The Rise Of The Hybrid Workplace – What Might This Mean For Future Workplace Design?


At the time of writing, England is in the midst of its third national lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Talk to almost anyone now and they’ll resoundingly give you the impression of being distinctly “over it”. Whether you want to call it fatigue, ennui or anything else, many of us are hitting a sort of lockdown ‘wall’ that we’re finding hard to cope with, both professionally and personally.

Something which invariably helps in these situations, however, is to hold onto the light at the end of the tunnel, the prospect of the ‘beyond’. But what does that beyond look like? Will things be irrevocably changed for the better once normality returns? Or will we instead, revert to type, having learned little from what these tortuous months have taught us? The idea of the ‘hybrid’ workplace and its benefits very much come into that discussion.

In the periods between lockdowns, so far, we’ve seen many employees taking the opportunity, unsurprisingly perhaps, to transition at least partially back into the workplace. With people enjoying the flexibility and improvements to work-life balance that remote working afforded, however, a similar number of people continued to work remotely, instead. But does the ideal solution actually lie in a middle-ground between the two? The team here at Munday + Cramer, an architectural design firm in Essex, wanted to examine what this future hybrid workplace might look like, particularly from a design perspective.

What Is The Hybrid Workplace?

Before anything else, though, it’s worth defining what we actually mean by the hybrid workplace. Essentially, it refers to the idea of a workplace in which, save for a relatively small permanent staffing, the remainder of the employee roster pick and choose when they come on-site to work, and when they work from home, or elsewhere.

With a recent YouGov poll suggesting that almost 40% of employees want to work from home at least some of the time beyond COVID-19, and research from the Gensler Institute similarly indicating that over two-thirds of the UK want a hybrid work-model in the future, it’s hard to envision a future in which this type of working isn’t much more prevalent, if not indeed the norm.

Flexibility is clearly one of the core (and, in fact, imperative) tenets of this working modality; employees will likely only fully commit to it if they know the workplace they’re going back to, indeed, accommodates it. After all, nobody wants to feel like the decision to work more flexibly comes with a trade-off or its own sort of handicapping. That promise of flexibility, therefore, needs to translate into the way that office spaces and other workplaces are designed, moving forward.

The Benefits Of Hybrid Working

There are several key benefits (the evidence of which has been proven in surveys and reports) to hybrid working, including greater job satisfaction, improved creativity (thought to stem from the increased variety within the working week) and a greater feeling that the workplace promotes and nurtures employee wellbeing.

How Might This Affect Workplace Architectural Design?

There had already been a shift towards more open-plan working spaces during the past couple of decades, and this trend looks set to continue with the growth of flexible working. Indeed, most modern offices are a far cry from the densely-packed rows of dimly-lit cubicles many of us potentially still associate with corporate life.

There’s the argument, of course, that working in such an open-plan way actually hinders productivity, with anecdotal tales surfacing, prior to the pandemic, of workers desperately seeking out unoccupied meeting rooms in attempts to give themselves some thinking space. The caveat, therefore, is that these offices are also able to provide enough on-demand privacy for employees for when they need it.

Collaborative Workspaces

Something we can expect to see less of in this nascent era of hybrid working is workstations. The reasons for this are two-fold; firstly, with fewer people in the office at any one time, there simply isn’t the need for as many and so space can be freed up for more collaborative projects.

Secondly, the kind of work that still benefits most from having people within the office are those organic, creative processes where employees can bounce ideas off one another – not necessarily the kinds of processes whereby stations are required. By contrast, the tasks that take place more at desks, or workstations, include data-driven and administrative tasks, the kinds of which can usually just as easily be carried out from home. In this way, then, hybrid workplaces will transform to reflect the prevailing type of work carried out within them.

“Hot-Desking”

Something which was, again, already becoming more commonplace even pre-pandemic was hot-desking. Interestingly, it seems like the addition of flexible working has made the idea of communal seating and desk spaces (as opposed to an employee having their own individual workstation) more palatable.

That makes sense when you think about it; the more time you’re spending in your workplace, the more control and agency you’re going to want to exert within that space, and having your own desk helps provide that. If you’re only in the office a couple of days per week, however, and working the rest of the time from home, that proprietary importance lessens.

Continued Innovation

Whilst this might not be a physical feature we can expect to see within our office spaces, it’s an interesting point to consider. Previously, employees had no choice in whether they came in or not, and therefore there was less of an onus on innovating (and continually re-innovating) workplaces because, ultimately, the employees were still going to be there whether that work was put in or not.

Now, however, for many, that ‘default’ has changed – that onus has been flipped on its head. If the workplace isn’t an attractive place to work (attractive in a productivity sense as opposed to purely aesthetic) then employees will stay at home to work, simply because they now know they can.

So, what we’ll expect to see then, from a design sense at least, is a greater number of offices upping their game in terms of how ‘attractive’ their workspace is. The number of enriching spaces available for employee wellbeing, for instance, or the kinds of technology on offer for employees, on-site. In other words, prior to the pandemic, these ‘modern’ offices may have been held up as the lofty endpoint for the majority to work towards – the exception not the rule. Now, though? They’ll become much more commonplace.

What The Future Holds

Beyond the pandemic, you might be among those desperate to return to working from the office full-time. Alternatively, you might have found the hermitic lifestyle of home-working too attractive to let go of. Or, as vast swathes of the population are increasingly concluding, the hybrid workplace is increasingly attractive.

There’s no one-size-fits-all model, of course, when it comes to what makes a workplace tick. That, however, is in itself part of the beauty of hybrid working. By enabling employees to work on their own terms, and in creating a workplace design that reflects that, employees are more likely to work productively, work efficiently and work happily.

Contact Us

If you’d like to find out more about our architectural design services, then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200 or by emailing us on info@mcessex.co.uk.