The Future of Work: Embracing The Hybrid Workforce

The first in our series of interviews with business leaders on the future of work is with John Wix, managing director of Gensler’s Portland office.

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The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a transformation in the world of work that would usually take decades to emerge. Almost overnight, it forced companies to adapt to remote working and trust employees to work productively at home.

Generally, the shift to remote work has not caused a large drop in productivity, although it has disrupted the life of staff who do not work well at home, and stressed employees struggling to work and care for children due to school closures. The increased flexibility afforded to employees to work remotely is now expected to become a normal part of work life.

Although flexible work schedules have become more commonplace over the past decade, the pandemic has propelled the notion of flexibility to the forefront of employee expectations. Indeed, it will likely become harder for employers to recruit if they do not offer flexible work-from-home schedules.

This expectation also poses challenges to employers. Those companies that cannot offer work-from-home options, such as manufacturers, could find it harder to recruit staff. It also means employees will have a much wider pool of potential employers to choose from as they will not necessarily have to work for an employer based locally. Businesses will have to devote more time and attention to retaining talented staff.

OB spoke to executives at firms in a variety of sectors to see how the pandemic has transformed their businesses and how they see the future of the workplace evolving in a post-pandemic world.

The first in our series of interviews is with John Wix, managing director of Gensler’s Portland office.

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‘The hybrid workforce will be a model of the future’

As an architecture and design firm, Gensler’s approach to business is dependent on collaboration and staff being able to work together to come up with solutions. Having all employees in Portland work from home since March has made maintaining that collaboration difficult.

“It has been a bit of a challenge to come up with ways to keep that culture going, keep it growing and not having the option of a hybrid workplace,” says John Wix, managing director of Gensler in Portland. The company made use of videoconferencing and virtual teamworking tools, such as Miro, an online whiteboard collaboration tool.

Despite the challenges, Wix says it is clear staff can work from home effectively. The company surveyed employees to get an idea of how they found working remotely. The upshot: “People don’t need to be in the office all the time, but they really want to be in the office for certain reasons,” says Wix.

When it is time to welcome staff back to the office, the firm intends to hold a meeting once a week that all employees will attend. The rest of the time, the office will be open for staff who find they can work better in the office, as well as employees who need to come in for “collaborative activities.”

“We definitely feel a hybrid workforce will continue to be a model of the future,” says Wix. Another reason to continue to give employees the option of working from home is to improve the company’s chances of attracting talent, says Wix, as the flexibility of remote working will become more of an employee expectation.

As a design firm, the company is investigating how offices may look in the future. Clients expect to need fewer permanent desks because of fewer employees working in the office. This will free up space for collaboration or other activities that require people to gather together. “That will not necessarily equate to needing less square footage. It is more a reconfiguration of spaces,” says Wix.

Offices will also have sanitation devices installed during the pandemic that will become permanent. These include increased ventilation and air-filtration systems, and touchless fixtures in restrooms and kitchens. “All that will remain. It will be part of our ecosystem.”

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