Designing the hybrid office space

Written by
Jody Mulvey

Each month we ask creative professionals to dive into a different theme about the creative working world.

In this week's focus, we’re exploring creative companies' approach to office design in light of new ways of working. We’re spoke to Courier Media, Found Studio, Human After All and Moving Brands on how their office space has evolved to accommodate hybrid working.

Cain Fleming, Managing Director - Courier Media

While Courier has always had a flexible approach to employees coming into the office, we used the fact that we were designing a new office during lockdown to take-advantage of the accelerated shift we were seeing in how people viewed the purpose of the office. The consensus amongst our team was that they would like to be in the office 2-3 days per week with the emphasis being on using the office as a place for collaboration with colleagues and external meetings. For this reason, when we set-about designing our new HQ we wanted to create a space that a:) encouraged collaboration and b:) would become a gathering place for our community - be it via meetings, interviews, workshops or events.

The consensus amongst our team was that they would like to be in the office 2-3 days per week with the emphasis being on using the office as a place for collaboration with colleagues and external meetings.
Cain Fleming, Managing Director at Courier Media

From a functional perspective, we've moved away from giving each employee a designated workspace and instead have opted for hot desking areas throughout. Perhaps an even greater shift from our previous office can be seen in the amount of space we've allocated to what we'd call collaboration spaces. Whereas our previous office was predominantly filled with desks, our new layout now sees desk space give way to breakout areas, meeting rooms, and a comfortable lounge area that can be easily converted into a private events space. We also put a lot of thought into how technology in the office would accommodate our hybrid workforce. We've created a seamless video conferencing system through our meeting rooms and have cleverly designed plenty of quiet nooks where our team can perch and make calls without distraction.

Having moved into our new space at the beginning of February after nearly two years working from home, we've also discovered that an office needs to be a place employees want to come and work. Without wanting to be gimmicky (there's no bean bags or table tennis table), we have tried hard to incorporate a few comforts that make people take pride in their workplace. A couple of examples include investing in a quality coffee set-up and offering staff professional barista training, as well as regularly inviting local restaurateurs in to host staff lunches on a Friday.

Dan Moore, Managing Director - Found

Here at Found, our new working week is based around the whole team being in the studio on Thursdays. Most of our team meetings, workshops, monthly 1-2-1s, board meetings and department huddles happen on this day when everyone is in and able to interact face to face. We also tie in socials with this, so there’s a real sense of purpose and reward for being present and in the studio.

In the deepest lockdown back in 2020, I had a fascinating conversation with our coaching friend Eleanor McBrien, when we were all starting to think about the new hybrid working world. She said a few simple words which really resonated with me and I’ve kept them written down and to hand whenever I’ve started thinking about the return to our studio. “Be super productive at home, be super collaborative in the studio.”

This thinking has helped us develop better processes in that time and improve our sense of togetherness, our culture and the quality of our collaborations through working remotely. I want to make sure we take these learnings and new habits forward, from the remote world to a hybrid one.

The things that got us through all of our time spent in lockdown (trust, transparency and having an open mind), are exactly what allow us to push forward into this new way of hybrid working.

Chloe Walsh, Managing Director and Christabel Jay, HR Manager - Human After All

As much as Covid was a challenging time, it also afforded us the time and space to think about how and and where we work as an agency. Pre-pandemic, we were a small team of close-knit Humans working from our studio five days a week, with the odd exception for senior management who had to be pre-approved (with a salary deduction) to work remotely for part of the week / month.

We knew from the start of the pandemic that our lease in our existing space in a warehouse in Dalston was up for renewal in late 2021. And we knew we wouldn’t renew. What we didn’t know was just how significantly our studio requirements would change going forward.

Through Covid we regularly engaged with our people, asking them how and where they would like to work once the choice was available again. The vote was fairly unanimous in requesting a hybrid way of working, with flexibility and choice on when and how to use the studio. Off the back of this we started re-thinking the way we work as an agency - putting greater emphasis on roles and responsibilities and accountability than hours, and putting in place policies like flexi-time.

This offered us greater flexibility in the search for our new studio, as we no longer needed a space that had enough fixed desks for all employees (and would scale for growth). Instead, we opted for a similar sized and more central location, and a more modern space for collaboration; one that better reflected our success as a creative agency in the heart of busy London.

