The New Office
Office environments are going through a type of ‘re-branding’ to attract people back to the workplace. The aim is to provide a safe office space where staff can enjoy collaboration and feel a sense of community and belonging. These are important human interactions that have been missed during lockdowns and working from home. Workplace design company Evoke Projects looks at the fit-out strategy for this ‘new office’.
What is driving the change?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most office staff switched to home-based work. Businesses and staff adapted very well to working from home and recent PwC research showed that only 10% of Australian respondents wanted to return to a traditional work environment.1 However, people have missed the opportunities for collaboration and belonging so unsurprisingly, 74% of respondents were keen for some face-to-face interaction. A hybrid workplace design strategy which combines office and remote working is the most popular model.
Gensler’s Workplace Survey indicates that office-based work optimises collaboration. The survey reported that people working full-time in the office spend nearly twice as much time collaborating compared to those working at home full-time.2
Office design trends overseas often give us insight into what is likely to happen in Australia as we move to working and living with COVID-19. According to the Harvard Business Review, more than 50% of U.S. companies plan to pilot new spaces as part of their return to the office this year; for example, repurposing a café into a high-energy social and collaboration space that better supports new hybrid work patterns.3,4
Even before the pandemic, companies recognised that they needed to look at new office designs and working models to attract millennials who demand more flexibility and social connection.
The benefits of collaboration
Stanford University research showed that employees working collaboratively are more engaged and more motivated to perform. People who perceived their work as a joint project with others had the following characteristics over a control group of individuals working alone:
- Persisted 48% to 64% longer on a challenging task
- Reported being more interested in the project
- Reported less project fatigue
- Became more “engrossed in the task”
- And had higher performance.5
Other benefits reported were better project management, innovation, teamwork, professional development and an improved company culture which helps companies to attract and retain good people.
The benefits of belonging
Depression and anxiety alone cost the global economy an estimated USD $1 trillion due to lost productivity. Any measures that improve mental health can lead to higher motivation and productivity and reduced absenteeism. A sense of community and belonging undoubtedly improves mental health. This is just as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives.
Office design inspiration for collaboration and belonging
1. Breakout spaces for people to eat and drink together at work. The focus on COVID safety has stifled workplace social gathering but our human desire for connection will need to be satisfied. Reduced density, staggered breaktimes and outdoor hospitality nooks can provide COVID-safe gathering opportunities. Courtyards, rooftops and balconies all provide safer ways to mingle at work. People will feel more comfortable in a lower risk environment, which will help their sense of community.
2. Adapt technology for collaboration. The Harvard Business Review discusses how traditional meetings are likely to evolve with more people connecting to meetings on individual devices as well as the technology in the room.6 The office fit-out will require ample power supplies and whiteboards to facilitate collaboration. Jim Keane and Todd Heiser in HBR describe office designers (for employee engagement) acting “like a movie director – lights, camera, audio, content. Some solutions we’re seeing are angled or mobile tables, additional lighting, extra speakers, in room microphones, and easy-to-move markerboards and displays… Video calls will happen everywhere, so enclosures — screens, panels, pods — will give people places to focus and mitigate disruptions.”
3. Create an agile workplace design. The office fit-out can make or break collaboration. Tasks may need singular or group work. Creative brainstorming will be noisy, while intricate work requires a quiet place. An agile workplace design and fit-out gives people the freedom to work where they want. This morale-boosting way to work is called Activity Based Working. A new office design supporting Activity Based Working would include quiet working zones, private meeting rooms, group meeting pods, open workstation areas and breakout spaces.
4. Home away from home. A welcoming office fit-out, not just at reception but throughout the workplace, will help staff feel at home. Workplaces will no longer just be for ‘work’, but a place to connect and collaborate.
UK online retailer Lounge shared their office design changes:
- Tea areas called “brew bars” to facilitate organic interactions
- A “sunken snug” that looks out onto an amazing view
- Inspiring signage in different parts of the building.
They also have tea at 3 o’clock every Wednesday, yoga, quizzes and they surprise staff with parcels. This is all about keeping people connected and providing a work environment where people feel safe, build memories and where they can be themselves.7
5. Get talked about for all the right reasons. Employees talk about their workplaces with family and friends. Impressing them with the latest technology, a statement piece of art or surprise treats will make them feel proud to talk about their workplace. It becomes part of who they are and who they connect with. The workplace design provides many opportunities to impress. Our skilled office designers can show you examples of statement pieces and branding that create a sense of belonging.
For workplace design and fit-out ideas for the ‘new office’, please call Evoke Projects on 1300 720 692.
5. https://iands.design/articles/44953/designing-collaboration-post-covid citing from Parker, Clifton B. in https://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/september/motivation-walton-carr-091514.html