What Does Security Look Like in the Hybrid Workplace?

With the flexibility of hybrid working comes evolving security needs. A holistic approach will ensure that staff can collaborate in-office.

April 6, 2023


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Hybrid work has introduced unprecedented flexibility and convenience for office employees, providing the ability to work remotely as well as on site. In response, corporate office footprints are shrinking to embrace office spaces with open, flexible designs – acknowledging that the concept of a fixed desk with an engraved nameplate for every employee is officially obsolete.

While this approach brings benefits such as cost savings from reduced square footage and fewer desks to maintain, it presents operational challenges as well. Hybrid offices implemented without proper forethought sometimes fail to optimize for the humans working in them, amplifying noise and distractions. Further, users of dynamic hot desk reservation systems are likely to encounter new and unfamiliar faces every visit, making it difficult to recognize unauthorized personnel and abnormal behaviour.

Even something as basic as access control for visitors must be re-examined to ensure adequate levels of security in the hybrid office. With an estimated 70% of US offices embracing an open concept, security considerations are more timely than ever.

What can employers do to provide their hybrid workforce with a comfortably secure physical workspace?

Digital Access Control and Visitor Management

To start, it’s time to upgrade physical access control from a binder and sign-in sheet to a modern, digital visitor management system. These tools automatically log when people enter and exit and can even govern access to specific areas based on need and authorization. By using a mix of keycards, biometrics, and other factors to validate identity every step of the way, you can be sure that visitors only have access to certain meeting rooms, that contingent staff can’t access the server room, and that other site-specific restrictions are met.

A workplace management solution is another tool that can improve security for your hybrid team. Beyond simply reserving a desk or meeting room, you can implement zones for various groups, ensuring that marketing staff always work with their own team and can’t simply appear next to a member of HR, payroll, or another group handling confidential data.

Sound Security Practices

From a management framework standpoint, it’s imperative to re-think the practice of treating facility management and cyber security as siloed groups. Now that site security and access control are increasingly cloud-based, cyber threats can have a direct impact on the physical office – and likewise, bad actors in the physical office can impact operations in the cloud. Encourage facility staff, IT, and even Human Resources to coordinate and complement each other’s efforts.

Concrete examples of sound hybrid workplace security include:

  • Coordinated onboarding of new staff to ensure they have their own access cards on day one (whether or not they are on site at the time)
  • Rapid and remote off-boarding to revoke access when employment is terminated
  • Discreet direct-to-security chat function on staff computers to operate as a panic button for employees who feel unsafe or threatened

It’s also a good idea to think carefully about office communication. Regular bulletins informing staff of when to expect new hires, visitors or third-party vendors can help them recognize new people and identify unusual behaviour. Beyond that, signage with protocols of what to do in the event of an emergency or who to call when feeling unsafe can help put people – particularly those working alone after hours – at ease.

Good Physical Design

Gone are the days of the universal, uniform, open concept office with no walls or barriers of any kind. What works best is a customized mix of open spaces for collaboration and private areas away from prying eyes and distracting noises. Today, hybrid offices come with several options including mobile cubes, divider walls, pavilions with sliding doors, and private workstations for confidential tasks. Physical safety can be further enhanced with convex mirrors to improve workplace visibility as well as good lighting, particularly after hours.

Equally important is the ability to leave belongings in a secure location when stepping away – which means providing hot desks with a locking drawer, or lockers, to store valuables.

And, of course, it is critical to enforce a strict clean-desk policy to ensure no sensitive documents are left unattended. This often includes providing secure document disposal in a convenient location.

Hybrid Work and Physical Security are Complementary

Hybrid offices are an exciting new frontier for the modern enterprise: they empower a dynamic, flexible workforce with the capacity to work remotely while reaping the benefits of face time and in-person collaboration. But with flexibility comes evolving security needs. The hybrid office no longer consists of predictable, fixed-desk occupancy by familiar cubicle neighbours.

To ensure that on-site staff feel confident whether working independently or in teams, it’s imperative to provide them with the same sense of security and privacy they enjoyed before the shift to hybrid work. That means everything from building robust communication programs to implementing room booking technology, and from providing secure spaces to store valuables to offering a healthy mix of open and private work environments. It means creating a holistic approach to security that connects the siloes of IT and facility management.

With these measures in place, staff can collaborate and focus with peace of mind, realizing all the benefits and mitigating the risks of the modern hybrid work model.

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