It then became apparent that the bigger challenges were yet to come: How to retain culture, (especially as our team has grown by 30%) and how to cater for the many video calls:

How we retained culture

In the last year we’ve had the pleasure of hiring more people, so our team has grown by 30%. Retaining the culture that we’d harvested before the pandemic and encapsulating this in the new space needed some considered vision. We hired a studio manager to oversee our new space. One of their most important tasks was to create opportunities and events to encourage the team back in. And to make the space as welcoming, comfortable, friendly and safe as possible. This includes breakfasts, hobby clubs, cheese and wine nights, games nights, industry events and parties.

How we setup for video calls

We hadn’t expected this one to be so challenging (or expensive!), but we were lucky enough to be able to design and install a full refit into our new space, so we included multiple meeting rooms and several small phone booths. We had to invest fairly significantly in sound-proofing and tech to match the pressing need for high quality video calls, both with clients and other team members.

Laura Darby, Creative Operations Director at Animade

We’ve settled into our hybrid working model quite well (we generally work 1-2 days a week at the studio, with the rest from home).

It’s about using the studio smartly now we’re not in all the time. The video calls are here to stay, so if you’re on a client/confidential call, you get priority on using the meeting rooms. Otherwise, a good pair of headphones and a quiet corner work well. We’re hyper-aware of ensuring everyone feels included; if there’s a few of us in the studio and one person working remotely, we want to make sure they can hear everything we’re saying and avoid side conversations that could be missed.

We work in an industry that thrives on interactions and ideas, so finding those opportunities for the team to come together in-person for collaborative project kick-offs makes a big difference. Plus, office biscuits taste so much better than the ones at home! It’s great to find those moments when we can gather all heads round the same table at once, but we’ve also proven we can do it remotely.

These are just a couple of examples, but ultimately it’s a work in progress—we continue to chat and share ideas with other studio owners who are navigating their way to finding the best hybrid setup too.

I will say as someone who has to leave On The Dot to pick up their beloved offspring in time for bath and bedtime, having the commute reduced to nothing for most of the week is an absolute boon—nobody sweats more than a parent staring up at ‘train cancelled’ and desperately wondering if they can hitch a lift on the A12 if they start running now!

Maddie Fortescue, Chief People Officer - Moving Brands

As a global agency we’re used to working collaboratively in teams distributed across locations and timezones. So, whilst we’ve always had a hybrid culture in terms of where we all work – whether remotely, or in one of our studios – we’ve always nurtured a culture of connection and shared values.

But how do you get to know and look out for each other in this more disconnected reality? We’re still figuring that out. We’ve introduced a ‘me@MB’ slot on our weekly all staff calls, where someone from the team shares their personal story, and it’s proved an incredibly effective way to create connection. We’re looking for more of these kinds of interaction to help build a community, however ‘remote’ we might be.

We’re still of course excited to get back into our studios, but our top priority has to be health and safety: if the benefits of working remotely outweigh the benefits of getting into the studio, then work remotely, simple as that.

We do however recognise the benefits – not just creatively, but also in terms of mental health – of working together in a safe place that means people can get out into the world but safety must come first.

What that means practically is that we’re providing covid tests for everyone to minimise the risk of transmission. We’re encouraging a culture of mutual concern for each other, which includes wearing masks when moving around the office or working in close proximity. We’ve re-organised the workspace for more space between desks, and have instituted a desk booking system to manage traffic through our sites.

But, as with so much of our work, this is an iterative process of best practice, one that is guided by our constant ambition to design things that make life better for everyone.

On our radar

Some further reading on the themes explored in this article:

Reshaping the Workplace Report by Frog Design: Read the full report from Frog design to learn the 4 Key pillars to the future of work and their new holistic approach to the workplace.

How to design a hybrid workspace: Evolving the modern office: Interior Design Studio, Jolie Studio give their insight on what’s needed in this new hybrid world of 'resimercial' workplaces and flexible working patterns.

Designing the Hybrid Office Harvard Business Review tell us how design, technology, and management practices can be used to make tomorrow’s offices more effective as social, learning, and innovation spaces.

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