Even with a very blinkered viewpoint, we are all aware of the large-scale changes taking place in the post-pandemic world of work. We have all seen the articles written about the return to the office, and we have all read the guides discussing the costs and benefits associated with hybrid working. But many of these guides and articles raise more questions than they answer.
What, for example, is the best way to manage the hybrid workplace so as to maximise productivity and efficiency? How do we design and manage the workplace so that things like remote worker needs, employee engagement, company culture, face-to-face interaction, and other such considerations are fully accounted for? Should there be rules for hybrid working in the workplace? And if so, what should they be. Let me offer a solution to some of these questions in the form of dynamic allocation.
First though, here are some other, more basic things to consider.
Laying the foundations for hybrid working success
If your organization or team has the desire and means to work within a hybrid working model, then you have a great opportunity to embrace the future of work. Your employees will probably be more productive; they will probably be happier and enjoy a better work life balance; and they will almost certainly have more freedom to choose where and when and how they work best.
But the first thing to remember when it comes to hybrid working is that one size does not fit all. It is best to think of hybrid working as a spectrum of working solutions ranging from those where employees spend the vast bulk of their time in the office, with the occasional day of remote work, to those where employees spend almost all of their time working remotely, with the occasional trip into the office for a team meeting or a social event.
Different roles, teams and individuals will all have different needs, preferences and circumstances, so flexibility is key here: one hybrid model may work for one team, or for one individual, but not for another.
Having decided upon the types of hybrid working that best suit you and your workforce, you’ll then need to create a set of ‘guide rails’ or rules for hybrid working that all employees are aware of. These guide rails are best developed through an overarching organization requirements document followed by a ‘Working Together Agreement,’ created by each team separately, that confirms the parameters and protocols of the new hybrid arrangements. Within these arrangements you will want to maintain (or develop) your company culture whilst at the same time providing as many work options as possible for individuals and teams alike.
With these guide rails in place, how can the workplace/office best support your new ways of working?
The answer, put simply, is by providing the most suitable settings for the tasks your employees will be performing when they are actually present in the workplace/office.
The settings for each individual and team are likely to vary from hour to hour and day to day. For example, the needs of the Marketing Team on the Tuesday of a particular week may be very different to their needs on the Thursday of the same week, whilst the following week their needs may change again. How can we possibly provide this level of flexibility?
This is where dynamic allocation comes in.
What is dynamic allocation?
Imagine an app where, following alignment with their team (and perhaps others in their “circle”), an individual enters into their smartphone the days they are planning to go into the workplace in the near- to mid-term, as well as their best guesses as to what tasks/activities they will be carrying out on each of these days.
Tasks could include any of the following: team collaboration or focused work; virtual meetings where all other employees are remote; virtual meetings with a mix of remote and local participants; client meetings; work with employees from other teams; or some mixture of them all.
Now imagine an algorithm that collates the needs/requirements of each individual and team attending the workplace on each day. The algorithm then decides, using a pre-set series of criteria, the most appropriate location for each attendee based on their needs, their need for contact, their team’s needs, their team members’ needs for contact, as well as social distancing requirements.
Additionally, in order to help maintain intra-team connectivity, the algorithm would decide the best ‘anchor point’ for each team on each day. (The ‘anchor point’ being a recognisable feature or location that team members would be based around for that day.)
The app then confirms the seat/location assigned to each individual during the course of each day.
Dynamic allocation using this technology is currently being developed, and due to the constantly shifting nature of business, the tool needs the ability to rework the assignments of space right up until the last minute in order to address as many last-minute demands as requested. Hence the term “dynamic”.
The successful deployment of tools such as this will, of course, require some key behaviour changes for many employees, i.e. that they use spaces as they need them, and that they make these spaces available for others when they are finished. This will be a much greater leap for some than for others, however explaining the benefits of these working arrangements to gain their rational understanding and develop their emotional engagement should, in most cases, not be too difficult (why would you need an allocated desk when you are only in the office 2 days per week!?).
As artificial intelligence is increasingly applied to tools such as this, we can expect further benefits beyond those associated with a more thoughtful allocation of space. There may, for example, be opportunities to create new relationships throughout the organization that yield previously unexplored synergies. And organizations will be able to significantly reduce their carbon footprints, while saving huge amounts each year on rental costs. Ultimately, such technology will provide the means to create an optimized footprint that quickly learns of the mix and adjacency of spaces required to best support the business.
Managing the hybrid workplace the dynamic way is coming. How quickly will you get on board and start to see the benefits?