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Podcast | What Does Hybrid Working Look Like In A Post Pandemic World? – Tushar Agarwal

When you’re running London’s largest online marketplace for flexible office space, the COVID-19 work from home orders must feel like the world’s largest curve ball. Hubble founder Tushar Agarwal joined us to explain just how you approach and handle a situation like this. 

But have those short-term challenges actually accelerated the trend for remote and hybrid working? Tushar explained why people are now demanding more flexibility, freedom and autonomy over where they work, but also provides the counter arguments for why 70% still want their company to provide an office of some sort. 

We also discussed whether the government’s ‘Get Back To Work’ messaging could be worded better, how to better prepare managers and leaders to deal with this new reality and measuring the return on your office space investments.

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Running order

0:00 > Introduction
1:31 > Reacting to the pandemic as an office space providing/sourcing company.
8:06 >How Tushar dealt with the uncertainty of the past year and pandemic as a founder.
11:36 > The role of the office moving forward and how COVID accelerated current trends.
16:38 > The case for shared physical space.
21:09 > Tushar’s preferred approach to working.
26:08 > Is the ‘Get Back To Work’ messaging right?
30:12 > Better preparing managers and leaders to deal with this new reality.
33.23 > How companies can prepare their teams as they return to workplaces.
36:34 > Measuring the ROI on an office space.
41:32 > Quickfire questions.

Episode summary: five key takeaways on hybrid working for the future

Did COVID actually accelerate the trends for flexible working?

Tushar and his team never doubted or worried that the entire office market would disappear overnight – in fact, they believed that it would accelerate the trend of people searching for more options and autonomy in how and where they work. With a growing desire for not being locked into long-term commitments, we’re seeing more and more demand for flexibility in real-estate today. 

Interestingly, as Tushar prepared to speak with investors, he put together a thesis on the future of work and the office and actually found that it wasn’t that different to what he’d put together when the company began. It was all around more autonomy and optionality for the individual employee and for the employer to transform their fixed cost to a variable cost for real estate. 

Tushar was bold in sharing his opinions early on and was the only office space CEO to declare that the office as we know it was dead, in the sense of it being somewhere you went 5 days per week from 9 to 5. That concept was already eroding and the pandemic really accelerated this trend. Every company will now want their blend of working from HQ, from home and coworking/creative spaces and it’s what a lot of employees have been crying out for over the past 10 years anyway.

The case for shared physical space, owner or leased by the business

Hubble surveyed more than 1,000 employees at mostly small to medium sized businesses in September 2020 and found that 70% thought working from home was a positive experience, but the same number stated that they still wanted an office of some sort.

This means there’s still a demand for shared physical space, which Tushar believes can be explained by the three Cs.

  • Collaboration: Which people prefer to do in person due to the benefit of non-verbal communication and shaping bonds/trusted spaces where people can create their best ideas. 
  • Culture: It can be created online and remotely, but relationships aren’t often built until we meet in person – something the world of dating showed us during the pandemic. 
  • Clients: Are often won through trust building, something many people prefer to do over lunch or drinks. And we’re likely to see more companies wanting to meet with clients as restrictions ease – something especially useful if you’re competing with other offerings. If someone is taking a prospect for lunch and you’re only scheduling a Zoom call, they can accelerate the relationship building process.

The UK Government’s ‘Get Back To Work’ messaging

In Tushar’s opinion, that messaging is quite patronising and comes from the idea of work being a place that you went to. However, the levels of innovation we’ve seen in a short amount of time and how businesses have pivoted to survive has shown that it’s not necessarily the case. Tushar feels that their wording could be better and that flexible working could really help them achieve their outcomes of building back better and levelling up areas outside of London and the South East. 

Flexible working could mean money is spent in those regions without companies having to build offices there and removes the location barrier from supply and demand or other reasons around achieving a better work-life balance. 

Better preparing managers and leaders to deal with this new reality

Pre-COVID, leaders were managing presenteeism over productivity and hours over output. Part of that is a generational thing linking back to the industrial revolution and factory workers clocking in and out – when they truly needed to be present. 

But now we’ve had the information revolution. With knowledge based workers primarily working on laptops, managers need to measure performance in the right ways and ensure they’ll win the war for talent, whether it’s high quality or getting done. Because as location becomes less of a barrier, talent will have their pick of companies and employers need to create policies where they can hire those people and those people can be happy.

How companies returning to the workplace can prepare their teams

A lot of preparation has already been done in the past 12-14 months. The best management techniques for running a hybrid organisation are centered around having a remote-first mentality – so you still run it as it’s remote and when they’re physically in office or meeting, it’s an added bonus or creates better output. Remote-first means communications across the company are fully digital, ensuring the right tools are in place and that you’re measuring the right things.

How to connect

Find Tushar on LinkedIn.

Visit Hubble or connect with them on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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