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Workplace strategy
10 min read

How to Create a Hybrid Workplace Strategy

Creating a hybrid workplace strategy is a lot more than deciding when employees should come into the office. In this post, we’ll explore the value of a hybrid workplace strategy, the steps to creating one and why a successful strategy needs to be iterative and adaptable.

Well, it’s finally happened.

After months of occasional ruminations, your CEO has finally decided it’s time to get people back in the office.

But not five days a week, of course, we want to keep some flexibility. But it’s time to do hybrid working for real. Three days in the office should be the absolute bare minimum. Tuesday to Thursday sounds perfect, yes? Done.

As you sit on the Zoom call where the CEO announces the new hybrid work policy, the comments start to roll in.

“Leadership has communicated multiple times over the last 2 years that trust and autonomy are 2 of the company’s core values. Why has that changed now?”

“Many of us moved out to the suburbs after we were told we’d be a remote-first company permanently. The 2 hour commute 3x a week will kill me.”

“With the impending restructuring that was announced before the holidays, how can we be certain that those who can’t make it into the office won’t be at a disadvantage?”

“How will there be enough desks for everyone after the office downsizes in 2021?”

After the call concludes, you get a flurry of disgruntled Teams messages and emails from the entire company, including the regional directors you’d sincerely hoped would be your champions in the new hybrid work roll out.

Change takes time, your CEO says in consolation. But a month into hybrid working, it becomes blatantly obvious that there just isn’t enough office space for hundreds of employees in several downtown buildings.

What happens next? A complete backtrack to square one? Dropping millions in rent on more office space?

This story is a prime and increasingly common example of what happens when there’s no hybrid workplace strategy guiding the return to the office.

But how can you possibly create a strategy that fully encompasses something as complex and contentious as hybrid work, that touches on everything from office design to how likely your employees are to quit?

Let’s unpack that.

What is a hybrid workplace strategy?

A hybrid workplace strategy is an iterative plan that aligns the working environment with employees’ work habits and preferences, both remotely and in the office.

A hybrid workplace strategy creates a great workplace experience that empowers employees to be at their best, while also fulfilling the organization’s broader business objectives.

When done right, a hybrid workplace strategy helps the organization strike the perfect balance between what employees want and what leadership wants.

If you take one thing away from this article, let it be this. A successful hybrid workplace strategy is comprised of multiple strategies that reflect how different employee groups use the office. An strategy-ception, if you’d like.

Sounds complicated, right? It doesn’t have to be, with the right intention, approach and toolset to help you along the way.

Here’s how to create your hybrid workplace strategy.

1. Frame your strategy

Every strategy needs a purpose, an overall objective, and a way to measure success. Asking the right questions at this stage creates a framework that gets all the stakeholders involved and makes sure your strategy will last.

Here are some framing questions to get you started.

  • Why do we need a hybrid workplace strategy?

And no, as important as it is to keep the CEO happy, it’s not the answer to this question you’re looking for. A better answer would be: “We need a hybrid workplace strategy because we need to personalize the workplace based on the evolving needs of individuals and their teams.”

Moving on:

  • What’s the worldview of our leadership team on the future of work?
  • How strong is our organizational culture?
  • How strong is our employer branding?
  • What are the workplace expectations of our target talent?
  • What are our broader business objectives? (e.g. cutting costs, attracting top talent)
  • What’s the end goal here?

Getting everyone back in the office is an ok answer here. Better serving employees by combining the flexibility of remote work with the connection the office provides is a better one.

And last but not least:

  • What does success look like and how will we measure that?

Measuring success by tracking the average number of people in the office might seem like the best answer. But looking at how employees are using the workspace through space utilization data takes that a step further and indicates whether workspaces are fulfilling needs and wants.

2. Understand how people work now

To decide on your hybrid workplace strategy, you first need to quantify employee demand and identify the types of workspaces people prefer.

Without understanding how people are using (or not using) the physical workplace now, any hybrid work decisions made in the future will be made in the dark. This could cost thousands, millions and even billions down the line.

Once you get into understanding employee work habits and preferences (remember, this is what we need to align with the working environment to pull off a hybrid workplace strategy),you’ll likely discover that there’s numerous ways groups of employees use the office.

You’ll also need to understand how employees work, which will ultimately determine what functionalities the workspace offers.

Many people feel they do their most productive “heads-down” work from home, but collaborate better in-person, for example. However, the reverse could also be true for many of your people (i.e. everyone with young children).

Space utilization data (employees occupying a space/ the space’s total capacity), past and present, is invaluable at this stage.

3. Understand how people want to work

83% of people prefer hybrid working, according to Accenture, which should come as no surprise. But only 26% of CEOs have a strategy to rethink how and where work is done in their organization.

This makes it pretty clear that while employees know how they want to work, CEOs are not  so sure how to actually make that happen.

Surveys and taking feedback from department heads are both logical next steps for determining:

  • How employees want to do hybrid working
  • The functionalities they need from the office, and
  • Functionalities the office lacks

Read more: 6 Ways to Improve Your Workplace Experience in 2023

Space utlilization data also offers valuable clues into how employees want to work.

Let’s say you notice utilization rates in meeting rooms have been steadily increasing for the last six months. That makes it pretty obvious what kinds of spaces employees want to work in and what they’ll want more of in the future.

4. Create workplace occupancy profiles

Whether it’s through surveys, feedback, monitoring workspace utilization data or a combination of all three (recommended), once you’ve taken the time to understand the ways everyone works and wants to work, it’s time to create occupancy profiles.

