Looking back at the eventful year 2020, we can say that, as an experiment in workplace innovation, it didn’t exactly have the optimal framework conditions. Yet we can learn a lot from the past period, which has seen workplace transformation accelerate for so many organisations. We know a lot more about what’s possible in terms of technology and workplace innovation. We’ve seen technical and social drawbacks and limitations, but also benefits. It may seem obvious, but in our view, the workplace of the future is hybrid.

HSO and Veldhoen + Company recently published the whitepaper Workplace Innovation in a post-pandemic era. In this whitepaper we look at this theme in greater depth. In this blog we discuss the most important advantages and disadvantages of working from home, as experienced by employees in the past year. And then we look at what is needed to optimise the workplace of the future.

Working from home offers more advantages than disadvantages

Research conducted by Tilburg University and Veldhoen + Company during the spring 2020 lockdown among more than 5,000 knowledge workers in Europe showed that, for most, working from home has more advantages than disadvantages.

The main benefits experienced by the respondents were:

  • A better match with their social preferences;
  • Being able to work more efficiently at home than in the office;
  • More control over the planning of the working day.

The most important disadvantages were

  • The many virtual activities and meetings;
  • The work was experienced as less meaningful;
  • Lack of the right tools to do the job well from home.

In particular, the amount of virtual, online activities was widely accepted as a disadvantage. After all, an important difference with the situation before the pandemic is that we usually worked at home voluntarily then. We had a choice. Now many people went from online meeting to online meeting. Preferably short and efficient, but as a result, a lot!

The second disadvantage shows how important social interactions are at work. Social networks are important to be involved, to be productive and to innovate. Spontaneous encounters are especially important here.

Harnessing the lessons of 2020 for the workplace of the future

Offices will continue to exist. And there’s nothing wrong with having a physical space with which you can identify. A place where you are safe and where a basic need is met, namely social interaction. But the question: why do we go to the office in the first place? will be asked more and more. We expect the office to become a social meeting place. A hub for informal and formal appointments and contact with colleagues. Most of the operational work will be done from home.

The further we go in time, the more we get used to our new situation. Managers now need less time than in the beginning for ad-hoc issues, such as technical problems. This allows more time and attention for the personal choice and the personal aspect of working from home. How do employees stay connected to the company, to their colleagues? How do you involve new employees? In short, what is needed for an optimal, hybrid workplace of the future?

What is needed for the hybrid workplace of the future?

We have identified at least four elements that play a role:

1. Freedom of choice
There will be a fundamental change in the activities we do and where and when we do them. You didn’t used to go shopping ‘during working hours’, but now the choice to do so can be a welcome change and a chance to get away from the screen.

There will be a greater diversity of places to work from, and places to connect with others and be inspired. How do you deal with this as a company? How much freedom of choice do you offer? How do you manage this as a manager?

2. Data provides insight into patterns and behaviour
Artificial Intelligence (AI) will add a lot of value to the hybrid work environment. Workplace analytics gives HR and IT departments and professionals the insights they need to ensure security and compliance, for example. But it also helps identify work patterns.

Precisely because you don’t speak to your colleagues every day, patterns in data can provide managers with important information. For example, to identify overtime. But also cooperation patterns of individuals and teams. Does a team work well together? If so, you may be able to see that in the data about email traffic, team activities and meetings (length and density). In this way, you can also discover patterns that may indicate overload and potential stress.

3. Collaboration of staff departments: facilities, HR and ICT
To design the workplace of the future in the best possible way, it is important to involve various staff departments. So not only HR, but also facility management and the ICT department. Because if everyone is to be able to contact and cooperate with each other, expertise from all departments is needed. After all, it’s about a combination of technology, social aspects and behaviour.

4. Social interaction is crucial for success and well-being
Social interaction is important for the well-being of employees. It helps them bond with the organisation and feel that they ‘matter’. Moreover, social interaction, especially spontaneous interaction, is essential for innovation and creativity in a company. In the future, we expect that the function of the office will increasingly shift to a place where interaction is central.

Download our report Workplace Innovation in a post-pandemic era