The pandemic is changing the working world more and more these days, including businesses turning to the hub and spoke model. So what does this mean exactly? Read further.
With the onset of COVID earlier this year came the need for a rapid shift towards dedensification and remote work for many – a shift that most companies were unprepared for. As it has become clear that the pandemic is here to stay for the foreseeable future, it has become a top priority for businesses all around the world to adapt to current conditions, and turn temporary workarounds into more permanent solutions.
This year has, above and beyond all else, hammered in the importance of flexibility and adaptability. And with that lesson comes the need for a brand-new design approach for companies looking to optimize the workplace for both productivity and safety.
While it’s clear that working from home brings along the least risk of exposure, it isn’t a permanent solution. And bringing everyone back to HQ without a long list of precautions and considerations may even border on negligence.
There are drawbacks to working from home permanently, including a greater risk of burnout. People need boundaries between work and life to function in the long-term, and any solution needs to address both the risks of COVID and the importance of defining some sort of workplace.
As a result, one of the more popular approaches has been the hub-and-spoke model, fashioned after similar concepts in logistics, transport, and healthcare. The hub, in this case, is company HQ. And the spokes are the various satellite offices and remote workplaces. The scope of the hub and spoke model is flexible, because of the nature of the internet – it’s a concept that scales to towns, cities, countries, and continents.
The Hub and Spoke Model
The hub and spoke model effectively swaps remote work for a work-from-anywhere policy, wherein the original headquarters of a business is made leaner and kept occupied by a (potentially rotating) skeleton crew of employees, while other workers operate from office spaces at home and in satellite offices all around the area.
Cost is a huge concern, especially in this market – but the hub-and-spoke model doesn’t presuppose that companies try and take out half a dozen leases. Instead, it operates on the assumption that companies repurpose their existing office space to act as a central hub, while utilizing coworking spaces and homes as safe and low-cost extensions of the workplace.
The entire network relies on different telecommunication and collaboration tools to function. Employees touch base with HQ, then report back after every major task.
The main reason for switching to a hub and spoke model over simply returning to the office is that it gives companies a way to utilize and populate their existing office space with a smaller number of employees and managers, while leveraging the growing and competitive coworking market (which has rapidly adapted to COVID workplace safety requirements).
The Benefit of Scattered Workplaces
These workplaces generally scale to single areas – for example, a city – where employees can have the option of staying at home, or biking/driving to a nearby satellite office while remaining in touch with the company’s central office.
The coworking market has emerged as a strong backbone to the hub and spoke model and scattered workplaces because it allows companies to subsidize the costs and stress of retrofitting offices to enable proper ventilation, cleaning, and social distancing protocols, while remaining entirely flexible by offering short-term leases and monthly or quarterly contracts, instead of long-term commitments.
We are still currently in a place where both the economy and the virus itself are volatile. Flexibility is important not only in the workplace, but as a general attitude towards the present and future.
There is currently no way of knowing what tomorrow brings. Staggered changes, such as a slow return to the office via the hub and spoke model, help improve morale and productivity and avoid burnouts without endangering workers and placing all of the burden on employees to stay safe in the office.
Defining the Hub
Dedensification is key in defining the hub. Headquarters should remain sparsely occupied during the pandemic, with employees maintaining large distances, cleaning as they go, and avoiding colliding foot traffic.
Staircases should be designated as one-way, additional cleaning crews should disinfect surfaces and critical areas such as doors and chairs several times a day, and offices are populated by one or two key employees each.
The hub acts as the central command for the company, coordinating with smaller teams and individual workers throughout the city, whether they’re at home or in another office.
A good metric is to cut the number of employees at HQ down to about half of what they were in pre-pandemic days, or less – while giving the rest the option to work from a place of their choosing, or a designated coworking location.
Defining the Spokes
Spokes are “everywhere else”, including additional offices (whether leased as commercial space solely for the company’s benefit, or more likely, a coworking space).
These don’t have to be in the city – some companies are looking at coworking locations in the suburbs, trying as best as possible to choose potential office space that minimizes the commute, and keeps their employees away from crowds.
When picking coworking spaces to expand your hub and spoke model, think about what lengths your workers would have to go through to get to work and back. Some workers who simply can’t make it to any office safely would likely have to continue to work from home until the situation develops in a different direction, but the majority will be able to benefit from a safe return to the office.
Working in a Pandemic World
Hub and spoke models are inherently adaptable, as they’re designed with short-term leases and commitments in mind, allowing companies to rapidly shift and pivot in response to new rules and regulations, changes in quarantine, outbreaks, and more.
While we still don’t know what role remote work will play in the long-term, it’s clear that more flexible workplace arrangements are not just a boon, but a necessity going forward.