Why Your Office Layout Will Determine the Success Of A New Hybrid Work Model

Author: Gina Cunsolo

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Where were you when you first heard that your office was closing due to Covid-19?
 

Some of us were in the office when we first received the news, sipping our coffee at our desks. Many read via a mass email; others during an all-hands meeting, either in-person or virtual. Others of us received word over the weekend while we were having brunch with friends. Another mimosa, please!
 

Regardless of how the news came, many initially thought it would be a temporary measure to curb the effects of Covid-19 to protect ourselves and our coworkers. We thought we’d be back in the office in two months, tops. To prepare for the work from home transition, we were each assigned a date and time (to maintain social distance) for us to come into the office and gather our possessions. We took our monitors, our keyboards, our mouses, chargers, USB cables, Bluetooth Speakers, and even personal photos and items on our desks. If we happened to cross paths with our employees while we were packing up our things, we shared some much-needed in-person interaction - from six feet away, of course.
 

Working From Home

Once we were all safely working from home, some companies, knowing that certain employees may not have the tools necessary to work from home successfully, sent out online forms for employees to request office equipment and provided work from home stipends. While many employees were unsure what to buy with their work from home stipends, the essentials were clear: a computer, Internet service, a desk, and communication tools - anything necessary to create the best work from home setup.
 

As our work from home timeline extended month by month, the masses began reevaluating and updating their work-from-home set up. Many families moved out of their city apartments and into homes in the suburbs where they’d have more space - including a separate room to convert into a home office. We all bought more comfortable office chairs, made sure our Internet speed was up-to-par, and got comfortable in this new work-from-home reality.
 

Well, as we all know now, those initial two months turned into roughly two years. 
 

Where Are We Now?

Over time, everyone began to share their own opinion about how the work-from-home model affects productivity, team morale, work/life balance, mental health, and so on. Though we all enjoy our short bedroom to home office commute, taking Zoom calls in our pajamas, and washing our laundry in between meetings, for some, working from home started to become tiresome and uninteresting. Many began to long for more social interaction. Junior employees want to be in closer proximity to their senior coworkers, so they could learn tips and tricks from eavesdropping on their client calls. Business dinners, in-person sales pitches, conventions, and quarterly business reviews just weren’t the same over a screen.

Looking to 2022, as vaccinations have increased and Covid-19 cases have lowered, we’re all anticipating going back into the office. Many have been given January 10th as the date to make the transition. Others have already been going in a few days a week over the past couple months. This model, of working both in-person and remote, is called the Hybrid Work Model. 

 

The Hybrid Work Model

Take a look at these workplace trends, reported by Hybrid Works:

  • 72% of Employees want to continue working from home at least 2 days a week

  • 74% of Employees want the option to come into an office

  • 51% of Employees expect less density in the office & more space dedicated to collaboration

 

Herein lies what makes the Hybrid Work Model so unique - it was birthed by employee demand! This is a new phenomenon. The most popular office layouts of the past, (i.e. the cubicle office layout and the open plan office layout) were created by either researchers or architects, after years of study, trial, and error. Now, the employees are the ones dictating the workplace solutions, and companies are being forced to follow suit. However, a Hybrid Work Model benefits companies, too - considering the fact that a hybrid work model could save companies billions of dollars per year

 

Furthermore, a hybrid work model doesn’t require completely changing your office layout. There are ways to make all the existing layouts work within this new structure - if you listen to your employees, and make sure to outfit your office with the correct technology and audio solutions to support all parties involved.

 

Over the past two years, many companies have focused primarily on giving their employees the tools they need for successful remote work and have neglected office spaces. However, because hybrid work requires having a complete set up both in the office and at home, it’s time we revisited our office spaces and gave them the upgrade they deserve. When we refocus our efforts on the office layout and assess the best way to architect our desks and rooms to facilitate cooperation and productivity, again, we’ll need to consider both the employees in the office, as well as the employees joining remotely.

