It’s 2021: Meet the new blended workplace

Just to be clear, no one will be “going back to the office” as if nothing happened. Whether we like it or not, we are all living a giant experiment, charting a new roadmap for what work looks like and how it gets done. When asked in recent surveys of employees working remotely, across industries, anywhere from 40-80% would choose to continue to work remotely post-pandemic. What we’re looking at is a blended workplace, where some people will be in the office some of the time and many people will work from home. This is a big deal for everything from office space to technology to how we structure our work. We’re rolling up our sleeves with our clients to help them think through it all and design the post-pandemic workplace.

If you’re starting to think about how your workplace is going to land post-pandemic, first identify the kinds of work you do throughout the year and then work to understand the kinds of work that are better together and the kinds of work that are better remote. Research has found that creative work, collaborative work, reflective work and work that requires people to align and get on the same page is best in person. The social bonds created in person can never be replicated virtually. Focused work and most day to day tasks in a knowledge-centred job are best done remote, where distractions are minimized and people can feel comfortable in their own environment and get their work done. Here’s our cheat sheet: 

Planning = in person + remote

When you’re doing vision work, you need alignment and the ability to draw out and talk about differing perspectives. That’s always better in person. Same thing for big picture planning.

Planning monthly and daily work is very effectively done remotely using workflow tech like Trello or Asana.

Learning = in person + remote

When you’re just trying to get people content to learn, concepts and frameworks, virtual is great. Get people a slide deck, a video, a zoom and people can learn the basics of most things.

When you need people to reflect on their learning, learn from peers, try out applications and scenarios of learning, in person is best.

Brainstorming + Creating = in person

There are ways to make brainstorming and creativity work well remotely using the right technology, but the best creative work happens when people are in a room together, bouncing ideas off each other and sparking new thinking. In a blended workplace, we’ll see strategies emerge like getting questions out ahead of time to people so they can start thinking about them, and then bringing teams together to do good thinking together in person.

Collaborating = in person + remote

With the right tech and the right communication, collaboration can be effective remotely, especially date to day collaboration.

For the design and launch of big projects and initiatives, nothing beats in person. At the core of collaboration is trust, and trust gets built much faster when we’re in person. Our ability to read other people and their intentions go up dramatically when we’re sitting in the same room.

Decision making = in person + remote

Everyday decision making can be done very well remotely.

Big decisions where people may have different views or strong opinions, in person is best, as you’ll get alignment much faster co-located than trying to figure it out over zoom.

Team building = in person

Virtual happy hours and team video chat rituals are great, and they can support the social bonds and belonging that are already there, but building those bonds? You really need to be in person. There are too many missed micro-social cues with virtual work.

What does this actually look like?

A model we’re experimenting with:

  1. Give people the choice to have drop-in office space to work in when they like, and the freedom to work at home.
  2. Get the entire company together 1-2 times a year for 3+ days for big picture visioning, planning and decision making.
  3. Get multiple teams together quarterly for collaboration and cross-collaboration, creative work, reflective learning and team building.

We’re envisioning smaller office footprints going forward. We’re also imagining “off-sites” in interesting locations throughout the year to maximize in-person time through shared experiences. A big focus off-site will be creating lasting social bonds to support the efficiency and productivity of remote work. Whatever path you embark on as you think about your blended workplace, make sure you’re engaging the voices of the people who count the most, the people who are doing the work. Their voices will be the key to getting it right for your workplace.

Jen Margolis

About Jen Margolis

My passion is helping people find and use their strengths to move toward their biggest vision. My career began as a community organizer with refugees and grew to designing and facilitating programs for international professionals including grassroots women leaders in Egypt. These experiences led me to management consulting focusing on strategic planning, leadership development, community and education based program development and executive coaching.