The consensus is a lot of work will be done both in an office and from home, a hybrid, as panelists discussed during Idaho Business Review’s Oct. 5 Office Life Breakfast Series event, but that’s just one challenge many are still trying to navigate in 2021.

The challenge for hybrid office life comes from trying to meet individual employee needs (and wants) while preserving a collaborative and desirable company culture in a competitive market.

Five panelists shared their take-aways from current successful practices at their companies and what they have seen while working in their respective industries. The Breakfast Series event was held at the Grove Hotel and sponsored by Hawley Troxell, among others.

Flexibility is in-demand

Panelists agreed hybrid work is the new norm for many, and part of that could be “work/life balance” is shifting to being thought of as “work/life integration,” as many employees are strongly desiring more flexibility in their time.

Mike Fornander, CEO and owner of Neurilink, said, “(Companies have) found that some workers do work well remotely and some prefer that environment,” but others prefer in office “(for) innovation, all those kinds of things that somehow are maybe less tangible virtually. (When) they’re remote, their heads down, they’re doing those types of job duties that just require no distraction.”

One challenge may arise when some employees can’t work from home because their job must be done on site. Fornander and other panelists suggested exploring giving different beneficial options to those who must work on site, such as four-day work weeks. It’s about equity, as Office Environment Company (OEC) principal partner Scott Galloway said.

From an employee recruiting perspective, Jennifer Jones Hooft and Allison Bruce agree, when it comes to new employees, many are asking if a position can be done remotely, at least to some extent. Even more importantly, as described by Bruce, vice president of recruiting and client relations at TalentSpark, is to try to know each individual employee’s work needs. Some might want to be in office because of potential distractions at home.

“I do think that’s one of the changes that’s also here to stay; people have become accustomed to weaving work and personal life together,” said Hooft, managing partner for Higher Resources. “And I heard somebody say recently there is no such thing as work and life; it’s all just life. I think we would all agree that this pandemic experience has been the catalyst for a lot of change, but I think one of those changes that’s important to consider is really measuring outcomes rather than when you do your work.”

People want to belong

That flexibility can help lead to a positive in company culture: feeling a sense of belonging, as Hooft pointed out.

One of the challenges there, though, might be for new employees who have not been as deeply integrated into the company culture due to mostly or strictly remote work upon hiring. Also to keep in mind is an employee’s generational expectations and experience.

“One thing I (have) thought a lot about with this pandemic, related to the culture (including) on site and the technology, is that we have a new generation that has recently entered the workforce,” Bruce said. “I learned by overhearing things; I was in an open workspace; this whole new generation has either come in completely in the virtual side or for the most part in some sort of hybrid environment. I don’t know if I have the answer, but I have this sort of curiosity around ‘how does the technology in the office space help support those of Gen Z,’ who basically never worked in an office.”

Every space needs tech

Galloway and Jeff Heath, CEO at Business Interiors of Idaho, work in the office furniture industry, and they both saw similar reactions to the pandemic; one of those was larger companies hesitating to make drastic changes to physical office spaces.

“They didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of money on things that were (or could be) temporary,” Heath said. “Without getting too political here, I think what we’re seeing with a lot of the major players moving toward vaccinations and vaccination requirements shows where they want to be and that they want to be in person; they want to do that with the least amount of risk. And so, I don’t think that there’s going to be a huge amount of change in this space as a response.”

What has changed a bit has been added or redesigned collaborative spaces, as Galloway pointed out, and all office spaces, at a person’s home or in an office environment, needed good tech for at least some elements of telework. That meant quality video tools, but almost more importantly, improved audio tech, according to Fornander. If collaboration spaces adapt, the tech in them has to adapt as well.

For the traditional conference room — with the long table and chairs around it — a small device used to sit on the center of the conference room table now no longer picks up people who are in the same room but further away from the central space, if there is a central space, Fornander described.

One of the challenges that may remain, even with improved tech, is around interpersonal interactions at work.

