It's no secret that businesses are struggling with what the future of hybrid work looks like. For many organizations, the "future of work" was seen as something years down the road. But, the COVID-19 pandemic and an entire year of fully remote work changed how soon we've run into the "future."
According to a PwC survey, 55% of employees would prefer to work remote at least three days per week once the pandemic recedes, demonstrating that in a post-pandemic world, employees want flexible, hybrid work options with remote opportunities. Google has approached this fast-paced leap into the future with an entirely new reimagining of their offices.
Often seen as a leader in office design and management, Google has long pioneered the "modern office." Now, Google is doing its best to lead the charge into a fully hybrid, flexible work model. Construction, remodeling and experimenting has begun on a post-pandemic Google workplace that includes build-on-demand work pods, remote-friendly TV displays in meeting rooms, outdoor collaboration spaces, pop-up privacy walls, and customizable hoteling spaces. These innovations are going to raise the bar for employees looking for hybrid work post-pandemic.
But how can companies invest in hybrid work strategies if they’re not a large enterprise like Google? Google’s ability to adapt and innovate in a flexible work environment is possible through funding and a large amount of risk taking. The average business won’t be able to push this level of innovation, particularly with the financial impact of the pandemic still affecting businesses. COVID-19 pushed the United States into its worst recession in nearly a century, and more than 100,00 small businesses closed during the first three months of the pandemic.
So, how do you support your employees’ desire for a more hybrid workspace and stay relevant in the market, while sticking to a budget and reducing your risk? The answer lies in control — from managing and reserving your spaces, to analytics and reporting for a clearer understanding of utilization, exerting control over your workspace through integrated technology is key to having the ability to customize and adapt to your workforce’s needs and wants.
The Younger Workforce Wants to Blend Remote & In-Person Work
Generation Z and younger Millennials are clearly comfortable with hybrid work options. But statistics show that this younger workforce actually prefers having the option to go into an office, desiring a mix of remote work and in-person collaboration.
According to Google's own research, the best approach is a more "Ikea meets Lego" style, with innovative hybrid options like team ‘pods’ that can be built for on-the-fly collaboration, and meeting rooms that include vertical displays mixed in with seats for those joining remotely, making it feel like everyone is together even when they’re not. This helps keep all employees on an equal footing without pushing everyone to an all remote or all in-office model.
These exciting efforts by Google are already paving the way for other to provide a more hybrid experience, with more integrated meeting spaces, more displays in collaboration areas, and more quick-collaboration spaces. At Accruent, we're seeing our customers plan for a return that includes more desk hoteling and space-sharing, rather than going back to assigned seats. And according to a study from Edelman Data, 66% of business leaders have said their company is considering redesigning their office space to better accommodate hybrid work. This concept of desk sharing and pod-style workspaces allows for more flexibility and work personalization, fostering better collaboration and ultimately, greater productivity.
But not every company needs bubble walls or flatscreens to give employees a hybrid work experience. Any organization looking to implement a hybrid model can do so by simply adjusting working spaces, providing more collaborative areas, and setting clear, reasonable guidelines for including remote workers – and all if that can be done with better control of your space.
With a detailed scheduling system, video conferencing integrations and a thorough understanding of your space, you can provide these modified workspaces for employees, without breaking the bank or needing to build from scratch.
The Focus on a Safer Workplace Is Not Going Away
During the pandemic, businesses that didn’t go fully remote had to figure out how to keep their employees safe with enhanced sanitization efforts, social distancing, and contact tracing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While more and more employees are getting vaccinated before returning to the office, the desire for safety measures is going to stick around.
Google's vision for the office includes strategies to maintain space between employees, offer more outdoor experiences, and create a cleaner, more comfortable environment to give employees peace of mind.
At some of their locations, Google is building outdoor work areas to help reduce the spread of other viruses like coronavirus or the annual flu. These outdoor spaces mix grass and wood flooring and open-air tents with Wi-Fi and videoconferencing equipment, giving employees a completely functional work space, but outside in fresh air.
Google is also maintaining social distancing thresholds by redesigning their offices to keep all desks six feet apart. The plan is to "de-densify" Google offices by adding more white space and plants, giving employees more privacy. And instead of serving office meals buffet-style, Google will begin only offering boxed grab-and-go meals and snacks to prevent any cross contamination.
Safety measures that evolved from COVID are going to be the new standard for employers. Employees are now more conscious of being in confined spaces with others, who may or may not be sick, and want the ability to have privacy and space from their coworkers.
But many businesses can’t afford to invest in sprawling outdoor spaces to accommodate distancing. For the average company, safety will need to be considered in terms of sanitization and cleaning protocols, personal distancing, and the availability of private spaces.
