Patrick Matheson, Partner at Knight Frank, explores the rise of hybrid working.
As we emerge, tentatively, from the global health pandemic, it is becoming clear that few employees want to go back to the 9-5, fiveday-week in the office. But the future is not just a binary choice. Office? Or home? The real opportunity is far more exciting than that. The office will play an important role at the heart of a hybrid-work model.
So, what does hybrid working mean? Well, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Different companies will have their own models. Even different departments within a business could have varied approaches. The scope is not just where you work. But how. And when. And this may change over time or even be dynamic, on say, a monthly or an annual cycle.
For example, one of Knight Frank’s fastgrowing FinTech clients is now recruiting highly competitive skills, such as engineering, from around Europe – not just in London, where they are based. They enable their staff to work from home but ask them to come to London four days a quarter. Their UK people are also only required to be in the office two days a week, with set regimes around planning and socialisation during those days. The rest of the time, it is their choice: home or office. However, for 12 weeks of the year, anybody can work from anywhere – in the UK or abroad.
We may see a trend of ‘workcations’ emerging. People could go away for 12 weeks, working 8-10 of those, then enjoy evenings, weekends and the remaining weeks as holiday time somewhere new and interesting. All whilst their home in the UK is rented out on Airbnb, funding their trip.
The ideal hybrid model brings together the best of both worlds – the structure, cohesion and culture of the physical world, with the flexibility and diversity of the virtual world. But it’s important to be aware of the drawbacks and potential risks. The starting point must be to listen to your stakeholders, including obviously employees, but also clients. We have been facilitating listening to staff through focus groups and surveys, and the process is critical to really ground your strategy on real insight, rather than what you read in the press or assume from personal perception.
The engagement should be two-way. You have to balance what is right for the company and its people, but also what’s right for your clients. The way clients are working is changing too and talking to them about their shifting needs can be crucial to getting your new ways of working right. Now is the time to have these discussions. They can be far-ranging and include expectations, support, protocols and work-life balance, processes and wellbeing.
It is in these areas where the office adds more value than a virtual platform. The office connects people and ideas. Ideas which define the organisation and shape its evolution and future development. In the hybrid world, the workplace will become the stage for four critical success factors of any organisation: education; innovation; collaboration; and culture. The office will still remain a workplace for many who will not be able to, or want to, work from home. But a focus on these four elements will ensure that the office is a vital platform for everyone – and is designed to maximise its value to the business.
There are a number of specific developments in Newcastle which have been built, or are being built, which fit this hybrid, post-Covid model perfectly. They include 8 Nelson Street (as pictured), Dean Court and Generator Studios which are fitted-out spaces with collaboration and different styles of work setting, providing an interactive environment. They are very different from the formal, fixed-desks, large floorplates of the early 21st century, with long, cast-iron leases.
The office will never be the same again – and that is ultimately a positive thing. The seismic changes brought by the pandemic have changed the face of the office for good, with the interests of the occupier, and their staff, now first and foremost in every developer’s mind.