How to Overcome the Challenges of a Hybrid Workplace
How to Overcome the Challenges of a Hybrid Workplace
As the world grapples with the “next” normal, a hybrid workplace is no longer just a good-to-have. Here's how companies can ensure that their transition into hybrid mode is a successful and thriving one.
As more scientists concur that COVID-19 is likely to remain endemic, countries around the world, including Singapore, are figuring out what it would mean to live with the virus for years. Companies that have initially put in place short-term methods to wait out the eradication of the virus will now have to remodel them into long-term initiatives for a “new normal”.
Almost everyone can agree that the world of work has changed indelibly. According to a YouGov survey conducted in Singapore in April, three in five of the workers polled wanted a mix of working remotely and at the office, with most of them happy to return to be at the office two or three days a week – a trend corroborated by other surveys locally and worldwide.
This is driving many companies to explore a hybrid workplace model where employees are given the flexibility to decide where to work. It is not a new concept and businesses might have allowed it for a small group of employees previously. But the challenge now is to implement this workplace strategy at scale: What does it look like operationally? How will this affect office space and design?
Win-win for Employers and Employees
In theory, a hybrid workplace enables employees to work fluidly between remote locations and a physical office provided by the employer.
For employees, this means increased flexibility and work-life balance. Moreover, time spent in the office becomes more intentional for specific reasons such as in-person meetings or collaborative work with colleagues. And the conversation on performance has also shifted from the number of hours spent in the office to agreed outputs instead.
For employers, acquiescing to the employees’ desire for autonomy increases employee satisfaction and improves retention. Further, a hybrid workplace can reduce a company’s operating expenses. Businesses also have the opportunity to relook their real estate portfolio to come up with a footprint that best serves their needs.
Strategies for a Successful Hybrid Workplace
As the world grapples with the “next” normal, a hybrid workplace is no longer just a good-to-have. Despite its challenges, it is a necessity for long-term survival. Here are four actionable strategies that companies should consider when moving into hybrid mode.
1. Prioritise Safety Above All
For employees to be willing to return to the office, their safety and well-being have to be paramount.
When reopening the office, companies should find out if their office buildings have proper safeguards in place. For example, improved ventilation and air filtration systems should be a key consideration. At CapitaLand properties, where practical, air handling units are fitted with UV lamps systems to purify the air entering the premises, and antimicrobial coatings have been applied to all high-touch areas.
To reduce touch points, CapitaLand deployed facial recognition or QR-activated turnstiles at suitable properties to facilitate seamless and secure access in and out of the buildings. And given the scale of its network, CapitaLand is able to offer its business park and office tenants attractive rates for the bulk purchase of work area sanitisation services, thermal scanners and workplace sensors, so that tenants can continue to keep employees safe.
In compliance with safety guidelines, businesses need to take into account the number of employees that are allowed in the office at any one time, which can be difficult to monitor especially when office hours are staggered. Technological tools, such as the CapitaStar@Work app, can help companies to track the number of employees expected to turn up at the office, effectively gauging staff load.
For companies whose office space is not big enough to welcome returning employees back due to safe distancing measures, utilising co-working space in the vicinity could be a feasible interim solution. This was what Shopee did at Singapore Science Park in late 2020.
To accommodate a rapidly growing headcount as well as social distancing rules, the e-commerce platform took up some space at Bridge+, CapitaLand’s flexible workspace at the nearby Ascent. Employees can be assured that even as the company expands, it will not be at the expense of their safety.
“This will necessitate having an easily scalable space which offers us the flexibility to exact our operational needs, as well as deliver an environment which fosters collaboration and innovation among our teams,” said Huang Qunyi, Vice President, Corporate Real Estate, Sea.
2. Redesign the Office for Company Priorities
In a hybrid workplace, assigned seating can be a hindrance and under-utilisation of space, and more companies are doing away with it. A CBRE survey of global companies found that 70% of them were planning to operate in a significantly hot-desking environment to support a more mobile workforce. But the first-come-first-served hot-desking model may not appeal to everyone. Instead, organisations can consider office hotelling, where staff reserve a desk in advance, similar to booking a hotel room. This ensures that each employee will have a dedicated workspace for the day, which can help build employee morale.
