Let us guess. In the debate on what the right working model is for the future of work, your company has opted to use a designated workspace at least part of the time. Congratulations! You’ve taken the first step toward shaping the way your company is going to work as we emerge from the global pandemic. The hard part is over.
… Or is it? Is the real work only just beginning? Sure, making the decision over whether your company is going remote, hybrid, or on-site certainly has been difficult. But now that you’ve taken the plunge and committed to one, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start building the foundations of the office of the future.
But… we’re not planning on building a new office!
And we’re not telling you to! Building the foundations for the future of the office isn’t literally about grabbing an architect, selecting a plot of land, and hammering nails into the walls. Yeah, some companies might be ready for that, but really this is about forming the basis of how your employees relate to their new work environment.
The way we work has been rocked by the coronavirus health crisis, and it’s simply not going to be enough to go back to the same old office 3 times a week instead of 5. A recent study by the YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project reveals that people’s attitudes towards work have changed quite dramatically in a pre and post-COVID world. It indicates that 66% of Americans and 56% of Britons claim that they would prefer to work from home at least some of the time in the future.
However, that doesn’t mean that the office is dead. In fact, our own research revealed that 57% of workers want to go to the office at least once a week with the “lack of social interaction” being listed as their main pain point when working from home. Research issued by IESE Business School seems to confirm that, listing informal conversations with colleagues and face-to-face meetings as the #1 and #2 things employees missed the most when working remotely (68% and 46% respectively).
Mulling that over, it clearly implies that sending employees back to the office to work in separate cubicles Dunder Mifflin-style or to run Zoom calls in phone booths isn’t the answer.
So, what do employees really want out of their future office spaces? We performed a little investigation to find out. Here’s what we came up with:
1. The office should be a destination, not a chore
Employees don’t want to have to go to the office. They would like to want to go to the office. There’s a huge difference between those two concepts as the former heavily relies on obligation and the latter sets the office up as a desired destination.
Today, perceptions of the office are changing. Employees are seeing offices more and more like an incredible perk that gives them a space to work that’s significantly better than their home office. They want to choose to go to the office because it provides a work environment where they can be more productive than at home, where they can socialize with colleagues, and where they can develop a sense of belonging.
It’s not enough for offices to just be the “place you go to work”. With 75% of employees favoring a hybrid work environment that allows them to combine on-site and home office work, the office has to offer something more than it used to.
Some of the world’s coolest companies, like Google, had this figured out even before the pandemic, featuring innovative workspaces that include game rooms and basketball courts. Apple’s donut-shaped offices, also known as Apple Park, are another example. The circular building engulfs its 12,000 employees in nature, integrating drought-resistant trees and plants indigenous to the local area.
2. We are the tech generation – let’s embrace it
We use technology in every aspect of our lives. We have Rumbas to vacuum for us, Netflix to amuse us, smartphones to keep us connected, Thermomixes to feed us, apps to remind us to call our grandmothers… You name it. Knowledge workers believe that the office should be just as high-tech, if not more so, than our homes.
With many companies shifting to hybrid work, technology needs to play a more important role than it ever has before. Hybrid meeting rooms, for example, are the most demanded collaborative space typology out there. They need to be kitted out with the latest video-conferencing technology so that anyone, no matter where they’re working from, can be included. In fact, 80% of companies are either already using or are planning to use room systems to facilitate simultaneous hybrid and in-person collaboration. Tools like mmhmm.com are cropping up to make hybrid meetings more seamless and interactive.
It may seem obvious, but top-of-the-line WiFi (both at home and in the office) needs to be supplied to enable high performance. And you’ll be surprised to learn that a recent Stanford survey revealed that while 42% of Americans are working from home, just 65% have WiFi fast enough to power video calls! Not only that, but employees require things like double screens, docking stations, and headsets to be able to be at their most productive.
The bottom line is pretty simple – employees want to be able to transition from their home office to their on-site office seamlessly. They need to be able to arrive, plug in, and get started.
3. Go sustainable or go home
It’s not enough anymore to have a few recycle bins situated throughout your floor plan and lights that turn off automatically when you leave a room. Nowadays, sustainability isn’t just a nice-to-have for companies -it’s become an expectation among employees and jobseekers. And that shouldn’t come as a surprise, with 65% of workers claiming that they would rather work for companies with robust sustainability policies. A staggering 83% believe that their employers could be doing more.
There are a number of ways that sustainable practices can be integrated into the workplace, both in terms of the policy you put into place and the very architecture and interior design.
Biophilic office design, for example, directly integrates natural elements into workspaces, allowing office dwellers to live in harmony with nature. Remember the Apple Park we talked about before? That’s the perfect example! And this is something that our own employees expressed a great interest in, with the majority indicating that they would prefer to have an office that included natural outdoor areas as well as plants and greenery throughout their work areas.
