by Kate Davis
There is a great deal of chatter right now about the hybrid-remote workplace. Everyone just wants the answer and therein lies the problem.
Hybrids don’t naturally occur. They occur only as produced through human manipulation for specific genetic characteristics. They require intention, necessity, humility, curiosity, experimentation and an innovative spirit. Our workplaces are no different. The beauty of hybrid work ecosystems is that they are inherently authentic and simple. Authenticity and simplicity, however, are not easy to achieve.
Pre-pandemic, our desire to mitigate risk forced over reliance on trends and benchmarks, a sort of expected “Easy Button” for workplace creating a false sense of security in the knowledge that someone, somewhere had done it before without catastrophic outcomes. This was always flawed logic because no two organizations have exactly the same mission, vision or values. If there are no benchmarks for where we find ourselves now then how do we forge a new path?
Decouple Talent Value from Space
Pressure to reduce square footage has been driving the standard workplace metric of usable square feet per seat (usf/seat) down dramatically over time with even executive level offices taking a hit and clocking in at a 16% reduction in the last decade. This push was always coming from the position of asking, “How can we spend less on real estate?”
Great offices have been increasingly understood as having a role in attraction of talent and beacons of culture, but often fell short of truly expressing a company’s mission, vision and values. Usf/seat may have looked like efficiency, but it created a value-based equation that could never hope to quantify effectiveness.
A global crisis and more than a year of working from home has given talent the time to reprioritize and adjust not only to new ways of working, but reliance on new tools, expectations around increased responsibility, and autonomy. This acquired taste for independence requires asking the question from a different perspective: What do we need to support our single biggest investment, our talent?
Growth in Infrastructure vs. Footprint
Predicting growth in knowledge work is exceptionally tricky even for the most process-driven groups. The problem with usf/seat was that the minute you needed to add seats, you had to add square footage. Even pre-pandemic, we know that employees around the globe were not at their desk 50-60% of the time. Ubiquitous technology, mobile devices, and management training for outcomes vs. presence are key underpinnings to hybrid work. Think of it this way: Would you rather invest in building offices and buying workstations that are empty most of the time, or would you prefer to shift those resources to building a strong, flexible infrastructure to support the changing nature of work over time? We don’t need more space. We need smarter space.
Intentional Presence vs. Expected Presence
If we can work from anywhere, then where do we want to work? We will always need places that allow us to share knowledge, be inspired, generate ideas, and pool resources and perspective. There was never a rule that mandated all this and deep work had to happen in the same place, at the same time, Monday thru Friday between the hours of 8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Designing for talent aggregation, interaction and even a little friction provides a vital spark for creative knowledge work. Creating affordances for greater environmental control and choice can support effective conditions for focus and flow. An ecosystem that relies on policy, technology and contextual nuance of place can unlock the potential of our greatest asset: our people.
Kate Davis is principal and director of commercial interiors at HKS.