Why hybrid workplace pilots are taking off

Companies are starting small in order to see what works for employees

August 16, 2021

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Companies are launching pilot programs to try new ways of working, an effort aimed at learning what works best before investing in new workplace concepts across their entire real estate portfolios.

The aim is to figure out what works in particular regions or within multiple business groups before rolling it out on a larger scale.

“Progressive organizations pilot hybrid workplace options,” says Peter Miscovich, Managing Director, Strategy + Innovation, JLL Consulting. “Leading companies want to test, learn, and adapt with multiple hybrid workplace concepts – then these organizations can work through how to scale the most effective hybrid workplace programs for their employees for the longer-term.”

For example, publishing company Pan Macmillan’s U.S. trade and shared services division announced its own “hybrid and remote-friendly work model” pilot in which employees whose work can be done remotely can “choose the number of days per week they work in the office, or choose to work fully remotely.” Those who work in-person three or more days a week will receive assigned seating. A major tech company will begin a pilot program later this year called “Retail Flex” with a small number of employees who usually work onsite at its stores. The pilot will allow employees to work some weeks at their retail store location and other weeks remotely. When at home, those workers will handle online sales, customer service and technical support.

Testing: 1, 2, 3

Hybrid work can require new technologies and collaborative behavior, so starting small can help companies see what works and what doesn’t, says Ram Srinivasan, Managing Director, Consulting, JLL.

“Working with a client leadership team recently, we found reluctance on investments when it came to hybrid,” Srinivasan says. “We ran a quick test session to review ‘hybrid meetings’ with some team members in the office, others virtual. What became apparent was that without the right technology collaboration was not effective. The need for investments became obvious.”

The outcome of a pilot is not ‘success or failure’ it is in learning, the data the pilot generates and the lessons learned through the process.

“Make no mistake, this is not a once and done,” Srinivasan says. “Some pilots will be more successful that others, teams and individuals will learn from both success and failure. Those organizations that make the shift towards a learning mindset will find the transition to hybrid easier.”

Measurement tools are critical for assessing the impact, Miscovich says. But first, companies must decide what approach to pilot for the hybrid workplace and begin with the key steps to test, learn and then adapt.

The initial work is to understand what employees really want. Employee sensing with monthly or twice per month employee pulse surveys will ensure that the proposed strategies are aligned to employee desires/needs. Continual employee sensing will help see what the reaction is to what is being piloted.

(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)


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“Employee surveys are essential to help to clearly identify the diverse employee personas and behaviors that will define the employee experience within hybrid workplace programs,” Miscovich says.

A hybrid workplace pilot program “persona” may be defined as a particular profile of behavior that is unique to a particular cohort of employee grouping. For instance – one persona may be described as “office-centric” persona for those employees who desire to spend more time in the corporate office environment —perhaps four days per week working within the corporate physical office work environment.

After gaining an understanding of diverse workplace personas, companies can begin to develop employee journey maps that highlight how these various employee personas and employee cohorts will behave across various workplace environments within their daily and weekly and monthly work activity schedules, Miscovich says. This process helps to identify the “gaps” for additional workplace program elements that may need to be added, reduced, modified and refined for the further expansion of the hybrid workplace program at scale.

Once a “gap analysis” has been completed, companies can evaluate how best to organize and introduce the new innovative “hybrid workplace design” elements to add to the physical office.

These can include “quiet zones” where no speaker phones or active collaboration discussions would take place to ensure complete quiet for deep thinking and mindfulness; digital meeting rooms that allow for various hybrid collaboration sessions between in-office employees with their remote team members; open collaboration areas that can be easily configured for ad-hoc team collaboration; and employee socialization areas that will support employee social engagement with key provisioning of amenities such as food services, exercise areas, meditation rooms, large team meeting areas for town hall and larger employee gatherings.

Companies can consider various pilot program elements to ensure hybrid workplace pilot success. These hybrid workplace pilot elements include providing employees with monetary allowances for their home office furnishings setup; providing employees with remote workplace technology and telecommunications support and providing employees with training for remote work risk management and cybersecurity leading practices.

“Most if not all employers are currently facing a shortage of skilled labor,” says Miscovich. “While these hybrid workplace pilots are often born out of necessity, they can also help create the desirable and “magnetic” flexible workplace of the future. Evolutionary hybrid workplace pilot programs will help to attract the essential talent that will be critical for business performance and long-term financial success.”

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