The post-pandemic workplace is here. And it is increasingly becoming clear that hybrid working will take up a sizeable share of the work mode. A study done by McKinsey & Company to determine how remote working will persist after the pandemic revealed that about 20-25% of the workforces in advanced economies could work from home between 3-5 days a week. This represents 4-5 times more remote work than before the pandemic. We are already seeing this play out in the companies small and large adopting a remote working policy.
Leading the pack are tech giants like Twitter, who from the start of the pandemic, instigated a remote-first policy that is most likely to stick post-pandemic. Google is re-inventing its workplace to accommodate employees who got used to working from home over the past year and don’t want to be in the office all the time anymore. Its “Ikea meets Lego” workplace plan includes the concept of “Team Pods” – each pod with chairs, desks, whiteboards, and storage units on casters are ready to be wheeled and re-arranged quickly into various arrangements. Google will also introduce outdoor work areas (the one in its Silicon Valley HQ is dubbed “Camp Charleston”) in its various locations around the world. Employees can return to their permanent desks on a rotation schedule with employees being assigned to come into the office on specific days, ensuring that everyone gets to meet different people every time they’re at the office.
The way food will be served and made available in the hybrid workplace will also change, as we discussed in this recent interview with Laura Gomez, CEO of Catevering. With flexible working hours and number of people coming in and out, food availability will have to adapt, making it also available to those working from outside the workplace. Food is also seen as a way to encourage workers back into the workplace. On top of availability, quality, and personal preferences will also be taken into consideration.
What Google is implementing is indicative of the challenges of hybrid working – how do we secure the health and safety of workers; how do we design and arrange the workplace so that workers are willing to report there when needed; and how do we keep them happy when they are in it? How can companies address these challenges? What solutions can startups provide to help address these challenges?
We asked European startups that have solutions catering to hybrid workplaces what they think of hybrid working and how they can help companies adapt to hybrid working. We spoke with Thomas Kessler, CEO of workplace analytics solution, Locatee (Zurich, 2013), and Rafaël de Lavergne, CEO of office “microstores” Totem (Paris, 2016). We also reached out to the people on the ground – the facility managers – who are preparing the workplaces and looking at solutions to address the challenges of the hybrid workplace. We spoke with Cindy Hermsen, CEO of the Global Alliance of Facility Management Innovators (FMInnovators) (Barcelona, 2020), an organization that promotes startup solutions in facility management.
What are your views on hybrid working? Do you see it as a passing trend?
Thomas (Locatee): Hybrid working is not just something that has happened with COVID-19. We did not start Locatee in 2020, we did it 6 years prior, because we saw the trends for more and more flexibility. And we understood already back then that the ability to not just offer flexibility to employees but do it in a way that promotes both productivity and well-being, would become a major differentiating factor for companies. However, the pandemic has now proven to several industries that there can be efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness with remote working. So this trend is clearly accelerating and is here to stay.
Rafaël (Totem): It is definitely here to stay. Yet I think things will get polarized in a few years again. Some companies will shift slowly to 100% remote and others will stay 100% physical. People will have choices to change companies and handling both is like not choosing who is your customer. You can’t optimize both. Remote is good for repeating processes. Onsite is good for creativity and change management.
Whether it is hybrid or going back full-time to the physical offices, how can you help companies adapt to a post-pandemic workplace?
Thomas (Locatee): The post-pandemic workplace is going to be like playing musical chairs, with each individual employee playing to their own sheet music. Working from the main office, from home, from other company locations or from shared spaces will be driven by a wide range of elements. These could be meeting with colleagues, showing up to get face time with the boss, staying home to avoid a commute, going to a shared space to be closer to the city centre for an appointment, etc.
Start applying this multitude of rhythms to thousands of employees spread across various locations of a corporation, and you get a sense of the difficulty at hand. This is where the data we enable will help with orchestrating this complexity. Returning to the office post pandemic requires companies to be able to ensure the safety of their office workers. If you don’t have workspace analytics to do that effectively, you may as well do that with your eyes closed and take a guess.
Beyond that, Locatee will enable companies to shape their office and workspaces through data to ensure these workplaces contribute to better employee satisfaction and productivity. Our data, also enabling a growing ecosystem of partners’ smart applications, supports the operation of a smarter, more productive workplace.
