office interior with people sitting at tables and chairs

What Are the Right Ingredients for a Hybrid Workplace?

A Think Tank panel finds that an emphasis on collaboration makes hybrid workplaces work.

It’s become a truism that hybrid working—part time at home and part time in the office—is efficient, productive and celebratory of employee independence and empowerment. But how do designers create spaces that facilitate this new work paradigm?

That was the question asked by a Think Tank Thursday panel on April 14. Hosted by architecture firm WRNS Studio, with studios in San Francisco, Honolulu, New York, and Seattle, the session was moderated by Sam Lubell, executive editor of Metropolis, along with A.J. Paron, executive vice president and design futurist at Sandow Design Group.

“How do you get the same kind of autonomy and choice when you’re in the office as you do when you’re at home?” Lubell asked, kicking off the discussion.

Kyle Elliott, a partner at WRNS Studio, contrasted pre-pandemic square footages with more current thinking. “The ratio of space for companies was about 60 percent individual working areas, things like desks dominating the space. But many of the desks were unused 50 percent of the time. Now we’re finding a real shift in that proportion.”


But a shift to what?

The answer is a greater emphasis on spaces for collaboration. He posits that an organization might set aside relatively large spaces, and within them organize a variety of different furniture solutions to bring people together. Indeed furniture dominated a period of the discussion. “We think a lot about furniture because it’s going to be the quickest reactive tool we have to adapt our spaces, to try to find more equitable solutions,” Elliott explained.

The group discussed the pros and cons of paying employees to upgrade their home offices versus making workplaces that offer many of the comforts of home. “We’ve given to our employees to upgrade their home office environments,” Elliott said. Lily Weeks, a senior associate at WRNS Studio, said interiors had to match the essence of the client. “It’s about authenticity to the culture of the client,” she said. “I think it’s about finding inspiration that feels not just authentic, but with all the comforts of home.”

Patrick Miller, senior director of global workforce services at Snap, Inc. and a client of WRNS Studio, urged designers to create “less corporate feel offices” as a means of coaxing employees back.  But he added: “We have lots of lab and R&D engineers who need to be in physical space. So, when our architects design these facilities, they must place a priority on in-person comfort, collaboration, connection and creativity.”

The prospect of movable walls came up several times. “We are going to commit to building walls that define spaces and at a scale for different people who want meetings with different sized groups,” Elliott said.

As the discussion winded down, Lubell praised Miller for conducting focus groups and other means of assessing Snap employees’ needs and wants. “[Miller’s] point about documenting how people are using space is going to help us better calibrate how that plays into the equation of person per square foot.”

Patrick responded: “We’re finding courtyards and all different sorts of rooms and spaces to bring people together and gather.” Lubell concluded the discussion by comparing such spaces to an agora, or the marketplace of an ancient city. “It’s like going back to the old school,” he said. “And I really like that.”

workplace with people sitting at hoteling spaces

The Think Tank discussions were held on April 7, 14, and 21. The conversations were presented in partnership with Arden StudioCertainTeedGrohe, and Mecho.

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