Back to the Office: How Can We Make A Successful Return?
25 Mar 2021
Since the start of the pandemic, companies and organizations have been grappling with the pressure of remote working and internal restructuring while simultaneously trying to make decisions about how to reset for the future. Many companies to some degree or another, have to cope with the implications of a workforce that will be partially working from home. In this blog post, we explore what opportunities our clients have available to them to increase the value of their workspace in a post-pandemic world. The key to a successful return to the office space is a focus on people and on what they need and expect. More than ever, we should value the power of design and architecture in making peoples’ experiences positive and memorable.
Why does the office exist?
If we have learned anything from the pandemic – it is that we need to rethink the purpose of space and prepare ourselves for the workplace ecosystem of the future. The office space is a relatively new concept dating from the 1780s. The office for lease in the 19th century up to now was used as a management tool, which led to the idea of productivity. It used to be seen mostly as physical capital – it represented all the things that the office provided that were not available outside of it.
The office was the place where paperwork was being processed and transactions made. However in modern times, the office has become a place that provides well-being. It is now a place where people come together and generate ideas. In the 1980s, the office experienced a boom, with a shift from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy. Since the late 1990s, mobile tools have allowed us to work anywhere – a shift from traditional layouts to activity-based working and community areas – using the office to drive retention, collaboration and innovation.
The office has adapted and has become more social. Influenced by hospitality, workplace design now aims to create employee experiences. This element of change is even more important today with a bigger focus on creating connections among colleagues to reinforce all the aspects that were missing from remote working.
Zoom fatigue & company culture
Since the beginning of the pandemic, hundreds of millions of workers have left the office to work from home. Studies carried out during this time have shown people want to return to the office and miss the element of human interaction. Research done by Cushman & Wakefield shows that even though productivity levels have been maintained over the past months, phenomena such as zoom fatigue and extended work time have emerged.
There are concerns from the people surveyed that this Zoom fatigue will impact productivity in the long run. Already, innovation and creativity appear to happen more easily with physical proximity rather than in remote work settings. Michael Rodriguez, Director or Research, Smart Growth America, talks about the ‘phenomenon of agglomeration’ to characterize a social behaviour which demonstrates that people tend to be more productive when they are face to face.
Another component of the office ecosystem that is impacted by remote work is the company culture. Company culture is the cement of a business and companies can use space design to strengthen and communicate it. With fewer interactions, there is less transmission of the company culture especially to young people, who generally express a desire to learn and engage with older people.
Although people tend to think they can effectively work remotely, they also express having difficulty connecting with culture and colleagues. This past year has also shown an increase in company welfare programs to cater to employees’ mental health and well-being while working away from the office space. The pandemic has underscored the need to reimagine office spaces that prioritize well-being and a sense of belonging.
Build a workplace environment that supports human connection
In light of these results, it is clear that today’s workplace needs to support community and social connection. It is essential that ‘back-to-the office’ plans should revolve around this equation. One of the challenges now for company leaders and space designers alike is to create a built environment that motivates workers to leave their homes and come back to the office. Design today must understand what drives behaviour and account for the human experience and efficiency optimization.
Studies have shown that people express greater job satisfaction and efficiency when they have opportunities to socialize in the office space. If working from home is here to stay, how do we transform the workplace to be more flexible to respond to these changes? As most people will be alternating between work from home and going to the office, the way we manage office density will be impacted: the space per person and the space per work point are likely to shift towards greater collaboration.
Any investment in the office space now should provide value to people who want to come back to the workplace. There will be a need for greater implementation of smart technologies, building data and managing employee interactions to ensure consistent engagement. Let us not forget, one of the ultimate objectives of the workplace is to create a space where people can be their best, creating an engaging employee experience. The reason to bring people back into the office space should be purposeful and meaningful.
Remote working has impacted the workspace in ways that will transform our experience of it, by making it more inclusive and purposeful, where hospitality-like open spaces will encourage and invite diverse interactions. The reimagined workplace will break down conventional boundaries and work settings. Office design and office renovation will play an important role in this transformation by addressing evolving human needs and expectations in a new world.
Uncertain about how to begin? Consulting an experienced and reputable office renovation contractor is imperative in creating a workplace that is inspiring, stimulating and innovative. Let us help you navigate the fast-changing workplace landscape. Contact us today to find out how!