Rafaël (Totem): Employees have shown they can perform at 100% at home. Now they are the king. Not the employer anymore. Therefore, companies need to make the office useful again: social and convenient. The main problem is commute time. How can we make people gain time at the office? I believe TOTEM is both this social place you need and allows to gain 30’ per day per employee. On top of that, a store allows way more diversity of products, alimentary diets, use cases from breakfast to dinner.
What top three concerns/issues about the hybrid workplace do you get asked by current or potential clients?
Thomas (Locatee): Ensuring safety and well-being in the light of the pandemic is at the forefront of our customers’ priorities. A recent research we conducted showed that close to 90% of European Corporate Real Estate Managers (CREMs) believe this to be a crucial priority in the next two years.
We also simply witness the growing realization within corporations that workplace management and corporate real estate, which used to be a bit of an afterthought, have become a key component for both organizational performance and employee satisfaction. The demand for our solution by real estate managers is almost universal, even at a time when organizations have to be very cautious with their investments. But we are observing a bit of a lag in Europe in terms of implementing data collection compared to the US market. Companies in Europe need to enable their CREM function with data in order to future proof their office setup for years to come.
Last but not least, I think the one thing we have seen happen in recent times, is a real shift for corporations’ way of conceiving the workplace. It used to be completely institution-centred. Now the employees decide where they work best. And just like product and marketing have shifted to become obsessed with customer-centricity, we see corporations become more and more human-centric. Companies need to think, design, and operate their work environment to be attractive to the employee. No more cubicles – unless the employees demand it!
Food in the workplace was always seen as “just a necessity” before, but there are studies suggesting that this is no longer true, especially in the context of hybrid workplace. Food is increasingly being seen as a way to elevate employee experience (includes hyper-personalization, health, and wellness, etc.) and entice employee to go back to the office. Do you agree? Are you seeing this trend in your clients?
Rafaël (Totem): Food is not a ‘nice to have’ anymore, it is a must have. Working at the office should feel better than working at home. We are now used to hyper-personalization in our personal lives through applications, better tracking, and incredible choice. This need to arrive in the workplace as well and that is what we are building. A single TOTEM in the workplace meets a thousands of needs.
From the perspective of preparing and managing the workplace facilities, what are the challenges and trends that the post-pandemic, hybrid workplace pose for companies?
Cindy (FMInnovators): As facility managers (corporate or service providers to corporates) and the ones on the ground preparing the workplace for hybrid working, we see how it is going to change the workplace dramatically. We have to consider the health, safety and happiness of workers and balance it with the organization’s goals and resources.
We see an increasing need for digital solutions like contactless access controls the moment people enter the building, food catering platforms that account for diverse tastes, flexible delivery (in office and in workers’ homes during teleworking) and invoicing schemes, room utilization and assignments of “hot desks”.
On food availability, workers are expected to come in at any time and so availability of food has to adjust – with more option of on-the-go food. It is possible that workers come to the office just for team meetings – gathering for planning, celebrations etc. – so food becomes celebratory, in a sense. And facility managers have to account for availability, quality, and preferences in this case.
Before the pandemic, data-driven cleaning was already starting to get recognized due to the rise in co-working spaces. The pandemic and hybrid working do not only necessitate extra cleaning, but will bring addition to dynamic cleaning as opposed to static fixed route for cleaning. Where before, we know the peak hours – the time where there is maximum number of people in a given area – with hybrid working, this is no longer the case. Cleaning will become more of on-demand, especially in areas where you have the highest potential concentration of viruses and bacteria – like desk spaces (complicated further by “hot desking”, with different people using each desk), keyboards and doorknobs. Digital solutions like sensors on desks, counters on spaces (people counters for example to count number of people passing through a desk and cleaning it after a certain number) and cleaning requests buttons (either physical buttons on desks or via apps).
Cleaning robots are still big devices and are more common in big spaces like airports or hotel lobbies. You will not see cleaning robots in confined spaces so with the hybrid workplace, trend is towards empowering human cleaning staff with technology driven by for example, AI and big data.
These new demands may very well usher disruptive innovative solutions in the industry and change it for good, and permanently.