The car industry speaks of the hybrid engine as the best of both worlds – economical and environmentally-friendly over short distances, but with a more powerful, fuel-driven component for faster, longer runs. Now expect the working world to be speaking of the hybrid office, bringing with it the same flexibility.
This isn’t exactly new – well before the pandemic the decoupling of work and where it got done was well under way. But the shift away from the conventional, expensive, ‘everyone under one roof all day’ office has accelerated post-COVID as business explores different models, out of both necessity and opportunity.
Workers have adapted to – and for 87% of them, according to a Wakefield Research survey, actually grown to prefer – splitting their work time between home and office as well. After all, being at home allows them to better juggle, and enjoy, a personal life around their workload.
This, and the many health benefits that come with it, is true – up to a point. But being at a coworking space of some kind has also been shown to be essential to the well-being of many too.
It keeps employees grounded in routine, gives them the crucial sense of engagement and collaboration with real people on real projects, keeps their social life ticking over and saves them from going mad staring at the same four walls, or as the long office hours culture is replaced with genuine cases of WFH burnout and Zoom fog. Like the offices of old, it also helps keep some boundaries around work, which is no bad thing at all.
Productivity has actually been shown to improve under this new digital/physical arrangement, and employees’ contentment with their employment too. People want to get back to work, almost as they knew it, but better. Most employers – 68% according to a PwC survey – want their employees back in an office at least three days a week too. But, excitingly, what ‘office’ means is up for grabs.
Indeed, with what is potentially a radical change to the way we work has necessarily also come a radical, hybridized conception of the workspace, at least for that work that can be done digitized and connected. Businesses will create their own version of this, according to their needs – and, in fact, it’s the very lack of fixed ideas that make the hybrid workspace an efficient, affordable one.
Still, we can expect ideas like dedicated workstations being replaced with hoteling spaces, resources the likes of podcasting studios and brainstorming rooms to be available for reservation, and arrangements allowing casual access to office space for just a few days a month if that’s what’s needed.
That can work similarly for small businesses who don’t need their own office, and big ones with dispersed staff – and who knows what fresh innovations may be fertilized by the unplanned but fortuitous interaction of big and small companies too?
Demand for flexible space is set to grow to a predicted 30% of all office space by the end of the decade, six times what it is today.