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Hybrid working to define The Office 2.0

A recent Henderson Institute paper, The Science of Organisational Change, argues that the most successful organisations in the 2020s will be those who "constantly learn and adapt to changing realities."
Francois Kriel
Francois Kriel
If the starting blocks of the 2020s are teaching us anything about how this decade might be characterised, we know that dynamic organisations will need to march forth while adapting to change if they intend to stay alive – or one better, to thrive.  

Since the unforgiving drum master is the pandemic, chances are that the drumbeat of change has increased exponentially. It is within this symphony of change that organisations are required to build capabilities to compete with ongoing large-scale change driven by digital transformation.   

One of these capabilities are the changes to where we work. There has been a large-scale physical change away from the office, and later the great (but staggered) trek back to the office. This is only a small part of the story, but the use of the office becomes a rather important part of the story when organisations aim to balance employee wellness and productivity.  

Moreover, there are a couple of wider implications to keep in mind than the answer to the question: ‘to work or not to work in an office?’ For instance, employees have an impact on ‘the office’, or commercial property, just as much the office has an impact on the productivity and wellness of the employees working in this physical space. 

Harmonious hybrid office use 

Let us answer the first, and obvious, question – should organisations do away with the office, bring employees back to a mostly office-based environment, or can the office and home have a happy marriage and live harmoniously ever after?  

Now let us keep in mind that nothing is forever, and data that are continuously tracked should be your first line of defence when the parameters of work are changing. Work with what you have. Your best friend should be information.  

Right now, while office health and safety procedures are still being ironed out, let us assume that a hybrid model can very successfully be implemented in the short to medium term to have some work happen at home, and some at the office.  

The office has traditionally been associated with the environment where employees are required to function at optimum productivity levels. But remote working, or working form anywhere, in the era of the pandemic has taught us that productivity for a majority of workers can be sustained when the right digital  collaboration tools and policies are in place supported by an organisational culture where leaders promote trust and accountability.  

A hub for people to come together 

So, let’s think longer term. In a hybrid model, we can effectively change the way the office is used. Visionary thinker and management consultant Simon Sinek recently strongly appealed to organisations not to throw away the key to the office.  

Experienced organisational psychologist Amorei Engelbrecht is the Head of People and Development at ASL and a good example of one of our clients we have supported on a digital transformation journey long before the pandemic required employees to successfully work from home. Regardless of the firm’s high level of digital readiness and agility to sustain working throughout Covid-19, she says that we as humans are social beings, and this is where the office finds its relevance.  

She agrees that the organisation’s physical office space will become a place where we can interact, bounce ideas, have tough conversations, have energising conversations and where we can tap into our problem-solving skills. A purely online environment cannot fully accommodate these engagements.  

Shape the building around employees 

Beyond a change in systems, procedures and policies, JLL identified tenant-focused trends to expect in the long-term as a result of Covid-19 to accommodate greater privacy, hygiene and employee comfort. All indications point towards a lasting impact on workspace design and the use thereof.   

Organisations should consider readying their systems, policies and procedures to enable employees to undertake focused work at home and collaboration at the office. Commercial tenants now must take this time to rethink and restructure their lease agreements, in the opinion of our client Dave Russell, director of commercial leasing at our client Baker Street Properties (an affiliate of JLL). He has a point – currently the market is favouring tenants and giving them a measure of negotiating power with landlords who are keen to retain tenants.  

This presents the ideal opportunity to renegotiate lease contracts in accordance with an organisation’s requirements for their office space and how they actually use the space within a hybrid work model.  

As employees are staggered to return to the collaboration hub, a.k.a. the office, it could possibly look completely different - not just its square meterage, but it could also necessitate a remodelled interior design. JLL’s trends research predicts redesigned workstations further apart to create a safe space between employees working at the office.  

We could also see the incorporation of creative collaboration rooms and remodelled canteen or kitchen facilities.  

The Office 2.0 

If 2020 would have had to bring back a remake of the mid-2000 cult hit ‘The Office’, a show modelling the typical office antics of a group of off-beat employees, I’d daresay it might be impossible to recreate it today. The climate is vastly different in a way that I predict, many of today’s generations will simply not be able to identify with. 

However, the fact remains that we as social beings learn from fellow colleagues and grow together in this space we call “the office”.  

The Office 2.0 has the potential to transform the workplace into a ‘hub’ for collaboration and facilitating culture as opposed to a location that is focused on managing productivity.   

As change management facilitators, we are excited by the opportunities that a changing environment creates. We are even more energised when lasting change to the well-being of both organisations and its employees is the result of deliberate, data-driven planning.

About Francois Kriel

Francois Kriel, management consultant and director at Kriel & Co.
Kriel  & Co
Francois Kriel is an IMCSA accredited management consultant with change management and digital transformation as specialisation areas. He works full-time as director at Kriel & Co where he leads a dynamic team currently facilitating digital change at several high-profile organisations. Francois also supports Stellenbosch University as guest lecturer to business management honours students. He is an advocate for collaborative leadership, mentorship and LGBTQI+ inclusivity.
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