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Preparing your workplace for hybrid working

13 August, 2021

The success of hybrid working when we return to the office in the coming months will be highly dependent on how clearly the purpose of the office is understood, defined and embraced.

A photo of a woman holding a tablet while looking onwards in a bright office space.

The transition to remote working upended our traditional views of the workplace and the purpose it serves. Most organisations have shifted from the conventional view of the workplace as always 100% on-site. Some are considering 100% remote, and many are looking at a variation of the countless, agile 'hybrid' models that lay in between.

Hybrid working brings complexities beyond a blanket "100% on-site" or "100% remote" workplace. However, this forced reimagination of how and where we work has provided a unique opportunity to redefine the role of the workplace in providing real added value for organisations, teams and their people.

What's clear by now is that remote working has, for many employees, increased happiness and productivity levels through eliminated commute times and greater control over work-life balance. Conversely, others have found themselves isolated, longing for the routine and sociability that the physical workplace once offered. Many have experienced both, enjoying some aspects of remote working but also longing for some regular face to face connection with their colleagues.

This flexibility, which may have been previously yearned for, is now accessible and is sure to be at the core of all discussions surrounding the 'Workplace of the Future'.

It is important to note that the 'workplace' encompasses both the physical and digital environments where work is undertaken. This includes everything from the physical office to the way work gets done, all in tandem with a consideration of your workforce and the type of work they perform.

The challenge of hybrid working is as unprecedented as the challenge of remote working was. Organisations must be willing to take an agile approach by adopting a trial-and-error mindset, and leaders need to be comfortable with not knowing all the answers.

While strategic planning must be undertaken to make hybrid working a reality, agility will be critical as lessons are learned, and models of hybrid working are refined. With this in mind, flexible attitudes will be key, providing trust and room for modifications and amendments as required. Along with asking employees for their input into the design of the Workplace of the Future, being honest with your people about this evolving journey to hybrid working is crucial.

If at one end of the spectrum we have '100% on site' and at the other end, we have '100% remote' - what kind of workplace lies in between?

A hybrid model may consist of several different characteristics from both spectrums that will work uniquely for a particular organisation and its workforce. To practically apply the notion of a hybrid model, organisations must consider what they want the purpose of their primary office space to be.

Depending on the hybrid model you choose, this can mean different things. For example, will the office become solely a place for employee and client events? Will the office be redesigned as a training hub? Or, should the office be leveraged as an innovation and creativity hub for teams and individuals to come together to brainstorm, ideate and execute?

Some organisations might also consider the notion of 'hub and spoke' (a combination of both central and regional workspaces) where remote working can still take precedence with a main office 'hub' for dedicated activities and additional 'spoke' offices across regions. This can further accommodate flexibility and expand talent pools that include regional, rural and international talent.

Undoubtedly, a hybrid model presents a number of intricate complexities, from design and preparation right through to implementation and sustainability. No 'one size fits all' approach exists when considering where, how and when people will need - and want - to work going forward. It is therefore critical to take an agile approach.

A failure to simultaneously understand your employees' sentiments and adapt your workplace strategy in line with the changing world of work will reap both short and long-term consequences. Instead, taking action now will allow you to benefit from the unique opportunity granted by the pandemic to redesign your workplace in a way that will work for your organisation, your teams and your people.

Four key actions to take now

How can you lead your organisation in redefining the purpose of your office and redesigning your overall workplace of the future while also ensuring that any approach you design is inclusive and doesn't have unintended consequences for cohorts of employees within your organisation?

As mentioned earlier, there is no correct answer here, and an agile approach will be critical to success. Leaders need to recognise and accept this and implement regular 'reflection' points whereby you review and iterate your approach based on feedback from employees and managers.

To help with this, PwC has developed the '4Rs' (Remember, Rebuild, Redefine, Reimagine) to define the purpose of your future office. Create the space at a leadership level to brainstorm and consider each one of these areas to help you get started as you redesign your workplace.

Remember

Leverage the learnings from the ways of working throughout the pandemic. A thorough reflection on remote working can help you understand what elements of remote working you want to retain in your new workplace model and which you wish to leave behind.

As an example, working from home may have enabled your employees to carve out valuable time in their working day for tasks that require more concentration and focus, to a level which they couldn't necessarily get in the office environment pre-COVID-19. As such, your future workplace model may need to consider appropriate home working arrangements on specified days for your workforce to continue to devote time to such tasks in this way. The lessons to be learned from how your organisation has performed and the reality of what your employees have experienced are valuable inputs into any design of a future workplace model.

What elements of your organisation's pre-pandemic workplace model need to be embedded? There are likely to be some parts of the 'old' workplace model that your organisation and employees wish to reconnect with. Some employees may have expressed a desire for a return to the connectedness of a face-to-face ideation session, while others may feel that there is no replacement for in-person experiences when it comes to informal learning and coaching. Whatever elements your employees are telling you they want or need in some capacity, combined with your organisation's future strategy, should also be factored into any redefining of the purpose of your office.

Rebuild

Take stock and take action

Remodelling of the workplace for your organisation requires consideration of the business strategy, the people and culture, compliance and risk and technology and learning – in addition to the physical environment. Understand employee sentiment, future business strategy and management expectations, discuss current challenges and future goals and gather data and insights to co-create the best workplace model going forward.

Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress

As mentioned previously, while immediate COVID-19 safety precautions are non-negotiable, getting your future workplace model right means being comfortable with experimentation and a test-and-learn approach. If you're not iterating and improving, your competitors may be. Your workplace will also increasingly become a key factor in attraction and retention of talent. Implementing an agile, flexible approach will enable your organisation to stretch and scale as lessons are learned and priorities pivot.

Redefine

Reimagine your workplace with collaboration at the centre and in a way that supports different types of work preferences.

Once you've understood how your people want to use different workplaces and spaces, hit go and redesign accordingly. Think less cubicles and more hubs for collaboration, with enough variability to meet different needs and expectations. And continually evolve these spaces as use cases change.

Strategically marry physical and non-physical elements to make your workplace one where employees actively want to be' and not have to be. Whether it's war-rooms for team strategy sessions, outdoor spaces for mental refreshment or technology that lets you coordinate calendars simply, workspace design should incorporate both physical and non-spatial elements to create a seamless, supportive and healthy office experience.

Reimagine

Acknowledge that COVID-19 wasn't the first pandemic the world has experienced – and it won't be the last.

Organisations have to future-proof their offices, from ensuring adequate spacing between staff to mitigating bottlenecks in areas of high footfall, reviewing air conditioning infrastructure and implementing zero-touch technologies. Identify what is a permanent fixture of your 'new normal' and undertake scenario planning, so you are equipped with contingency plans and responses to future disruption.

We are here to help you

PwC have identified a number of hybrid workplace models to suit organisations. If you'd find it helpful to have a conversation on how these models would work for your organisation or on any of the above, please get in touch with one of our People and Organisation team.

Contact us

Gerard McDonough

Partner, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6170

Ciara Fallon

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8857

David Keane

Director, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 8253

Aisling Corcoran

Manager, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

Tel: +353 1 792 6049

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