Remote-only, hybrid working model, or all staff back in the office? As vaccinations roll out and economies tentatively open up, organizations are working out what their new normal will look like. For some, the pandemic accelerated a transition to flexible working that had been brewing for some time. Others are keen to get back to a traditional office setup – as far as possible.
But going hybrid is more than just functional – the when and the what. It’s about company culture. How much freedom employees are afforded, how prescriptive the leadership style is, and how prized innovation is will all influence where a company falls on the hybrid spectrum.
From Netflix to Google, let’s take a look at how different companies are approaching going hybrid. Some have focused on teamwork and collaboration, others on flexibility or wellbeing. And for the traditionalists, it’s all about getting back to the office and seeing their coworkers again.
For many businesses, the pandemic highlighted how effective a remote-first setup can be. They’re now eschewing the traditional office setup to give employees the flexibility and freedom to choose where they work.
Crypto currency exchange Coinbase has closed its main office headquarters for good and will encourage employees to work remotely or at smaller, local offices. Company founder and former Airbnb engineer Brian Armstrong sees it as a democratizing move that ensures equal career opportunities for all employees, no matter where they are based.
An official statement said: “Closing our SF office is an important step in ensuring no office becomes an unofficial HQ and will mean career outcomes are based on capability and output rather than location. Instead, we will offer a network of smaller offices for our employees to work from if they choose to.”
Multi-national Equinix has a remote-first model centred on flexibility. There’s no location requirement for staff, though drop-in co-working spaces are available in certain locations. A long-term IT strategy based on flexible digital infrastructure meant that the company already had in place the technology to enable remote working when the pandemic hit. They’re also looking at enhancing their in-office experience, including hybrid meetings where your Zoom call launches automatically as you walk into your pre-booked meeting room.
“Employees are in charge, not companies”, says Airbnb CEO and Co-Founder Brian Cesky.
With an agile and decentralized business model, Airbnb has fully embraced flexible working, allowing employees to work from wherever they choose. Their logic? Employees want it, so Airbnb needs to accommodate it to attract the best people, as Cesky says: “The employees and the talent market is going to drive working flexibility, not the companies. Because if a company says these are our rules, they’re not going to have the talent.”
Companies like Google, Facebook and Fujitsu have put in place infrastructure that helps bring their respective teams together to reignite collaboration and connection.
Google has long been a workplace innovator. The Googleplex’s open plan offices with bright and bold common spaces and free food and transport seemed like a window into the future when it launched back in 2003.
In 2018 Google commissioned a team of space architects, engineers, builders and tech specialists to redesign the workplace environment around three principles: work can happen anywhere, workplaces are more than desks and meeting rooms, and employees’ needs are changing constantly.
Its post-pandemic innovations focus on facilitating hybrid working, and include flexible team pods that can be reconfigured quickly to meet different needs, and “campfires” that cater for hybrid meetings. A campfire features a seating circle interspersed with vertical digital displays that show remote attendees dialing in, to try to establish an equal footing for all participants.
Pre-pandemic, the Fujitsu culture prized long hours in the office and face-to-face work. But fast forward 18 months, and 85% of employees favor either a remote or hybrid workplace model. To support the transition, the company has committed to creating an ecosystem of workspaces designed to cater for different needs. The setup is made up of hubs, satellites, and shared offices.
Hubs will facilitate creativity, co-creation and serendipitous encounters between colleagues. Satellites will enable teams to coordinate shared projects using video conferencing and face-to-face meetings, and shared offices provide easily accessible spaces in urban centres for employees who want to use an office for independent work, online meetings or virtual training.
In another vote for a hybrid, remote-first model, Facebook plans for many of its employees to work off-site most of the time – but come into the office for culture building, training, key meetings and events.
The social media giant is actively hiring remotely too, particularly for senior level staff who don’t need as much in-person training or career development support. CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees it as a boon for diversity, as he can recruit outside of traditional tech communities such as Silicon Valley and San Francisco: “Enabling remote work is going to be very positive on that front toward creating more broad-based economic prosperity.”
From recognizing meeting fatigue to a clearly-communicated phased return, Microsoft, Coda and Intel have prioritized employee wellbeing.
Intel is embracing hybrid working, and is making cultural changes to help ease the burden on remote workers. To combat meeting fatigue – something most of us will be familiar with – they’re instigating meeting-free Fridays. They’ve also set meeting start-times at ten past the hour to make them shorter, and are encouraging days off to disconnect.
Microsoft has in place a phased return to the office that includes different stages, ranging from remote-only to fully open campuses. Even with fully open campuses, hybrid work and flexibility will be the order of the day. Microsoft describes their research-driven approach to designing agile workspaces that encourage collaboration and meet the diverse needs of its teams.
Online collaboration firm Coda has embraced the refreshed company culture forced upon them by mandatory remote work. They’ve made their meeting cadence lighter and more inclusive to cater for employees spread across different locations. Meetings are now all held at 1 pm and recurring meetings are banned on Wednesdays to allow time for focused work or for employees to change work locations and balance other life commitments. They’ve also introduced a company-wide social hour to help with isolation, including quizzes, cocktail-making and online games.
To keep the balance, here’s one example of a business that’s bucking the flexibility trend and keen to get back to how things were.
Netflix is going against the grain and has come out as staunchly office-first. The world’s largest subscription streaming service expects employees back in the office this fall. However, CEO Reed Hastings does acknowledge the hybrid workplace is here to stay, accepting that most companies will end up seeing employees work “four days in the office while one day is virtual from home.”
Organizations are working out where they sit on the workplace spectrum, from 100% remote to a traditional office. The in-between – a hybrid model – is favored by the majority. Hybrid ranges from office-first (remote is available but in-office work is preferred) to default digital (no location requirement but co-working spaces are available in certain locations).
Offices are changing to accommodate hybrid working models, reflecting the need to support collaboration, facilitate serendipitous encounters and provide quiet workspace for employees who need or prefer to work from an office. Company culture is in transition too. Remote workers are at risk of becoming isolated, burnt out or feeling left out. Care needs to be taken to mitigate against these challenges to ensure a happy and productive workforce.
Any hybrid working model will require innovative digital infrastructure to support it too. Desk booking software, such as Chargifi Wx, is one such tool. It allows employees to reserve office space when they need it, making their in-office experience as seamless as possible, and gives organizations data on how space is used so they can optimize their workplace based on historic and forecast usage.
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