An occupancy profile is a research-based representation of different employee groups in your organization, based on how they use the office space.

Occupancy profiles are essentially the marketing buyer personas of the workplace world, and should include:

  • How often employees come into the office
  • Why they come into the office
  • The offices spaces they occupy on an average day
  • Needs and wants the workplace currently doesn’t fulfil

5. Measure the space you already have.

This is where your space planning team will come in handy.

Gather every up-to-date floorplan, down to the the square inch, and quantify the total amount of space you have available for employees to work in.

Including the functionality of each workspace is critical too, because employees don’t just come into the office anymore – they come into the office with a purpose. They expect their workplace experience to offer them something that working from home can’t – excluding working in their jammies, of course.

Taking stock of office space is the first step of aligning the work environment to work habits and preferences. And if you’re not completely sure of the function of each space, making decisions with that work environment is going to be a game of pin the tail on the donkey.

6. Assign occupancy profiles to spaces

Smartway2 Hybrid Work Strategy Assign Occupancy Profiles To Spaces

This is where you make sure you have the office space required to make your hybrid work strategy actually work. Without places to make the magic happen, a hybrid workplace strategy is just wishful thinking.

Match up each space with your occupancy profiles. This is when you might discover that spaces aren’t matching up with employee needs and wants, which means some repurposing and reshuffling will be required.

Lots of occupancy profiles using the office for collaboration, but not enough meeting rooms and lounge areas to make that happen? This is the best place to figure that out, as opposed to after the launch of the new hybrid strategy, when everyone will be watching occupancy rates like a hawk.

Depending on your goals, leadership vision and culture, you might assign profiles to buildings to give more flexibility, or to neighbourhoods for more structure.

7. Choose your hybrid work schedule(s)

Days of the week, a monthly minimum, alternating weeks… there’s a myriad of choices for hybrid work schedules, and everyone has a strong opinion on the best and worst ones. Depending on the size of your company, your choice of hybrid work schedule can make the news.

Whatever your situation, announcing a hybrid work schedule is what makes the whole thing real for employees.

If it’s not adequately thought through – both in the choice and the way it’s communicated – a new hybrid work schedule can set off a mad dash to update CVs, a slew of directors doing their own thing, and company-wide unengagement.

When it comes down to it, hybrid work schedules are all about different strokes for different folks. You’ll likely discover that just like how you have multiple occupancy profiles, you’ll have different hybrid work schedules as well. Acknowledging that there’s no right hybrid schedule for any company maintains the autonomy and convenience employees love about deciding where they work.

Building hybrid schedules around employees – rather than trying to make the reverse happen – might take longer than the dreaded back to the office mandate, but will keep productivity and connection higher in every office.

Read more: How to Choose the Right Hybrid Work Schedule

Pro-tip: A hybrid work solution can take care of managing multiple occupancy profiles and hybrid work schedules for you.

8. Use scheduling to personalize the hybrid workplace experience

It’s a tale as old as 2020.

You wake up at 5:30 AM and make the commute into the office out of the goodness of your heart, only to discover one of the following:

  • Someone’s stolen your desk
  • It’s eerily empty since the rest of your team decided not to come in after their alarms went off this morning
  • You can’t book the meeting room you need and have to do calls in the stairwell where it’s quiet

With any hybrid work strategy, it’s impossible to make everyone happy. But if employees are coming into the office, you’d better make sure you’re providing them with resources they can’t get when working remotely. That means being able to book the desks and meeting rooms they need in advance.

Read more: How to Choose a Meeting Room Booking System

Using an intelligent scheduling platform (like Smartway2!) doesn’t just make it easy for employees to book everything they need for a productive day in the office – it personalizes the workplace by suggesting resources based on their work habits and preferences.

What’s more, intelligent scheduling helps you measure demand (how many desks and meeting rooms are being booked) and occupancy (deciding which resources are bookable). This helps you continuously optimize your workspaces and refine your strategy.

9. Measure, iterate and evolve

Business objectives change all the time. Overnight, yours could shift from growing the team to cutting costs because of market conditions beyond anyone’s control.

Objectives of individuals and teams change too. January probably means three-day team kickoffs and constantly needing big conference rooms to go with them. Or an upcoming product release could mean several weeks of the development team coming in daily, with many a late night pizza and energy drink delivery. Can your workplace adjust to accommodate these needs on short notice?

This is why it’s so critical to frequently pop back to the first step. Have none of the answers to the framing questions changed? Skip it and proceed to the next step.

But chances are, objectives, priorities and word views have changed. And that’s why a hybrid workplace strategy is a living, breathing organism that should iterate and evolve over time.

This is the real value of a strategy – ultimately, it’s a framework that helps you manage and adapt to change.

How employees use the workplace will constantly change, too. Surveys can only tell you so much, but measuring behaviour with space utlilization data is ammunition to shape the workplace around what everyone wants and needs from it.

If a workspace shows low utilization rates, you could either change the functionality of the space (e.g. from individual productivity to collaboration) or allocate it to a team that needs it more.

Not only does an evolving workplace keep people coming in (and your CEO happy), it also keeps costs low (and your CFO happy). You’re no longer wasting energy and facilities management on spaces that no one is using.

Read more: 5 Space Utilization Metrics for a Better Workplace in 2023

Nail your hybrid work strategy with Smartway2 by HubStar

Smartway2’s intelligent scheduling software gives employees everything they need to have a 10/10 day in the office – from desk and meeting room booking to catering and even a parking spot.

The result? A hybrid workplace that actually works.

Smartway2 By Hubstar

Jackie Towers

Last updated February 3, 2023