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As vaccination efforts ramp up and companies consider a return to the workplace, some executives say the hybrid office model will be the way of the future.
David Henshall, the chief executive of software technology company Citrix Systems Inc. (CTXS), said during a virtual panel at the 2021 Collision tech conference that his company plans on deploying a hybrid office model – allowing employees to work from home some days, but come into the office for specific tasks.
"Working at home, you miss some of the aspects (of the office), being able to collaborate with your teammates, having that social interaction, building and fostering new relationships," he said.
"That's why most companies, including Citrix and most of our customers, are concluding that hybrid is going to be the right model going forward."
A PwC survey released in January found that fewer than one in five executives surveyed want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic. However, the survey also found that those executives are torn in terms of what the hybrid workplace will look like and how often employees should be working in the office. When asked how often employees should be in the office to maintain a strong culture, 6 per cent of respondents said one to three days per month, 15 per cent said two days per week, 18 per cent said four days per week, and 29 per cent said three days per week.
"This idea of returning to the office is certainly not going to be a return to normal," Henshall said.
"We're going to have to realize that a return to the office is going to be a process. It's not a one-time event, it's going to go in waves, just as we've seen through the pandemic."
What the hybrid workplace will look like is something many companies are trying to sort out now. Earlier this month, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon wrote in his annual letter to shareholders that 10 per cent of employees will work from home full time "for very specific roles", with some staff working under a hybrid model. But many of the bank's 250,000 employees will be working from a location full time.
David Cancel, the chief executive of marketing software startup Drift, has long resisted the idea of having his employees permanently working from home. But when the pandemic hit – something he compared to "a global trauma" that will now always have an effect on people – his perspective changed.
"We decided to become a digital-first company, which was totally flipping things on its head for us," he said at the Collision panel.
"It was important for us to maintain an equitable environment, an equitable company where everyone was on the same playing field."
Drift will continue expanding its physical footprint, Cancel says, but the offices are being reimagined into what he calls "conversation spaces."
"There won't be solo work capability there. All of that will be done digitally, remotely and at-home," he said. The challenge now will be to ensure hybrid solutions do not favour employees that are physically closer to leadership and interacting with them in-person.
"It's important for us to solve that problem," he said.
The key to a seamless hybrid office will be about more than just deploying the right technology, says Henshall. For example, he says management practices will have to change so that success is measured differently, moving away from focusing on time spent on tasks.
"One of the real challenges that a lot of people have when they think about both the hybrid work model and a full remote work model is changing the historical view on management," Henshall said.
"Too many companies are still organized as a traditional hierarchical relationship, where you're measuring activities and time-spent, versus outcomes."
Both Henshall and Cancel agree that being agile will be key for companies to thrive under a hybrid model.
"This is the biggest challenge we face," Cancel said.
"Companies that can evolve, have the right sets of principles, the right set of norms and rituals, I think those are the ones that are going to win."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.