Evolving the role of the physical workplace

Published 5/30/2023

The rise of hybrid working has left many organisations questioning the role, and relevance, of their physical office. The pandemic accelerated a change to the definition of ‘workspace’ when most of us were sent ‘home’ to work remotely. We’ve returned, however, hybrid work, which combines in-person and remote work, is quickly becoming the new standard, with 90% of organisations now embracing hybrid work.

Post pandemic, workers value the experience of coming together, but equally, they’ve become accustomed to privacy, flexibility and the space for greater balance in their lifestyle for their own wellbeing. ‘Hybrid’ looks beyond home and office, to include literally anywhere that an employee wants to work. With employees no longer wanting to be tied to their desks, the physical workspace is changing to accommodate this new flexibility. 

Pre-pandemic, most of us considered our primary place of work as a physical office that offered us a space for both focused work and engaging collaboratively with colleagues. Video calls and chat rooms were considered a means of communication, rather than a ‘workspace’. Workplaces have, for the most part, been typically predictable spaces, designed to meet the objectives of the business by providing enough space for employees to be productive. 

However, today’s office should be viewed as a tool in the working toolbox to be employed where and when it allows us to do the job better than any other tool available. Through technology and intentional practices, you can create a more structured view of how the hybrid workspace supports your people in doing their best work.

The three primary needs of employees in a physical workspace are: 

  • immersive team time

  • heads-down concentration space for those that need it

  • community socialisation

Shared space is for teamwork first

The last few years have taught even the doubters that most focus work can be done from anywhere. That means the primary role of a physical workplace is about collaborating, learning, and ideating with colleagues and clients. Getting teams together in person should have a purpose, such as team-building, project kick-offs, and other events that are planned in advance, pairing flexibility with predictability.

This space may be equipped with whiteboards, screens, and other tools that enable teams to participate in activity-based work, visualise ideas, and share and listen effectively. 

We still value our privacy

With more employees working virtually, many have discovered the benefits of working in a quiet environment, free from distractions and interruptions. However not everyone has access to a distraction-free remote space. For focused time, physical workspaces still need to offer individual workstations that provide privacy and minimal interruptions. These workstations may include noise-cancelling headphones, adjustable lighting, and ergonomic chairs that promote comfort and productivity. It can be helpful to set up frameworks around the use of the physical workspace, for example, you may consider establishing core collaboration hours for in-sync engagement vs focused work.

Creating sync in asynchronous engagement

In reality, hybrid teams don’t work on the same tasks at the same time. Asynchronous engagement refers to communication and collaboration that occurs outside of real-time interactions, such as email, instant messaging, and project management tools. We can guide you on what tools enable you to work asynchronously and synchronously. Tools like Slack or Teams are good for instant messaging in chat channels, or digital whiteboards (like Miro and Mural) can also (and should) be used in an asynchronous way. Of course, being tech-enabled is one part of this but it’s also beneficial to establish clear guidelines that support effective use of these platforms. This might include setting expectations for response times, establishing protocols for sharing information and updates, and providing training and resources to help team members work effectively in a hybrid or remote environment.

A space to be social

A 2023 report from Hubspot says that 33% of employees find relationship building to be the most significant challenge of a hybrid workplace culture. Virtual meetings don’t always cut it when it comes to facilitating the low-stakes conversations that help develop collegial relationships and team culture. In putting more emphasis on community socialisation in the physical space, businesses are considering communal spaces that enable more ‘watercooler’ conversations, such as breakout rooms, lounges and outdoor areas. These are spaces that help to foster engagement and a sense of community. It’s more about strengthening relationships outside of work tasks, within inclusive, safe environments.

As employees become more flexible in their work arrangements, physical workspaces are becoming more flexible, tech-enabled, and focused on employee wellness. By thinking about the ‘office’ as a tool, you can be more intentional about how you put it to use to support more productive, engaged employees, regardless of where they choose to work. Curious to learn more about how to do this? Get in touch with our team for a chat.

Two employees working remotely.

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