Bayer employee Shane Humphrey, along with colleagues, will return to working part-time on the Bayer campus in October. Credit: Bayer

It has been more than 900 days since Shane Humphreys has worked in her Berkeley office.

Like millions around the world, Humphreys, who is a senior process engineer at Bayer’s Biotech campus in Berkeley, embarked on the unexpected journey of working full time from home in March 2020. 

“I never imagined we would still be 100% remote in 2022,” Humphreys said. “It’s been challenging, but I am so proud of how our team has continued to support the patients we serve.”

Many Bayer sites in the U.S. have reopened administrative work areas. However, Bayer’s leadership team in Berkeley has taken a more conservative approach, with people whose work requires only a laptop and a telephone staying home. Those whose work in clinical or commercial manufacturing requires the use of on-site equipment have continued working on campus throughout the pandemic, with indoor masking and other protocols. 

In mid-October hundreds of employees who have been remote since March 2020 will begin to work on hybrid schedules. These schedules provide them the option to come on site when they need to collaborate, connect and celebrate with colleagues, while continuing to do much of their focused “desk work” remotely. 

Bayer joins a growing trend. A recent Gallup survey found that 53% of employees with work that can be done remotely expect to have a hybrid schedule in 2022 and beyond and that they feel strongly about keeping that schedule. 

Rethinking the cubicle

“We won’t be going back to the way we worked in 2019,” said Larry Sanders, Berkeley site manager. “Instead, we’re going to take what we’ve learned over the past two and a half years and design a more flexible and collaborative work experience to meet the needs of the business and our incredible workforce. We miss aspects of being together all the time, and we love aspects of remote work. Our intention is to get the best of both worlds.”

The plan includes a complete transformation of administrative workspaces at the 46-acre biotech campus in southwest Berkeley, which manufactures critical medicines for patients around the world.

Gone are nearly all the private offices and assigned cubicles. In their place are a variety of spaces available for anyone to use. Each functional team will have a home base, where people can connect with coworkers and store personal belongings in lockers. From there, they can choose to work with others in open or closed collaboration spaces or they can work solo in a quiet focus area or in a spot that invites some interaction.

For Humphreys, the future of working hybrid means she’ll likely spend most of her time working from home and a few days per month on campus. Many of her colleagues plan to come in a couple times a week.

“I’m looking forward to reconnecting with people on my team without giving up some of the flexibility I have when I work from home,” she said. “Collaborating only over video isn’t quite the same.”

Bayer employees who have worked from home since 2020 will be returning to campus soon — but not necessarily full time. Credit: Bayer

Campus is for collaborating

It just so happened that when COVID-19 hit Bayer was readying their Berkeley site to remove outdated buildings and construct new facilities. Leaders used the crisis as a time to engage staff in reimagining what office work might look like when employees returned to campus and how office and administrative spaces could change to best support the work of all teams. A recent pulse survey of the company’s U.S. employees indicated that 83% working remotely would prefer to work on-site three days or less each week.

Soon, many of those employees in Berkeley will get their wish. As newly repurposed facilities are available, remote-working team members will be able to return to the site. Bayer expects approximately a third of Berkeley’s office workers to be on-site at any given time.

“Most may want to do their focused work from home and come to campus to brainstorm or problem solve in groups,” said Director of Facilities Management Yaengsaeng Xayavong. “For our office people, the Berkeley site will become a hub for three types of work: creating, collaborating and celebrating. This flexible approach to offices means the workspace can adapt to our evolving ways of getting things done.”

To help folks adapt to hybrid work, small teams are testing and learning through a series of pilot projects to inform the shift to new facilities and ways of working.

“We’ve all learned to be even more flexible, creative and adaptable over the past few years,” Xayavong said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what the next round of innovation brings.”