Hybrid workplaces present a challenge for facility managers. At the same time, they’re an opportunity for employers. Companies can save on office space, gas, electricity, and catering. But how much can businesses save, all things considered? What’s the budget for hybrid workplaces? And how will hybrid workspaces impact them in the long term?

How hybrid workplaces change companies’ budgets and returns

A PWC study in the Netherlands concluded that Dutch companies can save €3.9 million annually if employees work just one day a week from home. Besides, a shorter in-office week would reduce carbon emissions from road transport by 2%.

It has also been proposed that hybrid workplaces lead to greater productivity. For a while, throughout lockdowns, people were putting in extra hours during the time they’d normally spend commuting. But working one or two extra hours per day is counterproductive, since it has been proven that longer days actually harm productivity. What we discovered, however, is that people are more productive working from home. 

Harvard researcher Andy Wu found that longer commutes negatively impact innovation. Top performers are often less creative the longer they commute – for every 10 km, companies fill 5% fewer patents. Likewise, previous studies had shown that commutes affect workers’ physical and mental well-being. Those with longer commutes have higher rates of obesity, high cholesterol, neck and back pain, divorce, depression, and death. 

Another survey found that people can be up to 77% more productive if they work remotely a few times per month. Yet other studies suggest this is where we might hit our first bump in remote working bliss. People working from their beds and couches are 20% less productive than those on ergonomic chairs. Therefore, employers may need to provide remote workers with ergonomic furniture, headphones, and other equipment. 

Even so, evidence suggests hybrid workplaces still come on top. In London, companies with office spaces spend, on average, £500 per employee each month. In New York, they spend £510. (This includes leases for office spaces, desks, parking, free meals and facility management.) Those expenses come down to £200 – $204 per month if they work just 2 days at the office, plus £100 – $102 on “perks” to improve home offices.

Furthermore, businesses should also consider that coming to work has never been so expensive. With the current inflation, both transport fares and petrol are at an all-time high. Some companies in the US and the UK have now taken to giving employees stipends to cope with the rising costs of coming to the office. Should this become the norm, companies could increase their savings with remote and hybrid work models.

Apart from direct cost savings, the PWC study also suggests hybrid work could impact turnover and absenteeism. It’s generally accepted that flexibility decreases turnover, and employees are less likely to call in sick. (Perhaps it’s worth noting that it has been argued that people working from home feel compelled to clock in even when they’re ill. Of course this undermines their well-being, but let’s not get side-tracked here.)

So far, all studies come to the same conclusion: working from home increases productivity and steers healthier lifestyles. The benefits even extend to public spending because operating public transport would become cheaper. There would be fewer traffic jams, accidents, less road maintenance, and so on. Plus it is great for the environment! So why aren’t we all working from home already?

The issues with remote and hybrid workplaces (and what workplace management can do about them)

While the benefits for employees are undeniable, they’re more nuanced for employers. After all, when it comes to workplace management, costs are not the only thing that matters.

Yes, people feel more productive working from home – but mostly when they are working alone. In the long term, remote work may hinder collaboration, knowledge-sharing and innovation, which rely on close proximity. A paper about Microsoft’s employees found that collaboration between peers was more “static and siloed”, which made it harder for workers to share and acquire new information.

Workplace managers may also struggle to maintain a strong company culture without a shared workplace. Some people might feel disengaged, which makes them less loyal and more likely to quit. (There goes the less turnover theory.) So one of the challenges of hybrid workplace management is finding the right balance. Companies need to provide technology and infrastructure that enable close cooperation and information-sharing, even in a hybrid setting. 

The role of facility and workplace managers in the hybrid workplace

Facility and workplace managers must ensure the workplace is ready for hybrid meetings. Moreover, employees need to find what they’re looking for when they come to work. Statistics vary – we advise you to make a company survey – but WeWork data suggests that over 50% of workers want to work at the office 3 days per week or fewer. When they go in, they intend to spend 5 or fewer hours there.

This means that, on average, only 60% of desks are occupied. As a workplace manager, you can do away with the extra desks and downsize. Optimising space utilisation reduces the money spent on leases, utility bills, office supplies, and furniture. But there are still baseline expenses, such as HVAC, sanitisation, lighting, WiFi, and basic maintenance to keep spaces suitable.

These baseline expenses will always need to be on your facility management budget. What’s left can then be used for employee perks that allow them to work better from home. Now, here comes the challenging part. When managing ‘hot desks’, you must avoid overbooking and overcrowding. An obvious solution is booking software, but integrate it with other systems to ensure spaces are clean and ready to go.

As a hybrid workplace manager, you may also consider adding social spaces where employees can socialise when they do come to work or at company events. Otherwise, they’ll miss out on informal interactions that help teams bond. But don’t take it too hard on yourself. We’re all still adapting and it’s a steep learning curve. Just be receptive to your co-workers’ suggestions to improve the place! 

In the lack of said suggestions, you can always turn to data. If your facility management software captures things like occupancy rates, and if you have a pretty good idea of paths of movement based on mobility sensors, you can use it to implement changes. Making the workplace more attractive and in tune with staff’s needs will increase the amount of time they spend at the office and contribute to a strong work culture.