With a resource and room scheduling platform, organizations can schedule cleanings for used rooms and prevent these “used” spaces from being booked by other employees until they have been properly sanitized.
And everyone can adopt Google’s “de-densifying” trend for their office space, simply by reducing the number of bookable desks in an office with a hoteling or hot desking system. You can also create more private workspaces by identifying large meeting rooms or open space that goes unused for long period of time, and changing them to smaller, private work areas that employees can book for just themselves or small groups. With a little creative thinking and more space control, organizations can still innovate for their employees, even if on a smaller scale than Google.
The "Open Office" Ideal is Getting Left Behind
Start-up culture in Silicon Valley promoted the idea that an "open concept" office was best—lots of desks and perks, open collaboration spaces, plenty of games and food, and anything to entice employees into staying at the office all day.
In 2014, 70% of all offices in the U.S. reported having open floor plans. However, according to a Harvard Business School study, transitioning to an open concept workspace actually reduced face-to-face interactions among employees by 70%, while increasing email communication by 50%. This is the reverse effect most companies were hoping for.
Google was no stranger to this concept, and one of its many rules pre-COVID centered around coming into the office regularly. But COVID and remote work has permanently changed how Google views productive office space. The days of lavish perks and combining all aspects of an employee’s life into an office so they want to stick around are over. Google has instead focused on three key principles: "work happens anywhere and not just in the office; what employees need from a workplace is changing constantly; and workplaces need to be more than desks, meeting rooms and amenities."
One of the most innovative ways Google is changing their desk system is by creating fully customizable work areas that are used on a rotational basis. When an employee comes in, they can scan their badge and the work area automatically adjusts to their preferences – the desk rises to their ideal height, displays show personal photos, and even the nearby temperature is adjusted. This kind of customization for part-time desks is perfect for employees who are only in the office a few days a week.
The "open office" concept is also being thwarted with more attempts at privacy. Traditionally, open offices offered very little for employee privacy – all desks were in open spaces, no walls separated employees, and there were very few private, closed-door spaces to work in. Google has now started testing out different privacy options for their employees, including self-inflating balloon walls and office chairs with built-in directional speakers for white noise to eliminate nearby sounds.
Modern employees have been over the traditional open office concept for a long time. Working remotely for more than a year has completely shifted what companies thought was productive (i.e., forcing everyone in an office together to encourage collaboration).
Does the future of work look like Google’s version – work pods, part-time desks, on-the-fly customization?
Maybe—but for the average company, staying current means tossing out the old idea of a “open office” and embracing what employees want right now: flexibility.
This can be as simple as implementing a rotational office schedule, where employees only work certain days in-office at a shared desk, to a more holistic solution with a hoteling and booking system. These strategies for providing more flexibility at work and remotely can all be achieved through technology that gives you control over your space.
The Future of the Modern Office – is it Google’s Vision?
What does Google's hybrid office experience mean for the rest of the enterprise world? It's going to depend on the success of the employees. With employees now used to not having a commute, enjoying more time with family and friends, and a more flexible schedule, Google has realized that autonomy is the most important part of their office. But what will the future look like five years from now? Ten years? Will we go back to wanting a more social, open office once the lingering effects of the pandemic start to ebb?
The average office can’t invest in self-inflating bubbles walls and fully functional outdoor meeting spaces, and that’s probably a good thing. The pandemic shifted the “future of work” we saw 10 years in the future, but that also means we don’t know what the next ten years will bring. There could be a near future where employees want to return to a more sociable, face-to-face workplace that offers all the amenities that keep someone at the office – the old Google model.
On the flip side, there could be a future that’s fully remote, where all “offices” are online rooms and face-to-face interactions only happen on Zoom. We’ve seen more adaptation in the past year that ever before, with even the smallest of shops and businesses taking measures to provide a distanced, touchless experience. Companies during the pandemic have proven that we can adapt to the needs of our employees. The problem now is continuing to understand and deliver what employees expect in order to stay competitive in a hot hiring market.
We can’t predict the office of ten years in the future – but we can stay relevant in today’s market and meet employees' short-term needs. Hybrid workspaces, touchless experiences, quiet , private spaces, modular collaboration spaces—all of these are the new expectation by employees in a post pandemic world, and all of these are possible with a comprehensive space management solution that can offer the configurable control companies need over their physical spaces and resources.
Maybe the future isn’t Google’s new hybrid work model—but the present workforce is looking at Google as the rubric for a modern workplace. Employees will see trends like Google’s as the new standard for a post-pandemic workplace, and it’s up to organizations to provide a workplace experience that meets their needs.
How can your organization adapt to a better hybrid work model?