After all the talk about hybrid work, Harvard researchers have finally identified two days a week as being the ideal time to spend in the office.

This two-day “sweet spot” allows workers to feel both free in their personal lives yet sufficiently connected with their workplaces and all the benefits that entails. Researchers arrived at these conclusions after observing three groups of people as they went to work over a period of two months and one week. One third spent over 40% - or close to half their time – in their physical offices. Another third spent less than a quarter of their time in the workplace, while the remainder attended the office in person a day or two each week.

Of all three groups, the most creative was that which spent merely one or two days in the office. This group turned in the most “original” work and the “difference was significant” according to the researchers.

Making hybrid working successful

Adopting a hybrid model which makes employees happy by no means guarantees a company’s future success. Past examples of failures include major tech companies that adopted hybrid models early on only to abandon them later and still lose ground to competitors long term. In other words, proper strategies must be devised, implemented and followed to the letter in order for a hybrid model to work. Not doing so is a “recipe for disaster” according to the author of Harvard Business School’s hybrid work study, Associate Professor Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury.

Implementing a cohesive and productive hybrid workplace takes a substantial amount of work, Choudhury says, as things cannot be done the way they were in “the physical world”.

“You have to invest in a multi-month, maybe multi-year, organisational project, and most importantly, convince senior managers.”

This last point is critical, Choudhury says. Not only do senior executives need to be on board with a hybrid work model, they must also fully embrace technical solutions required to make it work.

Recent Australian studies on work trends are reporting similar sentiments. A national survey into remote work by CBRE found that while more than 80% of respondents believed a physical presence in the office led to productivity and higher levels of collaboration, 72% also said they had implemented remote working procedures.

“Flexibility and choice have become two of the non-negotiables for a growing number of employees as they return to the office,” says CBRE’s Senior Director of Office Leasing, Trevor Boddy. This means that the challenge for buildings owners and employers is in “creating dynamic, safe and connected spaces” that people will “choose to come to, not because they’re told to but because they want to”.

What will shape future workspaces?

When it comes to hybrid working, tech giant Atlassian is one of those on the front foot with its ‘Team Anywhere’ concept, according to Mr Boddy. The Team Anywhere policy allows any of its 5700 staff members to work from anywhere even while Atlassian proceeds with a $1.4 billion construction of its new Sydney headquarters on the southern edge of the CBD. The building will be the world’s tallest timber hybrid structure when complete around 2025. 

Mr Boddy says that Atlassian’s example is one of a company that “understands how their staff value the in-office experience”. Occupancy is managed via several means, including unassigned or shared seating (as opposed to fixed desks); the use of space management software, desk booking systems and in-house concierge, and thirdly, more collaborative zones with breakout areas and third spaces from which to work.

Connection is key

A principal component of successful hybrid workplaces is their high level of digital connectivity. The technology in smart buildings is making the lives of workers easier as well as improving their surroundings via such features as automated cleaning of high traffic areas and the installation of UV air-filtration technologies.

“Smart buildings are already analysing data to anticipate the needs of occupants before they arrive for work,” Mr Boddy points out. Smartphones can be programmed to interact with everything from building access to temperature control.

For buildings owners, the emergence of tech systems can be used as a measure of their property’s functionality. Third-party certifiers such as WiredScore are becoming popular in order to provide assessments of a building’s resilience, future readiness, mobile coverage, choice of providers and user experience. “There is also increased investment in collaborative technologies such as smart video conferencing facilities with speaker-tracking and digital white boards, smaller ‘zoom rooms’ and soundproof pods,” Mr Boddy says.

A healthy building is just as important as a well-connected one, a factor recognised by half the top 200 ASX-listed companies whiche have made Net Zero commitments in the past 12 months.

Last year, Knight Frank similarly found that green-rated office buildings in Sydney and Melbourne were attracting premium sales prices depending on their NABERS ratings. Office buildings in the two cities with a NABERS Energy rating of up to 4.5 stars were drawing 8% more on sales prices compared to unrated buildings, while those with higher ratings of 5, 5.5 or 6 stars drew average price increases of 18%.

Building managers are now well aware that ‘the wellbeing of employees leads to a better employee experience and ultimately drives customer engagement and satisfaction,’ Mr Boddy says.

“The working experience today has to be about creating sustainable spaces that foster connection through community, technology and wellbeing,” he says.

“In short your office needs to be seen as worth the commute.”