Wondering What the Hybrid Office Might Look Like?: Google Has An IdeaAdd bookmark
After the rapid, but necessary, shift to remote work, companies are gradually preparing for a return to the traditional office space. But because the world evolved to adopt social distancing guidelines and innovated to establish a seamless virtual environment, companies must also work to transform their in-person office spaces to reflect the needs of these new tech-savvy WFH employees.
With a full year of remote work behind us, companies should have (theoretically) had ample time to configure a space that accurately emulates the habits and goals of a hybrid workforce. However, because hybrid work is still a fairly new style of operation for all organizations, we can look to some key players like Google to guide us in the right direction.
By unpacking some of Google’s latest office upgrades, we can hopefully uncover some details about the future of the in-person office space. Additionally, because thought leaders have identified profiles of customer service and contact center agents as ‘pattern specialists’ — predicting that process-oriented and highly routined roles are likely to become 80-100% remote in the new hybrid landscape, it’s important to recognize the features of a hybrid environment to ensure that fully remote workers continue to benefit and excel in their current roles.
Campfire Meeting Room
Being the forward-thinking company it is, Google initiated some of its current office innovations before the pandemic began. The latest New York Times profile notes that Google based its new hybrid plans on knowledge from a diverse group of consultants and research from sociologists who study the social and learning preferences of Gen Z and junior high students.
This makes sense considering the fact that many new features are based on and named after summer camp themes. Its new campfire meeting rooms, established to allow virtual attendees to feel just as present as in-person employees, offer roundtable setups with full-size screens positioned in between each seat. In these new fully accessible and intimate meeting rooms, remote employees can virtually join in and collaborate effectively with their teams.
Additionally, in making remote employees feel recognized and important, companies can facilitate a hybrid environment that promotes equal opportunities for every type of employee, regardless of their location. With fears of in-person employees gaining unfair advantages due to increased visibility and a greater ability to collaborate, Google is offering a unique solution that ensures unified success.
Privacy With Inflatable Walls
One of the more interesting new additions is a robotic powered inflatable wall that allows for greater privacy during intimate virtual meetings. If an employee requires solitude, they have instant access to expanding balloon-like separators to keep their screen and desk out of coworkers’ direct line of vision. Additionally, office chairs will be equipped with speakers emitting white noise to diminish neighboring disturbances.
Privacy-enhancing features are critical during this transitional phase; many employees have become used to total privacy so adjusting to a bustling, noisy office will likely put a strain on in-person employees. Even worse, it reduces the quality and effectiveness of communication between hybrid employees. If at-home coworkers cannot understand what their colleagues are saying they miss out on valuable moments of collaboration. Therefore, technology that offers a direct and private line of access to all employees is so important in new hybrid environments.
Outdoor Office Spaces
Google’s flagship Silicon Valley headquarters is opening an outdoor ‘campsite’ equipped with large tents, desks, and California-inspired decor. While this perk may be exclusive to warmer weather sites, the tech company aims to open outdoor spaces in many of its offices worldwide. Although it may seem like a design lacking traditional hybrid concepts, It still offers videoconferencing equipment to share the space with at-home employees. However, from initial images, it seems to be positioned as a more casual space that lends itself more to in-person collaboration than virtual video-calling.
It’s these more relaxed spaces that pose a threat to the hybrid ideal. As employees eventually ‘forget’ to include at-home employees in conversations in these spaces, they are withholding spontaneous opportunities for collaboration and shared productivity. While outdoor spaces have become critical in promoting safe interactions throughout the pandemic, companies should be mindful of the potential separation they initiate between in-person and at-home coworkers.
The Office is Still the Standard
It’s important to point out the fact that many of these new features are predicated on the idea that being present in the office will remain the default as we shift to a hybrid environment. Concepts like the campfire space position remote workers so they feel as if they are virtually entering the office space, marking the in-office experience as the more valuable and standard option. However, if this past year taught us anything, it’s that working from home can actually be an incredibly rewarding and beneficial experience. With fewer distractions, decreased commute times, and greater autonomy over their day-to-day workflow, many individuals actually thrived in the distributed setting.
Therefore, we shouldn’t simply forget all of the perks we gained throughout this period and revert back to the standard office experience because it’s what we know. Companies must take this as an opportunity to utilize the hybrid model as a flexible tool to cultivate the best elements of both an at-home and in-person experience.