Beyond unassigned seating, the office needs to be entirely rethought and transformed. According to Gartner, the value proposition of the office will change in the next three to five years due to the expansion of remote working. No longer the sole work location, the office needs to play to its strengths of facilitating team bonding and celebrations, client engagements and onboarding of new employees.
Workspaces should be intentionally designed to support specific organisational priorities, To support the interactions that cannot happen remotely, majority of the office space could be devoted to collaboration areas, which could range from one-on-one pods and small huddle rooms to open zones for larger team projects.
Still it might be a challenge for organisations to cater to all the different types of collaborations within their current office space either due to budget or footprint. This is where shared facilities such as meeting rooms or multi-purpose studios within the building can help reduce recurring real estate cost. For instance, tenants can easily book the meeting facilities, training rooms or event space on Level 9 of Capital Tower for board meetings, seminars or team-building sessions.
3. Provide Local "Third Spaces"
To give employees even more autonomy and flexibility in choosing where to work, companies can add a "third space" to its hybrid workplace strategy. A third space – the most common iteration being café culture – is used to complement a person’s first space (home) and second space (work).
With the lines blurring between all three spaces, the future of work will shift from a headquarters mentality to a connected quarters approach where employees seamlessly move among places based on what needs to be done.
Instead of getting employees to return to a single central office, businesses can consider setting up suburban satellite offices, especially as companies increasingly move from static jobs to project-based, cross-functional teams. In a hub-and-spoke model, the client-facing team can be in a central business district office while the back office is in a residential area. For example, JP Morgan houses its teams at CapitaSpring in Singapore’s Central Business District as well as at ONE@Changi City, a suburban business hub in the east.
With CapitaLand's broad portfolio of flex spaces across Singapore, companies have the flexibility to choose different spaces to suit their various needs. Some may want to tap into co-working third spaces that provide attractive collective workspaces closer to home. These minimise commute time, provide a well-resourced working environment, and enable both local and remote meetings for employees.
Some office buildings even have built-in third spaces to provide a change of scenery from sitting in an enclosed office. At CapitaSpring, users can work from anywhere within the building, including naturally ventilated green spaces, with the latest WiFi technology across the entire development and ample power points.
As companies resize their real estate footprint creatively to cater to a hybrid mode, flexible solutions are garnering more interest. According to a CBRE study, 56% of the surveyed companies are considering more use of flexible office space while 82% indicated it is a desired attribute as they select buildings to lease in the future.
Twitter Asia Pacific, which holds both conventional office space (core) and flexible workspace (flex) at CapitaGreen, reflects this sentiment.
“What will a workplace in the new normal look like? The industry is still trying to work it out,” said Derrick Wong, Head of APAC, Real Estate & Workplace, Twitter. “But what I do know is that having a core-flex model that’s super flexible will really enable us to navigate the uncertainties during this time.”
4. Rethink Work Processes
On top of getting the hardware ready, work processes will have to be adapted for a hybrid workplace too.
One way to cultivate a trust culture is to establish a clear hybrid work arrangement policy regarding behavioural expectations during work hours. An appraisal system that relies on measurable standards for evaluating job performance such as project outcomes and task completion, instead of time spent in office, will be deemed as fair and objective.
For a hybrid workplace to take off, organisations should set guidelines that encourage team members to keep the same schedule on office and remote work, which means they go to the office or work from home on the same days. In this way, teams can collaborate together on the chosen days and focus on single-person tasks at home. With everyone working on the same schedule, it levels the playing field and reduces conflict.
Reinventing the Workplace
As businesses around the world start bringing employees back to offices and experiment with a hybrid model, it is an opportune time to break from the past and reinvent the workplace.
A hybrid workplace is billed as the solution to mitigate issues around morale and culture that stemmed from extended remote work but it needs to be managed well. Having a scalable and flexible core-flex real estate strategy can go a long way in helping companies deliver a safe office, develop fit-for-purpose space designs, provide additional spaces for employees to work and connect, and revamp organisational processes for a transformational hybrid workplace.
Ultimately, employees want to be able to do good work and collaborate with colleagues in an environment that meets their needs, while companies want to have an engaged workforce to achieve organisational goals. And the hybrid workplace may just open the way to the holy grail.
To learn more about our hybrid space solutions, get in touch with us today.