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Schneider Electric shifts to hybrid workplace

The hybrid workplace model is being embraced by Schneider Electric, which is moving to coworking offices for its employees. The firm sees it as an adaptable, if challenging, option.

Schneider Electric is ending leases for its smaller offices and moving employees to coworking facilities. It wants hybrid workplaces, flexible and easy-to-scale locations that can accommodate employees who work in an office only part of the time. The decision to reduce its office footprint reflects Schneider Electric's approach to its remote work and hiring strategy.

The energy management and automation systems provider wants to establish a series of "hubs" in coworking spaces, where different firms share building space but may have dedicated offices and meeting rooms. It is working with Upflex Inc., a software platform with an approach not unlike Airbnb, to lease coworking offices to not only create the hubs but to enable employees to work in coworking locations as needed.

"We're transitioning to more of a hybrid model," said Karen McClellan, Schneider's director of real estate. The company, which has its U.S. headquarters in Green Bay, Wis., has about 10,000 salaried workers who may ultimately take part in this approach to renting office space. The initial hub rollout will affect only about 1,000 workers.

Schneider's strategy is to move from a traditional leased office that might have seats for 500 employees to a coworking space that might have seats for 200.

The new facilities arrangement will create scheduling challenges for the firm. It doesn't want offices crowded on some days and empty on others, and it's working on ways to manage the hybrid workplace, including an internal employee scheduling tool to help manage capacity.

The hybrid workplace will also require a different mindset on the part of workers, McClellan said. Employees will "need to think about it differently -- you need to think about what your week looks like -- when is it purposeful to go into the office?" she said.

Hybrid workplaces are the future

Hybrid work "is driving the office footprint strategy," PwC (formerly called PricewaterhouseCoopers) stated in a recent report.

PwC surveyed 133 U.S. executives, 83% of whom represented firms with revenue of more than $1 billion. The vast majority said they expect to change their real estate strategy over the next year. "Six in 10 expect to consolidate office space into at least one premier business district location, and a similar number say they expect to open more locations," it reported.

We're trying to drive our hiring to be primarily within so many miles of those hub sites.
Karen McClellanDirector of real estate, Schneider Electric

Schneider's preference is for employees to work in the office several days a week. Being in the office is "where you have collaboration" and "make connections, and you understand and are involved" in an organization's culture, McClellan said.

They are working on identifying the cities where they will have their hub sites, which will be important in Schneider's hiring strategy. "We're trying to drive our hiring to be primarily within so many miles of those hub sites," McClellan said. The company said the approach will save money, especially in office set-up costs, as well as provide flexibility to add and subtract space as needed.

Schneider uses Upflex's broader coworking capabilities, including access to more than 2,100 coworking spaces in the U.S.

Upflex doesn't own or lease any locations itself; it provides only the platform that helps companies find and rent coworking spaces. It works with some 670 different coworking providers, whether the need is for just a desk or more, said Upflex co-founder and CEO Christophe Garnier.

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