 

The idea that an office layout determines the success of an organization is nothing new. For over 50 years, businesses have been developing new workplace solutions and have studied which office layouts foster more productive work environments. Though every researcher or designer has their own opinion, and every worker has their own preferred format, it’s worth taking an objective look and weighing the pros and cons of different workplace solutions and office layouts - particularly as we look to the inevitable future of a Hybrid Work Model, and as we evaluate which office layout will help make the Hybrid Work Model a success.

 

Let’s take a look at the different office layouts that your business is probably already using - and determine why or why not each particular layout will determine the success of a new hybrid work model.

    

Traditional Office Layout:

The traditional office layout, the most common office layout, is primarily made up of individual offices built in side-by-side format. The individual offices are divided by either permanent walls or movable dividers. Typically, traditional office layouts are used by companies in finance, law, or consulting.

 

One positive aspect to this type of office layout is the privacy it offers. Many critics of open floor plans claim that they are unable to focus due to the noise that comes from working near their coworkers in one big room, without any sound barriers or dividers. The traditional office layout provides each employee a quiet, intimate space ideal for conference calls or one-on-one meetings, so all parties can focus on the conversation at hand. This positive carries over for both in-person and remote meetings. If an employee is in their traditional office space and has to take a conference call, they can use their own personal Bluetooth Speaker, with or without headphones, to take the call. They do not need to worry about disturbing a deskmate or fellow employee directly nearby.

 

However, one negative aspect of the traditional office layout is the lack of collaboration spaces that many offices and teams have grown to love. Each employee is restricted to their own desk in their own individual office, without the convenience of asking their nearby coworker a question, or listening in on their client calls to learn from them. The only place where employees may be able to communicate is either the conference room or the water cooler. And oftentimes, the conference room is reserved for all-hands meetings or staff parties, like in the TV Hit “The Office”. Furthermore, if an all-hands meeting should require employees working from home to join, most traditional conference rooms are not outfitted with the appropriate technology to allow remote employees to contribute and/or hear their colleagues clearly.

 

How to Make the Tradiational Office Layout Work in a Hybrid Model:

As already mentioned, one of the downsides of a traditional office layout is the lack of a huddle room or co-working space, a must-have for Hybrid workspaces. Huddle rooms, particularly ones outfitted with video and audio solutions, facilitate connection between the group of in-person and remote employees. Without a huddle room, meetings with both in-person and remote employees will require each in-office employee to sit in their own individual office and join remotely - even though they’re sitting mere feet away from each other. 

 

What are some solutions to this problem? Well, if the individual offices are separated by structures that can be removed, as opposed to permanent walls, companies can remove the dividers and combine two or three individual offices into one. This new space can be repurposed to become a huddle room. Next, get a conference table and some chairs, and a TV for video conferencing. Most importantly, make sure the huddle room’s audio solutions are conducive for hybrid meetings. Whether you choose to install a ceiling microphone or use tabletop microphones, it’s important to make sure that the employees in the office are heard clearly by those joining remotely. 

 

Private Office Layout Ideas: 

Private offices are typically reserved for the C-suite or members of HR. Before Covid, other employees would only get to see the inside of a private office if they were either getting reprimanded or getting a promotion. However, once everyone was forced to work from home, we all received access to the private office. It was no longer private.

 

Because we’ve all experienced this shift of increased exposure, and the benefits that have come from accessibility, employees have now come to expect it all the more. Once you’ve seen your CEO with her dog on her lap in the comfort of her own home, you now feel entitled to be able to access her far more than you used to. This is a positive trend that will only lead to increased knowledge sharing, more equitable workspaces, and increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

 

How to Make the Private Office Layout Work in a Hybrid Model:

Though it seemingly disappeared during the Pandemic, the private office doesn’t have to go away forever. There are still many use cases when it is appropriate, just as it was before - a sensitive conversation with an employee or client, whether in-person or virtual. However, what is important to consider is to make sure that, as much as possible, those in the C-Suite leave their private offices to join the rest of the staff in a Huddle Room, particularly for all-hands meetings or Hybrid meetings. Their presence in the collaboration room will serve to further the oneness and sense of community that was birthed through Covid. 

