Tired of meaninglessly throwing the term "hybrid workplace" here and there, we at Butlr decided to sit down and illustrate what this new concept actually looks like.
Turns out, it looks like a University Campus.
And we are more than thrilled to start working towards that future.
You can read an expert of our piece on Protocol below:
The university campus as office
Google's Mountain View mothership, the "Googleplex," first gave rise to the idea of technology company campuses that resemble the university environment, which just happens to be very familiar to recent graduates they attract. The idea was to create an environment where employees flow seamlessly from leisure and relaxation to intense bouts of creation and productivity (and never feel like going home).
Up until now this model seemed to work, spawning many copycats across the globe. Yet what the university campus seems to get that the corporate office does not is that productivity and creativity is less about aesthetics and more about flexibility.
College campuses have spaces that foster collaboration, community and culture — labs, open areas, cafes, not to mention auditoriums and arenas for events, sports and other rituals. But these are opt-in — no one forces you to go to the basketball game. You choose to go. So too companies will want to use their space to foster collaboration and culture for employees to opt into.
Colleges offer courses according to a set schedule, with a fixed duration, but the dynamics of the workplace are much more varied. Learning and working is a fluid state that blossoms in a network of set spaces (library, auditorium, dorms) which, even though physically distinct, all operate in a seamless and interconnected way.
Colleges and universities also go to great lengths to demonstrate safety measures for their student population, with evacuation plans, conspicuous campus safety officers and other forms of public information. Companies need to not only provide a safe environment but to make their employees feel safe. That can mean transparency on cleaning protocols or showing real-time occupancy so that employees can make their own decisions on whether to come in and where to go.
What are workers actually doing in the office?
Indeed, flexibility is key. Given the uncertainty and changing norms, expectations and fluctuations in the economy, it's important for companies and facilities managers to remain flexible as they create the best workplace experience. Just as the university supports a wide range of learning paths and learning styles, a reimagined office can support many new forms of collaboration. And it all starts with data.
Workplace and facilities execs should optimize their offices to understand how they're actually being used, to see what people are actually doing. And this data needs to be passively collected and not require behavior change. Relying just on data that requires people to take action — to book and check into rooms, to badge in AND out, to fill out a survey, to place their phone on a QR code —won't give you the right information to make data-driven decisions. Real decisions should not be based on how people think they behave in a space but on how they really do.
This new normal, however, should not act as a Trojan horse for hardcore workplace surveillance measures. Instead, we are collectively facing a great chance to explore solutions that respect human dignity, and protect privacy. Our solution at Butlr (a spin-off of the MIT Media Lab) is to create better spaces via technology. We've introduced a people sensing platform that is designed and built on the firm belief that understanding space does not require the collection of personally identifiable information or facial recognition in order to deliver valuable insights. Instead of cameras, Butlr uses other environmental elements, such as body heat and machine learning algorithms, to sense traffic and translate presence into patterns and numbers.