“Oftentimes, it’s what happens before the meeting, and after the meeting, where real connections are made,” Galloway said. “People like to stay at a job because they have friends (there); the relationships you have with your coworkers are important.”

When asked what changes they are preparing for, the panelists underscored flexibility in a changing ecosystem and that a company’s values need to be valued as well for workplace culture. Additionally, leaders always need to be nimble as the area grows, and, to some degree, always be recruiting, even before a position becomes available.

The expert panel included:

Allison Bruce, Vice President of Recruiting and Client Relations, TalentSpark

Allison Bruce has over 15 years of recruiting experience in pharma, health care and engineering, including time with several Fortune 500 companies. She is a self-professed “recruiting nerd” with expertise in market research and finding unique, hard-to-find talent. Allison is a Colorado native and former Division 1 track athlete and graduate of the University of Colorado (Go Buffs).

Mike Fornander, CEO and owner, Neurilink

Mike Fornander, CEO and owner of Neurilink, is a thought leader in the Northwest for all things video collaboration, digital signage, health and wellness kiosks, audio-visual and information technology solutions architecture and instructional technologies. Born and raised in Boise, Mike involved himself in all leadership availability, including serving as Capital High School ASB (Associated Student Body) president, participating in Leadership Boise, etc. Graduating high school, Mike took advantage of a full ride leadership scholarship at Washington State University. After six years of teaching, Mike took a yearlong fellowship with the Kathryn Albertson Foundation, in which he delivered instruction technology training to teachers across the state of Idaho.

After 14 years as regional vice president for Data Projections, out of Boise, Mike negotiated a regional buy out of this northwest territory, and in December of 2012, he rebranded the organization as Neurilink and has continued to foster growth and regional expansion ever since. Neurilink is an industry leader in unified collaboration and audio-visual solutions integration.

Scott Galloway, Principal Partner, OEC

Scott Galloway is a Boise native. He received his bachelor’s degree in business from BYU. He has developed and sold three companies in the Boise area. Scott has extensive experience in talent development and strategically growing organizations. He currently works as a principal partner at OEC (Office Environment Company), a commercial interiors and construction company.

Jeff Heath, CEO, Business Interiors of Idaho

Jeff Heath has been a part of Business Interiors of Idaho his entire life. After gaining work experience outside the furniture industry, he moved back to Boise and joined the team in 2014. Jeff strives to constantly evaluate and improve the Business Interiors of Idaho customer experience. His goal is to provide every customer with the most efficient, functional and creative solution possible. Jeff holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Idaho.

Jennifer Jones Hooft, Managing Principal for Higher Resources LLC

Jennifer Jones Hooft is an HR expert and executive coach with more than 25 years of experience spanning varied industries, including technology, financial services, higher education, manufacturing and health care. In addition to speaking, coaching, training and supporting clients with sound HR practices, she has taught as adjunct faculty for Boise State University for more than 20 years and is personally committed to lifelong learning and helping people and organizations flourish. Jennifer has a long history of volunteer leadership within her profession and her community. She is past president of HRATV and past state council director for Society for Human Resource Management Idaho, past president of the board for Family Advocates and Idaho Humane Society. Currently, Jennifer is a board member for the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.

Moderator: Carsten Peterson, partner at Hawley Troxell

Carsten Peterson has a civil litigation practice, which includes personal injury, insurance coverage, uninsured and underinsured motorist claims, insurance bad faith and transportation liability. His practice also includes representation of businesses in various matters including contract and construction disputes. Carsten is admitted to practice law in Idaho and Utah in both state and federal courts, with substantial experience in handling litigation in federal courts. He is co-chair of the firm’s insurance practice group. Carsten has significant experience in defending health care providers in medical malpractice claims, catastrophic personal injury cases, wrongful death and transportation liability. He also defends employers in administrative complaints filed with the Idaho Human Rights Commission, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) raising claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (race, color, religion, sex and national origin) and state laws. His experience also includes defending health care providers in prelitigation screening hearing panels before the Idaho State Board of Medicine. He received his Juris Doctor from the University of Idaho Law School in 2001.