From office to ecosystem

February 17, 2022

hybrid workspace

How to build and sustain a hybrid workspace

The pandemic made one thing clear: The majority of workers prefer a flexible arrangement that lets them divide their time between home and office. A permanently redistributed workforce means that the “office” is no longer a single place where everyone regularly meets. Instead it’s become a network of home offices, company HQs, field offices and third-party coworking spaces. As a result, organizations need to understand what their people want from the office in order to create a workspace that meets their needs when they’re there, as well as how to flexibly and fully support them when they’re not.

In an article about re-envisioning the workforce, Sanjiv Agarwal, Head of HR for Swiss Re, offers a smart perspective that we think is also the right way to reimagine the workplace—especially for Work in Any Way organizations that are flexible, people-centric and unbound from geographical restrictions. Agarwal’s notion of “purpose over process” asks us to put the employee experience front and center and use it as our guide when we evaluate how we manage workers in this new distributed ecosystem—in the office, at home and everywhere in between.

The workplace, redesigned

From corner offices and cubbies to open floor plans with ping pong tables, the physical office has been transformed repeatedly over the years to match changing attitudes about what helps workers thrive. What once was designed to house individuals who did all or most of their work onsite has a different role to play when employees are only coming in some of the time. Cubicles, private offices and conference rooms will make way for hot desks, collaborative areas, virtual conference rooms and community-based spaces. 

Case in point: Paddle, a British software start-up, revamped its new London office to promote collaboration both onsite and off, with breakout spaces, including a recording studio with Zoom integration, cameras and microphones, and furniture that can easily be moved to create whatever configuration is needed in the moment.

Amsterdam-based TomTom has taken an activity-based approach to rethinking the space. The company has made it clear to employees that it doesn’t matter where or how they work and has empowered individuals to decide what suits them best, depending on the task. Here, employees determine whether they need quiet time at home to focus on an urgent deadline or to meet at the company’s offices, now fashioned as work hosting centers, to collaborate. Chief HR officer Arne-Christian van der Tang believes that giving workers this kind of complete flexibility helps them feel more in control.

Codility, a company that helps engineering firms hire talent, has extended its physical footprint beyond home base. Though headquartered in Warsaw, Poland, the company maintains work hubs all over the world. Pre-pandemic, it provided WFH options (even CEO Natalia Panowicz split her time between the San Francisco hub and several European offices). Now, the company allows employees to work globally from any of its hubs and gives workers access to co-working spaces anywhere in the world, which frees them to live, explore and travel unfettered.

Shifting your HR mindset

Creating a successful work ecosystem requires more than rethinking your physical space. It also  demands that you question all your assumptions about what employees need or care about. Let’s take benefits; Agarwal suggests that HR managers and company leaders ask themselves things like:

  • Why should everyone be paid on the same date?
  • Why can’t employees work on their own time, as long as they deliver agreed outcomes?
  • What if someone needs more time off to take care of a family member?
  • What if an employee needs support that isn’t part of our standard benefits package?
  • Do we know enough about what our employees need and want with the information we have?

Additionally, with physical boundaries erased, recruiters can widen their lens to search for potential new hires across borders. If you haven’t already, start building your organization’s ability to source candidates from anywhere. This gives you access to a broader talent pool and range of skills and experiences. By hiring people from other countries and cultures or those who require flexible accommodations like stay-at-home parents, workers with disabilities and caregivers, you can increase the diversity of experience that is proven to drive innovation.

With an expanded global footprint, prioritizing simplicity over complexity makes room for added innovation in recruitment and retention. Codility has done that by adopting a compensation strategy that sets salary bands by job role, irrespective of location. All U.S.-based workers are paid a salary dictated by the San Francisco market whether they live there or not, and the company plans to implement a London-based salary band for employees in Europe. Simplifying payroll has given workers more freedom to move, made Codility more competitive and widened its talent pool without the added hassle of juggling location-based salary fluctuations.

Untethering your workforce

What other tools and practices will contribute to a successful asynchronous, distributed workforce? Here are a few of our top recommendations.

Equip your teams

You’re responsible for supplying your workers with all of the tools and equipment they need no matter where they work, which likely means setting up their home offices with everything from standup desks to printer paper. Identify what resources will be needed and plan how to provide them for your remote workers. 

Write it down

When teams aren’t online at the same time, you have to move beyond meetings and find other ways to share information or collaborate. Creating written records of key decisions and developments becomes critical. Take meeting notes, publish best practices and open it up to everyone.

Spend time together

There’s still plenty of value in F2F time. It creates or deepens connections and there are various ways to incorporate it into your culture such as collaboration days, team-building events, happy hours, retreats and work-cations to far flung locales.

Put community over culture

One purpose of culture is to build a sense of community among teams. Firstbase compiled a list of ways to nurture culture in a remote environment. One suggestion we love? Facilitate activities that are rooted in common interests like running clubs or gaming nights, where a sense of community can emerge organically.

Individualize your attention

There’s no more one-size-fits-all approach to managing your people. Retrain yourself to customize everything: Check-ins, benefits packages, where and when they work and how you communicate with them.

Prioritize mental health

Two challenges of not working in the same room are loneliness and the inability to judge how others are faring. As a result, mental health support is more vital than before. Give people mental health days off, implement strategies to ensure they take vacation and comp time, create various streams for connection from Slack to in-office meetups, make sure your organization guarantees workers’ psychological safety and increase awareness of and access to mental health resources.

As the way we define the workplace continues to evolve, organizations must evaluate what works and weed out what doesn’t, with the goal of delivering flexibility and functionality. The ability to dig into the unique desires of individual workers and the willingness to meet those needs must be (or become) the backbone of every Work in Any Way company’s quest to be innovative, competitive industry leaders.

Stop maintaining your company culture and start reinventing it 



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