You’ll struggle to find someone who doesn’t have an opinion on returning to the office.
A subject that was once so cut and dry now sends ripples of controversy through workplaces worldwide. And whatever your personal preference, one thing seems clear.
Uninspiring environments and rigid rules offer little incentive to return now we’re in the ‘work from anywhere’ age. Unfortunately, the pre-covid office got many things wrong, and anyone rebuilding their workplace strategy to fit this brave new world would be wise to learn from those mistakes.
It’s time to reimagine the office and begin placing people at the heart of your design.
Let’s talk about desks (baby)
“One person per desk” has ruled the working lives of professionals since the industrial revolution. Yet, even as ‘work from anywhere and remote technology became more accessible, static desks still held their position as a cultural norm. You get to work, spend 8 or 9 hours at your desk, then go home and do it again the next day.
Then the pandemic happened, and we saw a shift. People were told to work from home. Companies that previously held back on fully transforming their digital systems to be accessed anywhere struggled immensely, and many even failed. It took an entire pandemic for people everywhere to realize that the office-based setup they’d come to expect wasn’t necessary. Got a flat surface and an internet connection? You’re good to work from anywhere.
This, alongside frustrations about lengthy commutes, travel costs, workplace distractions, and environmental concerns – dampened the motivations of many workers to return to the office. Even if employers disagreed, these changing attitudes have made a strong case for needing better reasons for wanting staff back in than “because your desk is here.”
Although remote working opportunities are great, good reasons to return to the office (hopefully in a hybrid fashion) include greater collaboration, brainstorming, and socializing opportunities. Even if you’re working in an office, being shackled to a single workspace doesn’t precisely accommodate this type of cross-collaborative working. An office fit for the future of work must aspire to do better.
Agile systems for flexible working
Offices used to be seen as a means to an end – a cost-center that only required investment when another bank of desks was needed to support a growing headcount. But work has fundamentally changed, and so have your employees. Today, companies are looking to create an environment that boosts productivity, collaboration, and wellbeing.
The office space is a reflection of your brand, and that makes it critical to effectively attract and retain talent. For design decisions to reflect the changing needs of talent, it’s important to consider how the space will be used. This will vary across teams, departments, and individuals. Admin or accounting teams might have a requirement for a quiet workspace and require less collaboration than marketing or product teams. The spaces you create should reflect these different needs, while also supporting wellbeing and a sense of community.
Increasingly, people appreciate having the freedom to choose what works for them. If you’re the employer taking deliberate steps to give your people a say, you’re more likely to win their engagement and loyalty well into the future.
Offices should offer more than a place to work
When people can do their jobs from home, they need other drivers for returning to the office. The most obvious benefit for many is the chance to return to a shared space to socialize with peers, and not through a screen.
Since the pandemic began, many surveys found that social contact is the thing that people have missed most about the office. Lack of social contact has seen teams struggle to bond and make cross-business collaboration feel stilted. Nothing quite compares to in-person socializing.
Recognizing the value of social networks, team cohesion and relationships will have a net positive effect on your employee turnover and retention. Community is created when people are connected by shared values, not just a company name. This drives collaboration and builds meaningful relationships – providing strong reasons for employees to stick around.
Don’t call it a comeback
Most people have found ways to continue working throughout the pandemic, just not in the way that things were previously normalized.
The phrase ‘return to work’ may have been thrown around in the media, but it has the potential to ignite a powder keg of resentment among employees. Especially as many studies have shown longer hours, higher workloads, and greater levels of productivity during the pandemic.
Now is the time to reframe what is meant by office work. To move away from outdated ideas of how many hours are clocked behind a desk, and replace them with an output-based system in which micro-management vanishes and achievable goals are agreed upon with employees. That way, businesses can effectively navigate this huge cultural shift with empathy around every person’s unique experience of the past few years.
Whatever changes are being made, leaders should communicate with clarity and employees should be given a say. New ways of working are far more likely to be adopted when the example is set by leadership. For example, if your business decides to ask for a set number of in-office days within a hybrid system, your leadership team must be present and visible on those days. Your staff will respond better to any new working system if they can see that everyone’s in it together.
To health, happiness, and beyond
Well-being has never been more of a priority for people following a large-scale public health crisis. That means employees now strive for a greater work-life balance, better salaries, and more time to spend with family.
But there are other factors impacting wellbeing. It’s been widely reported that working from home has negatively impacted our collective mental health, with many people citing feelings of loneliness.
This is where your office can flourish. Being in the same place with colleagues or customers allows us to build friendships, camaraderie, and trust. Face-to-face interaction builds a stronger sense of community and togetherness than regular MS Teams calls ever could. If there’s one thing to take from the pandemic, it’s this.
Your office space can forge togetherness in a way that can’t be replicated in another environment. If you’re designing an office for the future, you have only one job: to give your people a good reason to be there.
Need a hand?
Our workplace strategy experts, change management consultants, and commercial real estate brokers can help you reimagine and create your office space to fit the ever-changing needs of the talented people who’ll use it.
We’ve helped hundreds of local companies elevate their businesses through design, innovation, and strategy.
For a free, informal chat – give us a call.