 

Open Plan Office Layout:

Open Office plans began to surface in the 1960’s. Over the past several decades, the open office has become the most popular layout, with two-thirds of U.S. offices choosing to structure their workplaces with fewer walls and more collaboration. 

 

The idea, born by architects like Frank Llyod Wright, was an attempt to counteract the  “fascist, totalitarian” constructs called cubicles. Soon after their creation, cubicles got a bad reputation - many began accusing the forced private offices of stifling communication among coworkers. As a result, many thinkers began to experiment with new ways to work. Two brothers, Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle, were the first to use green plants as room dividers, which remains popular to this day. 

 

The Open Office plan really began to take off once bulky computer equipment got replaced with personal laptops and Bluetooth devices. Rather than require a cubicle for storage, employees now carried their own technology back and forth from the office. Employees also began to incorporate office hoteling into their way of life. 

 

How to Make the Open Plan Office Layout Work in a Hybrid Model:

Because of its flexibility, the Open Plan Office Layout is probably the most conducive to creating a successful Hybrid Work Model. However, because employees do not have assigned desks to house their own personal equipment, it’s best to outfit each desk with its own Bluetooth Speaker, just in case employees forget their own at home when they come in. We recommend either the YVC-200 Personal Bluetooth Speakerphone, or the YVC-330 Personal Bluetooth Speakerphone

 

Cubicle Office Layout:

In 1964, at the Ann Arbor research center in Michigan, the first iteration of the cubicle was born. Its initial purpose was not to isolate workers, but to create efficiency of space and provide a balance of personal autonomy, while still being able to interact with people nearby. Initially, cubicles quickly grew in popularity. Over time, they earned a bad reputation of prohibiting collaboration - until somewhat recently, due to the demand for social distancing, cubicles came back in style.

 

How to Make the Cubicle Office Layout Work in a Hybrid Model:

Similar to the Traditional Office Layout, the Cubicle Office Layout features many employees siloed across a space. This setup makes it difficult to host a hybrid meeting in the office - where employees in person can all gather in one area, the employees from home can join, and all can be heard and seen clearly. In order to make that Hybrid Workspace a reality, employees can create a makeshift huddle room using cubicle walls as dividers. Get a table for the YVC-1000 Personal Bluetooth Microphone and Speaker system, mount a TV on a wall or a stand, and get ready to host a meeting!

 

Small Office Layout:

A small office is simply that - a shared working space that is relatively smaller than most. It may have a couple different private offices, or it might just be one main room. Either way, small offices are typically utilized most by companies or non-profit organizations with very few employees, or fast-growing startups who are quickly outgrowing the space - and are increasingly allowing their employees to work from home.

 

How to make the Small Office Layout work in a Hybrid Model:

Because a small office is essentially a huddle room, it could work great in a Hybrid Model. For companies with under 10 employees coming into the office at one time, the small office layout could be designed to have one focal point with a TV and audio system, so any additional employees joining remotely can be included in the meeting. 

 

The one downside to using a small office space as a Hybrid Workspace would be the lack of additional rooms for private calls. In one small area, if multiple employees need to be on different conference calls at the same time, they may disrupt each other by being too close together. One potential solution for this problem would be to create a Hybrid Work Schedule and assign different dates and times to different employees so that they do not overlap

 

Conclusion:

In conclusion, there are many ways to prepare your office space for the new Hybrid Work Model, no matter what setup you currently have. Most importantly, all employees should be heard clearly, regardless of location. Yamaha UC has the technology to turn any office space into a Hybrid Workspace. If you have questions, reach out to the experts at Yamaha UC!