hybrid work
5 April, 2024
What hybrid work really teaches us about the office
How flexible working has proven the innate value of the office and its ability to improve the working experience.

We all remember a moment in time, somewhere around 2020, where we were being told that no one would ever return to the office – working from home was here to stay.

Reality set in, peoples’ mental health suffered with no daily change of environment, no stimulus and in some cases insufficient space or equipment to work. Those new to the working world found that they couldn’t learn on the job or progress as well in their careers, let alone suffering from isolation as they couldn’t socialise with colleagues.

There was also growing concern about productivity. If working from home didn’t result in a lack of productivity then it certainly made things different – there was a lack of collaboration, a lack of ideation and more scope for misinterpretation. It wasn’t long before hybrid working became the preferred norm, with different organisations choosing different variations.

Far from being redundant, hybrid working has proven to be the renaissance period for the office, proving its renewed purpose not merely a place to go to work, but a place to proactively improve the working experience. 

data-driven workplace design

The definition of hybrid work

We’re all familiar with the term ‘hybrid work’, but for the sake of clarity in this article, let’s give it a definition. The CIPD describes hybrid working as: 

“A form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, from home) and some in the employer’s workspace. Many organisations use hybrid working arrangements and research has consistently found that employees value and desire flexible work, including opportunities to work in a hybrid way.”

The transition to hybrid working

As the pandemic restrictions eased, the transition to hybrid working took shape, with many companies quickly adopting three office days per week with two remote days (3-2), or two office days and three remote days (2-3).

It’s probably fair to say that this was a move led by businesses rather than employees. While it wasn’t a seamless transition, many people felt there were benefits to be had, having missed the camaraderie of the office amongst other things.

Google was among the high-profile early adopters of 3-2, and it’s taken time for the sweet spot in hybrid working to be properly established. There are two reasons for this in our opinion:

  1. There’s no one-size-fits all model across all businesses or even within the same business across job functions.
  2. The move to hybrid working from the days of old is not simply about being in the office or not being in the office, but about a total rethink of the design, shape, function, and purpose of the office space itself to facilitate a different way of working.
hybrid work

The benefits of hybrid work

Depending on the specifics of the individual, the job role, the environment someone has to work in away from the office and the company culture, hybrid working has been shown to have lots of benefits. These are largely summed up as giving people the best of all worlds through the chance to have a greater work-life balance whilst maintaining social connections and bonds with colleagues.

An important factor in this is giving people autonomy to choose where and how they feel most comfortable performing certain tasks, placing trust in employees. What works best for one person might not be the same for another, depending on someone’s ability to concentrate, their health, whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical, their mental wellbeing, the length of their commute as well as their home responsibilities etc.

In the right context hybrid working can benefit both employers and employees:

  • For employers, the benefits of minimising office overheads through remote and hybrid working have always been at odds with the desire to nurture company culture and the benefits of collaboration by being in the same space.
  • For employees, the comfort of home has offered the ability to focus and remove the stresses of lengthy (and costly) commutes but has also caused challenges relating to isolation and lack of access to technologies and facilities associated with the office environment.

The drawbacks of hybrid work

All that said, hybrid working is not without its wrinkles. The Harvard Business Review writes that while a hybrid approach to working seems to be here to stay, challenges include:

  • Communication challenges caused by insufficient tech, ill-defined company etiquette for conference calls, complicated by the fact that some people are more comfortable speaking up over screens than others.
  • Working in hybrid teams presents significantly more coordination challenges than working face to face.
  • Connection between people (both personally and professionally sustaining) can suffer. They say: “Hybrid working risks creating a “dominant class” of those who feel like they’re central to the organisation and strongly committed to it and an “underclass” of those who feel peripheral and disconnected not only from the work, but also from the social life that creates meaning and bonds employees more closely to the organisation.” 
  • Creativity can suffer as scheduled brainstorming may not be as fruitful as serendipitous ideation, while individual creativity can be limited by a lack of inspiration and stimulus.
  • Company culture can be diminished if not suitably addressed and safeguarded.
Jones Knowles Ritchie

The biggest thing hybrid working has taught us

The biggest thing hybrid working has taught us is that the purpose and possibilities in the workplace have changed. What we want an office to look like, feel like and how we want it to operate is entirely different to how it was five or six years ago. Their role in bringing people together is being celebrated and nurtured in a way it never was before, and this is influenced in many ways by the design and use of the space. 

In 2022, the BBC wrote: “Several companies say they are updating their offices to suit new hybrid models, including creating team-focused spaces, collaborative areas for those oh-so-touted water cooler chats and better technology integration for things like hybrid video calls and presentations. In the hybrid-work world, head-down, focus tasks are for home, while the office is meant to be a centralised gathering place to combat the isolation of working on one’s own.”

How to create the best of all worlds for hybrid working

The key to making a success of hybrid working at your office is to be both flexible and intentional, considering how to maximise the benefits and mitigate the potential challenges through systems, processes, and design.

The design of your office is a powerful influencer in creating and driving desirable behaviours in and beyond the workplace. We can do this by creating spaces and pathways that encourage collaboration, spontaneous communication, and offering people all the benefits of home, compounded by better communication, concentration and collaboration.  

In short, it’s about creating spaces that people want to spend time in and benefit from being in.

For example, different ways that the office has maximised the benefits of the office in a hybrid culture include some of the following spaces:

Living and breathing the brand

hybrid work

When young American IoT company Samsara set out to create a London HQ almost entirely focused on their sales team, they wanted a space that nurtured complete brand buy-in amongst staff. They wanted team members to live and breathe the brand while at work. With that in mind, we used their colours – blues and yellows – throughout, to create visual interest on surfaces ranging from the staircase to parts of the exposed ceiling.  We also created a graphics package in collaboration with their internal designer, which we applied differently in each meeting room, and on walls and glass partitions throughout. All of this sat alongside key behavioural aspects of the space, such as spaces that foster a sense of community, a large food service area and an idea floor dedicated to socialising.

Creating space for creativity and collaboration

hybrid work

At exclusive luxury buyers’ club, Beauty Pie, the team wanted to create a stylish and inspiring workplace suited to hybrid working, collaboration and the ambitious growth. They envisaged a space that encouraged socialising and collaboration whilst also providing areas for creative sessions like photography for social media. The glossy, pink result (brand colours) centred around a coffee area to encourage community as well as a diverse range of spaces to suit the buzzy nature of Beauty Pie – not least, a custom-pink ping-pong table.

Inspiring innovation

hybrid work

Creating a space that’s both innovative and inspires innovation amongst the team, forward thinking tech company Datatonic sought a space with a difference at their new office in Canary Wharf. The project aimed to blur the lines between art, science, and branding, resulting in a workspace that serves as a testament to Datatonic’s commitment to innovation and excellence. We did this by dividing it into three distinct zones – a tranquil space for engineers, a vibrant area for social events and training, and a central collaborative hub. The logo was creatively utilised to demarcate these areas using acoustic panels on the ceiling and pathways in the flooring, thereby encouraging fluid movement and interaction among team members.

Want to create an office that supercharges hybrid working results?

Speak to the team at Maris