The Key to a Happy Hybrid Workplace Is Data — Here’s Why

What do you need to set your company — and your talent — up for success in the world of hybrid work?

In a recent keynote on designing workplaces that work for the future, I was asked the big question: “When you’re talking to a client or a company who’s interested in hybrid work, but doesn’t know how to approach forming a sustainable strategy, what’s the biggest must-have you tell them then need to form that have a successful, collaborative, empathetic, hybrid workplace?”

One thing we really focus on is data, not just because it’s essential to making smarter, more informed real estate decisions — data is also central to the question of a happier workforce.  

Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, companies came to us and asked what they could do to get their employees safely back to work. Here’s the guidance we gave them: As a first step, do the work you need to do to learn whether or not your employees want to leave the house to go work. For those that do, Upflex can give your teams the access they need to safe, close-to-home workspaces where employees can be productive. But, first thing’s first: See if they want to leave the house. Do they feel safe? And once they they feel safe, and they begin working elsewhere, observe: Are they bringing other teammates along with them? And if so, where are they working together?

In this way, we asked companies to dissect the problem into steps. At each step, they were to gather data. This data infrastructure is what all companies need to have in place in order to start building workplace strategies not based on intuition, but on actual facts and needs. That’s what will lead to workplace policies that stick.

We’ve seen how the alternative approach tends to work out. Here’s the scenario: A company makes a blanket decision based on leadership gut-feel about what is preferable — for example, getting everyone back together in the same room at HQ, because they believe that’s the only way to preserve company culture (spoiler: It isn’t) or to get teammates to collaborate (surprise: That’s not the case). What companies found was that these blanket strategies don’t work for everyone. And if they don’t work for everyone, they don’t work.

Take Apple, which made a blanket decision last year to go fully back into the office and then you know, the Delta variant emerged. If they were concerned about company culture, that decision turned out to be a disaster.

Meanwhile, here’s an example of how data can improve employee happiness and success in the hybrid workplace: What we’re seeing from data on Upflex — and what managers can see if they have a look at the data and insights available to them in the Upflex dashboard — is that if someone is feeling a bit lonely or isolated in their work, they might opt for a vibrant space to go work out of. On the other hand, if they’re doing heads-down work, or they’re having a tough time staying focused, they want something a little quieter. And there’s the factor of, simply, personal preference: Some people thrive in a certain café environment — perhaps you’ve noticed that Starbucks in Williamsburg is packed with people on laptops, all the time. But then other people don’t — and not all company headquarters can cater to all their different employee needs.

Another example we’re seeing: Especially during the pandemic, lots of people have pets, and they want to take their dog to their workspace. Being able to provide lots of different choices of space, including pet-friendly spaces, is really exciting for employers and the workforce alike.

The benefit to employees of this workspace management technology is that now, employees are empowered to make these workspace choices for themselves. And the mutual benefit to companies is that they have data that illuminates what their teams need, and they can make real estate and budget and workplace policy decisions based on those needs, rather than in spite of them. All this data on where people are working is actually helping companies make better choices within their own organization and HQ.

At this point, company leaders know that uncertainty in life is going to continue, but if they can just take small steps, collecting the right data, analyzing that data will help them figure out what the next best step in the process.

Watch the full talk and Q&A from Design Museum Everywhere here.