COVID-19 and enforced homeworking rapidly changed what it meant to “go to work” for many people. Our research has examined how work and workplaces have changed to adapt to hybrid and flexible working. Collaborating with a range of organisations and stakeholders, we have gathered rich, in-depth data to generate insights with the aim to provide an evidence base to guide long-term decision making.
Our research demonstrates the office remains a key influence over how employees think, feel and interact at work, and spending time with colleagues in the office has positive effects for both employees and their organisations. This confirms that the office remains central to the idea of work and that it is an anchor point for the future workplace.
Our research shows that an effective hybrid workplace is more than an HR policy or office design issue - it is a socio-technical problem - essentially affecting all aspects of “work”. Every decision over hybrid policy, technologies,
workplace and work practices present trade-offs and the potential for unintended consequences. There is no "one-size fits all" that will suit all organisations or individual needs. While agile or activity-based workspaces are increasingly popular ways of supporting hybrid working, the success of such designs relies on supporting technologies and systems such as booking systems, hot-desking etc. Socio-technical systems tools, staff engagement and multi-disciplinary design teams are key ways to work through these decisions methodically and bring people along on the change journey.
Animated summary of findings
This 3 minute animation explains how hybrid working affects employees.
We applied a socio-technical approach to join the dots between management practices, employee perspectives, new technologies and workplaces being adapted. We used a range of data to generate insights:
1) Snapshot surveys with a cross-industry group of UK office workers to understand how their experience of hybrid working had changed over time;
2) Employee diary study to understand how employees use, behave and feel in different types of hybrid workplaces;
3) Employee interviews with individuals with different job roles, demographics, tenure, working patterns and
preferences to understand their experience as they adapt to hybrid working and how they work and interact in different locations, types of spaces and hybrid arrangements;
4) Social network analysis with employees to capture social interaction patterns and to assess information flow, relationship formation and explore differences between employee groups across different office configurations and occupancies.
Our project partners (WorldCC, Atkins, Leeds City Council, Coreus, Walker Morris, OneMedical Group, Skipton Building Society) helped us reach a range of industries and contribute data, advice and networks.
Working with Leeds University Business School has enabled us to make well-informed decisions on the right solutions for our Society. The expertise of the team has supported us to collect and validate invaluable data internally, whilst also providing access to the bigger picture in the external marketplace. This has allowed us to introduce a more flexible, hybrid approach to work for our colleagues, has informed plans to make changes to our workplaces, to introduce new enabling technology, and be confident in our approach to meet the needs of our colleagues whilst balancing them with delivering for our members and customers. We will continue to work with the team at Leeds University Business school to review progress and adapt where necessary to what remains an evolving challenge in the post-pandemic environment.
David Robinson, Product Owner, Workforce of the Future Programme, Skipton Building Society.
This project - Adapting offices to support COVID-19 secure workplaces and emerging work patterns - is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.
More details at: Adapting offices for the future of work