rare occasions. However, this option is rather rigid and does not fit in with the Future of Work and its flexible, autonomous employees.
Software solutions for seamless planning
With the second option, employees can decide more or less spontaneously when they want to come into the office. Workstations and meeting rooms are booked digitally. Very small teams can probably get by without a specialized tool and use an online calendar or spreadsheet instead. However, with around ten employees or more, this becomes too confusing.
Larger teams can use specialized software to book desks and meeting rooms. In the tool, employees can see directly whether a desk is still free on the desired day and reserve it with one click. If necessary, this also allows teams to meet in a specific area. If no more desks or conference rooms are available, they simply have to choose another day.
Julius Urban is the co-founder and CEO of Pult, a tool for managing the hybrid workspace. He says, "The purpose of the office has changed, it is primarily used by most employees as a place to collaborate and get together, not to work there 9-to-5. Through software, the team can see who is in the office and who is working remotely. It makes it easier to decide whether it's worth going to the office on a given day."
Staying flexible with modular solutions
When determining the number of desks needed, the employee survey can be used as a basis. But what about conference rooms? Here, too, companies can ask their employees about their needs and analyze the previous meeting frequency. However, it is often difficult to predict how many face-to-face meetings will actually take place after the switch to a hybrid workspace.
So it's best for companies to keep a certain amount of flexibility. For example, sliding doors can turn one large room into several. And for short brainstorming sessions with just a few people, a lounge area or high table is also a good option. There may also be a courtyard or rooftop terrace that can become a meeting place when needed.
Meeting boxes and telephone booths are a great way to make the most of unused space. They can be easily set up or even moved if they make more sense in another location. This quickly creates a cost-effective alternative to a conference room. How many telephone boxes a company needs depends, of course, on the volume of calls. We recommend a ratio of one box for ten employees for our single box HUUS One .
Build, measure, adapt
Finally, when flexibility is a key value, continuous evaluation, iteration and optimization cycles are inevitable success factors to the hybrid workspace. It can mean to run surveys with teams on a regular basis (monthly, quarterly or yearly) or use software to evaluate office usage over time, adapting to evolving needs of teams. It shows particularly intensive days of the week or phases of the month and can be a basis for adapting the space planning even better to the company’s and employees’ needs. Julius Urban explains, "Software can help companies understand the utilization of their office space(s). This enables them to draw conclusions about whether it makes sense to expand or downsize them, for example."
HUUS founder Justina Clemens says, "After the pandemic, we will have to rethink the office. The Hybrid Workspace will become a reality in many companies. It offers many opportunities to focus on employee wellbeing while using space more efficiently. Adaptability is the key here: The office of the future is flexible. We will need to constantly evaluate and iterate to create the best solution for the current requirements, and space needs to become as modular and flexible as possible"