Hybrid companies faced with costly office refits

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As many navigate the post-pandemic companies are either fully transitioning into remote work or retrofitting their office spaces to be more functional and enticing to employees. 

The way people work has greatly changed. Now, creating offices that are both hybrid work-friendly and enticing to staff working on-site has become an option employers are exploring.

Publication Commercial Integrator spoke to the executives of HOK, a design and architecture firm, to get their opinion on the reassessment of work from home (WFH) and hybrid schemes. 

There are pros and cons to the new way of working. Kay Sargent, director of workplace and senior principal at HOK says that while the remote work takes off the hassle of commuting, most staff feel they work extra 10 hours per week while working from their homes.

The mental and physical exertion—combined with the relative isolation of home offices—is “taking a toll on people,” she says.

Rachel Rouse, HOK director of interiors, observed that mentoring programs have greatly suffered from this shift in work arrangements. “It’s so much more difficult to create a real human connection with someone you’ve never met before—when they’re [just] over a screen,” she says.

Flexible space

Rouse suggests an activity-based working (ABW) approach can accommodate both remote workers and on-site workers. Through AWB employees have access to a range of technology-enabled work environments to suit the particular activities in which they engage individually and as a team. 

“If your people are flexible and your space is flexible, you’re going to much more easily be able to meet what comes at you from the outside world,” she observes. 

Rouse says reimagining the office isn’t merely about architecture and design. “We need to reconsider the meeting experience altogether.” Office layouts should be thought of. She says, opting for semi-circular or U-shaped tables, with cameras and screens positioned on the longest wall promotes equality since everyone has an equal view.

Rouse and Sargent both suggest investing in technology integration—everything from room-booking systems to voice- and facial-recognition for low-touch to no-touch interaction—but stresses that these systems must not intimidate the associates they’re meant to help.

In short, if technology is part of the recipe to lure associates back into the office, it must actually be usable—that means one or two touches, and that’s it. 

The long-term trajectory is clear: for virtually all employers to cultivate a hybrid workforce. And accommodating everyone and promoting equality goes all the way down to small details including office technology and retrofitting the physical space.

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