The hybrid working office: ushering in a new era for the workspace

The increased adoption of hybrid working has led to a significant change in the way that people view a workplaceLife after COVID has led to a significant change in the way that people view a workplace. Working from home on a regular basis has become typical, not ad hoc or as required. Commuting five days a week to attend an office is no longer the norm and on the whole is no longer demanded – rather, we have seen organisations adopt hybrid working. This has meant the rationale for a physical office workspace has come under considerable scrutiny. Some organisations have gone as far as being completely remote and have released all office real estate.

However, it is crucial to remember that the physical office building remains an embodiment of how an organisation communicates both its culture and brand.  The workspace is a representation of what the organisation stands for, and offers workers the chance to fully experience the brand by engaging with the tangible benefits on offer and taking part in knowledge sharing activities or collaborating with others across the organisation.


More than just a building? A catalyst for conversations

When we all worked remotely through COVID, we found ways to stay connected but we lost the serendipitous encounters which triggered small, daily connections. Also removed was the day-to-day flow of ideas, information and knowledge that occurred naturally through informal conversation. Connecting with colleagues became more difficult and had, as shown by research, a diminishing impact on engagement and productivity.

As we returned to a hybrid working pattern, typically three days a week in the office, people initially commented on how much their day was interrupted by talking and interacting with other people. Time was being spent attending face to face meetings or people stopping by to have a conversation about work matters. Increasingly, this perspective shifted, as workers enjoyed the opportunities being co-located gave to rekindling and developing deep and meaningful connections with colleagues (old and new) across the organisation. Conversations were easy to have and quick to instigate.


A place for growth and development

Without a doubt for future talent starting their career, COVID had a detrimental impact on the opportunities to learn and develop.  Rather than experiencing immersive on–the-job learning, listening in on conversations or participating in a meeting, the interventions became planned and programmatic; it became harder to share the institutional knowledge typically passed on by the more experienced colleague and it impacted the opportunity to meet peers and develop networks.

For those in the early years of their career, building deep trust-based relationships with mentors is a critical element of learning.  Working together in the office facilitates opportunity for feedback in the moment to be freely given – be it on the way back to the desk directly after a meeting or over a coffee reviewing work.  Using time in the office to purposefully come together to observe those more experienced at work has always been, and continues to be, an important element of the apprenticeship model. The hybrid model provides the flexibility for this to occur naturally once more.


The workspace: a priority for attraction and retention of talent

To make hybrid working work, the physical office workspace must now offer more than rooms full of desks and an internet connection. Individuals want a multi-functional workplace that is suitable for the ‘type’ of work they are doing – whether this is a quiet space to work alone or collaborative spaces for socialisation and teamwork. More than ever before, the office must be multi–purposed and activity based. Individuals must know that on any given day they will find a suitable place to meet the needs of the work they are doing on that day.

The workspace must offer flexibility; providing ‘flow’ around the building and allowing people to interact, as well as areas for quiet work and private meetings. Good technology is a given, with the ability for easy ‘plug in and play’ functionality. Video meetings are a daily occurrence so provision of focus rooms for short meetings, sound muffling headphones are expected,  along with social café style places to have coffee, work, or socialise. Workspace design must also make the best use of public areas where possible, with flexible walls that can be easily reconfigured to accommodate intimate and large gatherings alike.

The physical workspace for many is the hub of the organisation. it can act as a powerful amplifier of the culture to both internal and external audiences. While it is only one of a number of factors talent will consider, if done correctly – alongside delivering positive experiences day-to-day – colleagues will develop a strong sense of belonging and similarly clients can develop a stronger affinity with the organisation they are working with.

In a world where professionals have perfected their work-from-home environment, a commute to the workplace must be considered a ‘destination’ more than just a place to ‘do work’.  As Reed Smith London plans the move to its new office at Blossom Yard, we have dedicated both time and consideration into understanding the narrative surrounding office identity and culture: allowing us to consider all the elements important in ensuring that hybrid working works for everyone across the organisation, whatever the level or role.