What’s more, Apple committed to having its global facilities 100% powered by renewable energies. This is another fantastic way for businesses to make their offices more sustainable. Other companies are also making strides in that area. Walmart and Target, for example, are also among the United States’ leading corporate solar installers.
4. Workspaces to support high performance
A successful team at work is like a pizza. All of the slices need to come together to make the pizza whole, but no two slices are really the same. That holds true of team members – they all have their own working styles and their own ways of being productive, yet they’re all equally as important in your work pizza.
An office space that embraces people for these differences and empowers them to work their own way is really what’s going to make some companies stand out as top employers. This balance between collaborative work and asynchronous work is exactly what the office of the future needs to reflect.
Conference rooms and coworking spaces should be provided for those times when teams need to get together, coordinate, and strategize. Red Bull’s London HQ is the perfect example – the company chucked the “corporate office rulebook” in the bin and opted for a more “lounge” feeling where everyone can work together comfortably. Not to mention that their reception turns into a bar at night, fostering this sense of community and belonging.
On the other hand, smaller, more private office-style rooms should also be available for 1:1 meetings or individual calls. This was something many workers struggled with before the pandemic, with 95% saying that having a space to work privately was important to them and only 41% being able to do so. Slack’s San Francisco offices developed a unique approach to this by introducing tent-like structures for employees to use to isolate themselves when they needed to before reintegrating to collaborate with the rest of the team.
Remember, the office is a tool to enable teams to do their best work, so the one-size-fits-all open plan concept might not necessarily be the right solution for every type of company. Employees will require access to both quiet areas for asynchronous work and open spaces for people to socialize going forward.
5. Giving wellness and comfort the attention they deserve
People spend a lot of time in offices. That’s a simple statement of fact. So, shouldn’t the time they spend there be comfortable, enjoyable, and help nurture an employee’s wellbeing? Surely the answer is fairly obvious!
The office of the future needs to do just that. It has to ensure comfort, wellness, and flexibility in addition to creating a constructive work environment. So, what characteristics does a comfortable office have? Natural light is the #1 perk employees seek in their office spaces! In fact, 73% of the employees claim that after spending hours staring at a screen, what helps them relax the most is a visual break to look outside the window or go for a walk.
Implementing health and wellness programs has a myriad of benefits both for your employees and for your company as a whole. Things like workplace fitness programs, mindfulness sessions, or having a pet-friendly office space are all great contributors to reducing stress and promoting a healthy work environment. In fact, over 70% of employees have been shown to want to participate in wellness programs. What’s more, workplace wellness programs decrease absenteeism by nearly 40% and reduce health expenses by nearly 30%! In a post-pandemic world, placing value on health and wellness won’t just be a staple of fun and cool companies. It needs to become the standard to which all employers and workplaces are held.
6. Putting privacy and safety in the driver’s seat
Offices are places of interaction – people come and go, walk in and out, some wear their corporate lanyards, and some bring clients or partners in for meetings. They’re places where there’s a lot going on, and while that’s exactly what office-goers seek, it also implies certain challenges regarding security, privacy, and access control.
However, this isn’t something to burden employees with. Safety and privacy protocols should be practically imperceptible, yet effective and efficient. Implementing policies as to how employees can enter and exit the building (for example with uniform access passes) is a step in the right direction! Not to mention that if you have shift-based office employees and need to keep your office open 27/7, you’ll need to provide the right security detail to these spaces so everyone feels safe.
With all that exciting hustle and bustle, there are still certain tasks and meetings that require some more privacy. Speaking to a client about a sensitive issue, for example, carrying out peer review sessions with line managers, or simply looking through documents that aren’t for everyone’s eyes are all examples of activities an employee might need to carry out in the office away from others. That’s why ensuring they have access to private spaces while in the office is incredibly important.
Just a bit of food for thought
To get you started thinking about what kind of office space you might want or need going forward, start by asking yourselves these questions:
How often would you like employees to come to the office in person? This will form the basis of your new working policy and, ultimately, your office space. Importantly, make sure you include your employees in this decision and ask what they want.
Will your whole company adhere to the same working policy or will each department be able to shape its own? Companies like Amazon are allowing teams to determine their own WFH/in-office structures to optimize their efficiency!
Will each employee or team have a designated work area or dedicated desks? Or will you implement a hot-desk system? Will you enable team members to reserve their seats or will it be done on a first-come-first-served basis?
Once you’ve thought about how you want to structure your work model, you can get into more practical questions. Will you need to hire a commercial real estate expert to help you find or build your new office space in the heart of New York’s financial district, for example? Will you revamp what you had before the pandemic? Or will you rent a coworking space and rock that startup vibe that’s so popular these days?
So, there you have it! A quick guide to help you get on your way to building a workspace policy that works for everyone. Remember, the way your employees engage and interact with the office is an integral part of who you are as a company. You have a unique opportunity now to take the way you work to the next level and embrace your company culture in new ways. Don’t be afraid to grab it!
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