Expert article

Hybrid work requires built-in flexibility in the office of the future

The hybrid work, the model where we combine work in offices and remote, is here to stay. Last year, Sodexo, one of the world’s largest employers and a leader in working life services, mapped the pros and cons of teleworking. In July, the company also released the Five Problems with Hybrid Model report– and advice on how to solve them.

Adapteo has interviewed Johanna Langer, co-author of the report and Business Transformation  Lead at  Sodexo, about the demands of hybrid workplaces on the work provider and the future offices.

Nine out of ten civil servants want to continue working remotely at least one day a week when the recommendations to work from home are removed on September 29. This is according to a new study by Novus commissioned by TCO. More and more companies are also going out with their guidelines on teleworking for the future, and a hybrid model where work takes place partly in the office and partly remotely looks to be dominerspirit.

Has office work as it was before the pandemic played its part?

“Yes, the train with eight hours in the office every day has passed. With the forced teleworking of the last 1.5 years, there has been a certain shift in power to the individual, and we learn that we have greater freedom of choice. But, there is a force that cannot be stopped. We have seen so clearly the benefits of teleworking that I think we will want to continue to do so to a large extent. But that said, there isn’t one model that will work for everyone,” says Johanna Langer, Business Transformation Lead at  Sodexo.

Langer emphasises the importance of all companies setting a fundamental principle for teleworking, but at the same time recommends that we hold off on establishing any details until we know how we will behave after the pandemic:

“We need to be humble that we don’t have all the answers yet, but practice, try and learn. It has to take time. Including employees in the process of determining the way of working is also essential for success”.

 

Will we see any changes to the design of the office?

Yes, I think so. The remote first perspective becomes central when hybrid work takes over, and it should be seamless to work from different environments. This, combined with an endless number of employees in the office, places demands on surfaces, resources and service to be adaptable. No one wants to sit alone in a large and deserted office, but we will seek out social interaction – while at the same time needing less room for those who cannot concentrate at home. As a result, I think we will see smaller, semi-open and varied spaces and fewer open-plan offices.

Johanna Langer sees a new need for communication and measurement tools to optimise premises, resources, and services in the offices.

“We need to manage an ever-moving workforce, which I also believe will place high demands on transparency in terms of how many people are in the office when it is cleaned and so on. In addition, to plan the purchase of service services and utility goods, we need to understand behaviour patterns. Therefore, I think we will see several new tools to measure how the premises are used and communicate with employees,” she says.

It is precisely the built-in flexibility and opportunities for resource testing that Johanna Langer believes will be the watchwords for the office’s development after the pandemic, when the hybrid way of working becomes the new normal. In turn, she says, this is related to the fact that we don’t have all the answers yet and must dare to wait and see how we will behave when the Public Health Agency of Sweden’s recommendation on work from home releases.

The office of the future is a constant prototype. We need built-in opportunities to change things, the time for 10-year contracts on office premises is over. We want to have these types of static environments anymore.

graf från sodexo

Källa: Anarki eller detaljstyrning? – Arbetslivet när kontoren öppnar igen.  Rapport genomförd av Novus på uppdrag av Sodexo, 2021-09-24.

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Do we get more coworking spaces?

–Yes, in the long run, and especially in big cities, I think that we will go to more significant extent share spaces with others, who we live closer to but do not work together with. For such hubs to be attractive, however, people must want to be on-site, there must be access to services and activities.

In the autumn of 2020, Sifo commissioned Sodexo to conduct a survey in which 700 Swedish HR managers were asked questions about teleworking at their workplace. The study identified, among other things, several advantages and disadvantages of teleworking. Organisations’ digital development, work-life balance and more effective meetings were also identified as the main benefits. On the other hand, the weaknesses that HR managers saw with teleworking were poorer psychosocial work environment, more difficult for managers to take their work environment responsibility and more problem to create commitment and team spirit.

“I think a common mistake is that we bring working methods that worked when we were seen in the office every day into teleworking – even though digital work requires completely different tools and methods. But we are seeing a rapid development of digital works, for example,  work environment rounds. I also think that we will see an increased use of VR for lectures, meetings and workshops, as it provides completely different conditions for creativity, collaboration and interaction than a flat-screen does,” says Johanna Langer.

The perceived disadvantages of teleworking are linked to the problems identified in the report Five problems with the hybrid model – and advice on how to solve them, written by Johanna Langer and Henrik  Järleskog,  Head of  Strategy  Continental  Europe at  Sodexo. In addition to the challenge of optimising premises and service services, the authors’ highlight exclusion and inequality, corporate culture, leadership and balance between the individual and the team as concerns.

“The most difficult challenges are linked to soft values and well-being. I see an imminent risk that subcultures develop at companies, and then we get less collaborative skills and reduced loyalty to the company. However, in recent months, we’ve also seen that productivity in several places has gone up too much, as we get the less slack time and take fewer breaks. This is a development that we must follow closely so that it does not affect employees’ health,” says Johanna Langer.

How do employers address these challenges?

Identify what is cultural and take good care of it. It is also essential to talk about these issues, to involve employees in how the company tries out and takes on the problematic issues related to the development of the way of working.

According to Langer, the hybrid work model can also give rise to a new form of leadership:

“I believe that goal management in its purest form will be crucial for successful leadership. Today, we are still focused on detailed action plans and KPIs. Still, when leadership is partly to be conducted remotely, it will be more important to make sure that everyone knows where the company is going – not exactly what the way there looks like. As a result, I think we will see less detail management and a greater focus on a few well-formulated goals that capture the idea of the company’s strategy,” she says.

What does this type of leadership mean for employees?

More freedom, but also more responsibility. Both in terms of setting and fulfilling one’s personal goals with the work, and contributing to the common goals of the project.

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important perspective for large parts of the business community. How does this manifest itself in the development of the office of the future?

“Sustainability is central and must be integrated into the development of the office. I hope that we will see a broader perspective on sustainability, which includes everything from the indoor environment and climate impact to people’s well-being and resource optimisation. When it comes to people’s well-being, we have long measured air and ventilation in properties. I would love to see a health certification of buildings that includes material selection, the possibility of movement and access to nature. I know it’s happening, and I look forward to it becoming more established to discuss how office properties help people feel good,” concludes Johanna Langer.

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