In 2021, if your office hasn’t been rewired, revamped and refurbished to support the return of hybrid workers, then you may find yourself having a hard time enticing them to come back. And with 1 in 2 people saying that they won’t return to jobs that don’t offer remote work after COVID-19, it’s clear that the conversation about whether or not your office is prepared for the return to work is one you need to be having sooner rather than later.

The truth is, the employees that you are welcoming back to the office aren’t the same employees who left a year ago to work safely from home. Sure, they may look and sound the same, but over the past year their needs as professionals have changed. They have a new savviness and affinity for tech tools, after a year spent adjusting to remote work. Many of them have adopted new, more flexible schedules and are no longer interested in working from the office 9 to 5 each week. And most crucially, your employees have grown to feel safe working from home - they may need some convincing to once again feel safe working from the office.

As your employees evolve, it is your job to evolve with them and adjust workplace protocols - and the workplace itself - to fit their new expectations. Primarily, the transition to remote work followed closely by the transition back into the office has created a new, hyper-hybrid breed of employee. Simply put, to prepare your office, and yourself, for the return to office of hybrid employees you’ll need to change the way you think about collaboration entirely. 

Rethinking the Office

Before your employees can return to office, you first need to rethink it. Because we’re talking about the return to office after a global pandemic, this thought process will have two threads: rethinking the office in terms of safety and collaboration.

In terms of safety, keep in mind that your employees just spent the last year working in one of the safest, most comfortable environments available - their homes. With 77% of full-time employees agreeing that having the option to work from home after COVID-19 would make them happier, it’s clear that this RTO may be an uphill battle. But if you’ve decided that this is a battle worth fighting, you’ll need to get as attuned as ever to the new needs of your employees. To address one of their new needs, here are some ways that you can transform your office to make it a safer atmosphere for employees:

  • Increase outside air ventilation as much as possible
  • Implement sanitation stations in all restrooms and communal spaces
  • Post signage throughout the building to direct traffic + promote hygiene best practices
  • Abide by all current CDC guidelines for workplaces
  • Create workspaces with moveable furniture so employees can customize their workspace
  • Consider whether or not to instill a vaccine passport policy

Once you’ve transformed your office into a safe place to work, you can turn your attention to meeting the other primary need of your employees: rewiring your office to support hybrid collaboration.

At the beginning of COVID-19, when offices first closed their doors and employees were ushered into their homes, the assumption was that this would be the new norm for two, three weeks tops. During this time, employees were attempting to go about business as usual while connecting with their teammates through video conferencing platforms and messaging apps, working from home while wondering when they could return to the office. 

A few months later, once a few of the top companies announced that they would be allowing their employees to work remotely indefinitely, company leaders with their eye on the return to office began to rethink their office real estate. Would they be better off closing their offices for good and starting over from scratch once the world opened up again? Should office space downsizing happen immediately if employees would rather work on flexible schedules and stay remote? Should the focus be on cutting real estate costs or pouring more into the real estate budget to begin transforming the office into a safer place to work? 

In the summer of 2020 those were the questions on everyone’s minds, but without a blueprint for how to navigate a pandemic that they could look at for guidance, many companies held tight to their real estate and waited for the storm to pass.

And pass it did. Now, as vaccine rollouts gain speed and the world is beginning to look a little bit more like it used to, companies are realizing that the key to enticing their workers to return to the office isn’t about cutting back on their office real estate, but spending more attention on it in order to optimize the work environment to support hybrid workers. One of the reasons why your employees now look and sound different from who they were a year ago is because they have evolved into more tech savvy and flexible versions of themselves.

Creating Collaborative Spaces

Enter: wiring your office for collaboration.

The good news is, while rewiring your entire office may seem like a massive undertaking, the actual steps it takes to create a hybrid environment are very straightforward. In fact, there are only two of them.

Step 1: Speak with Your Hybrid Employees

Just like how a doctor would never prescribe medication to a patient if they didn’t know their ailments, you can’t transform your office space into an environment that supports the needs of your hybrid workers if you don’t know what those needs are. The first step toward optimization is to open a dialogue with your employees by asking them question about the return to office such as:

  • What is your favorite aspect of being a hybrid employee?
  • What circumstances would make you feel safe about returning to the office?
  • What changes in the office are you most looking forward to seeing be implemented?
  • How can we rewire the office to better support hybrid collaboration?
  • Which collaboration tools are essential?
  • What concerns do you have when it comes to hybrid work?

Once you have prompted your employees with questions like these and really listened to their answers, you’ll be prepared to begin planning the rewiring of your office. Remember, the key is to stay in tune with the needs of your employees. They’ll be the ones inhabiting this office space, after all. It should be designed to fit their needs and support their new hyflex life/workstyles.

Step 2: Implement Changes

Now that you’ve planned to rewire your office space for hybrid collaboration, it’s time to put these changes in effect. To successfully pull off this transformation you’ll need the help of a skilled IT team to rewire your spaces and the knowledge of your building manager to ensure all of the changes you are making to your office space are up to code. Once you’ve assembled your team you can begin rewiring and transforming your office to better support hybrid collaboration.

Depending on the feedback you gained from your employees, the hybrid collaboration-focused changes you can make to your office may include:

  • Streaming rooms equipped with video conferencing technology, which hybrid employees can pop into for spontaneous hybrid or remote standup meetings or calls 
    • Try the Meeting Owl as a plug-and-play video camera, we hear it’s great 😉
  • Creativity-focused rooms with smart whiteboards for hybrid collaboration and brainstorming sessions
  • Huddle rooms that are wired with monitors and video cameras for small hybrid team meetings
  • Tech rental stations so hybrid employees who work remotely most of the time don’t have to bring all of their personal tech into the office with them 
  • Video conferencing phone booths for 1:1 virtual meetings + catch ups
  • Communal space with flexible furniture where teams of all sizes can meet to collaborate in person

The key is to keep one eye on the needs of your hybrid employees at all times. When creating these collaborative spaces, always remember to stop and think, “Is this space as inclusive as it can be?” If at any point your answer to that question is no then you have some redesigning to do.

No matter which way you look at it, the future is hybrid. Over the past year, your employees have evolved in ways that we are just beginning to quantify. Their professional needs have changed and what they expect from their workplace has changed as well. Moving forward, 100% of teams will not be in the office 100% of the time. To adapt to this shift, you need to think about building spaces in your office that are inclusive of all participants physically and virtually. To better prepare you for the future, here are our Tools for Navigating the Return to Office.

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