Whether you’re a CEO, HR professional, or just a team lead who’s been tasked with coordinating a hybrid shift, many small businesses might not have an idea of how to create their own hybrid workplace completely from scratch. Here, you’ll find six key points to start with when planning for a soft reopening.
1. Find an office – but be smart about it
In order to create a hybrid workplace, one would assume that in addition to the various remote locations your employees will be clocking in from, you’ll also need a real-life office for your in-person interactions. But don’t just settle for a small WeWork space, or returning to the long-abandoned office you once had in the years before 2020. The work world of the future isn’t one where eight hours of work needs to occur five days a week in a stuffy cubicle. To find your perfect office, you need to define your perfect office.
Start by asking yourself why you need an office in the first place. If it’s to give presentations or have group meetings, maybe renting a conference room a couple of days a week is the way to go. If it’s for company culture or team bonding, maybe you can stick with an inexpensive coworking space that has fun amenities. Or perhaps if everyone prefers working from home and their productivity hasn’t suffered, you don’t need a permanent office space at all. It’s all dependent upon your company’s specific needs, so discern what those are before you sign any leases.
2. Don’t slack on scheduling
Remote workers, office workers, and hybrid workers – oh my! It’s a three-ring-circus of staff, and you’re the beleaguered ringmaster at the center, making sure all your little lions, tightrope walkers, and clowns are in the right place at the right time. Once you’ve found the best office space for your company’s needs, the next step is making sure that everyone knows when and why they’ll be there. Don’t worry, it’s not as overwhelming as it seems as long as everyone stays organized.
Once again, the first step is to be in tune with your employees. Make sure you know who wants to go into the office, how frequently they want to be there, and how crowded your workspace will be at any given moment so that you can enforce safe COVID protocols. Chances are you may even need to hire someone like an “office coordinator” to make sure that everyone’s schedules are in check, as juggling Google Calendars and last-minute changes can be overwhelming for someone already in another role. Whatever you do, keep the process consistently organized and streamlined, as your team’s morale may drop if things become too chaotic.
3. Listen more than you talk
As is the case for pretty much any company-wide change, you’ll need to make sure your employees have the first and last word. If you make sweeping decisions without consulting your employees, you’ll end up with a disgruntled workforce who feels unappreciated and unheard. You’ll never know what ideal hybrid integrations means until you know what your employees consider to be ideal, so if you make the process democratic, you’ll save yourself a lot of tension in the future.
Start by having an all-hands meeting or town hall, and let everyone know a tentative timeline for your hybrid shift. You may get complaints that seem very precisely oriented to the complainer, and those might go to the office coordinator to keep in mind for the future. But if you take notes and review all feedback afterwards, you may just find there’s a pattern to the kind of input you’re receiving that could guide your choices around reopening.
4. Perfect your collaboration stations
Open offices are all the rage – and they seem like the perfect fit for a socially distanced workforce. But before you jump into an open office layout, remember that for the most part, they’re a nightmare for employees. In a recent Gensler Workplace Survey, it was found that 47% of people want some form of a private workspace, but 69% (before COVID) were in open offices. People want assigned desks, they don’t want to share, and at the same time, they want the chance to socialize when necessary. Sounds simple enough, right?
This mostly logical step is one that’s easy to figure out, but harder to implement. If you have a lot of meetings, you need a lot of meeting rooms – if your employees deal with sensitive information, you need privacy and soundproofing. Maybe you don’t have a choice, and an open office space or unassigned desks are the only options available. Just find out what your team doesn’t like about them, and see if there are any possible workarounds.
5. Digitize your space
Making a space that’s comfortable for both remote workers and in-person ones might be one of the most difficult features of the hybrid shift. In the past, all we knew were faces on a projector at the end of a conference room. And now that we’ve become so technologically advanced at home, we hardly know how to translate that knowledge into an efficient, functional, digitized workspace.
Don’t just relegate your teammates to a corner computer or laptop, as when you close out of the meeting, you’ll have side conversations and follow-up questions that will later make them feel left out. You can find creative, inexpensive ways to include your remote workers in more than just hourly meetings. If your office budget can’t cover the highest tech available like a teleconferencing robot on wheels, you can always stick with something simple, like an iPad with a rolling stand. And if constant video streaming isn’t really your company culture, at least made sure you all stay in the loop with coordinated minutes, notes, and messaging systems.
6. Invest in necessary amenities
The last part of a great office isn’t just about the office itself. It’s about everything that comes with it, from the coffee machine to the beer on tap. This is less about the type of work you’re doing and more about the fun elements of office life you’d like to restore or reconsider. For the first time since your company’s creation, you can reinvent what it means to work in person, and consequently, what it means to bond as coworkers. In order to do so, you need to know exactly what would make your employees feel like they can work to the best of their abilities.
Think about what kind of office culture you want to create. If your office is composed mostly of young, healthy, vaccinated Millennials who love beer on tap and spin classes, find an office with a gym in the building or one next door. If you have a lot of Baby Boomers working for your company, the Gensler Workplace Survey shows that they value free parking more than anything. All of these options and more await you in the new hybrid world, you just have to be thoughtful enough to consider all the possibilities.
You can do it!
Though it seems repetitive, each point comes back to the following – if you cater your reopening around your employees, you’ll ensure their health, happiness, and loyalty. No matter what your next step is in the hybrid shift, make sure that your team has a say. The more empowered they feel, and the more stake they feel they have in the future of the company, the less likely they’ll be to burn out or build up resentments.