By Kael Ladegard
Hidden underneath all the frustration and despair that COVID brought was a gleaming little epiphany – We don’t need to be tied to our offices to be productive at work. While some felt displaced when their office closed in 2020, others were liberated and basked in the increased control they assumed over their day-to-day lives. Then it was over. The offices opened back up, and workers were expected to flock back en masse to business as usual. Except they didn’t… at least not all of them. Workers were reluctant to punch the time clock again having experienced the freedom of working autonomy. To this date, there are many open positions waiting to be filled by workers who want something more.
Enter the hybrid work style, where employees are given the flexibility to work part-time from home and part-time from the office. It represents the best of both worlds… a compromise between control and freedom and the presumed way forward for many employers. The hybrid style was needed to entice young talent back to the workplace, but it also poses some interesting advantages for the employer as well. Commercial real estate is a significant expense, and if 100% of the company’s workers are not expected to be on-site 100% of the time, then there can be some adjustments in that area to make the company more profitable. So the question on the lips of every commercial real estate broker, architect, and office planner quickly became How much will the demand for office space shrink?
At first, polls showed a significant reduction in demand was imminent, but as the situation evolved those same polls began to reflect a much smaller change in desired square footage. At the same time, standards for worker density were reduced as employees did not feel comfortable being confined in close quarters with other colleagues. Another side effect was that the previous trend toward open-office environments was reversed, with workers demanding more space division between them and their counterparts. Desks were spreading out and screens were going up… was the cubicle going to make a comeback?
If the square footage of the average office is maintained or only slightly reduced, and worker density inside that space is drastically reduced, then what does the office of the future look like? The answer stems from what a company is seeking to accomplish with the space. What is their expected return on this investment? A primary goal for most employers remains the ability to attract and retain top talent. So as companies concede to the hybrid work style to improve work-life balance, they must find other ways to differentiate from competitors.
Why does a good worker choose to work at Company A over Company B? Company culture is a big factor, and this extends to the physical environment designed to promote teamwork and collaboration. A sense of “Belonging” ranks just behind “Personal Safety” in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Humans are social animals and let’s face it, the home office is lacking in one thing above all else… social engagement.
Since the worker’s home office remains a constant in the hybrid-work-style equation, it’s the company’s office environment that must be the game-changer. An attractive, modern, and innovative space is needed to move the needle. This environment cannot be a cubicle farm (which we universally agree is soul-crushing), but instead should be a place that facilitates community gathering, collaboration, and social interactions. Belonging. This social element is the one thing that workers cannot get from their jobs at home, and so it becomes a primary focal point for the corporate recruiter.
Does the office of the future include a ping-pong table or coffee lounge? Perhaps. But one thing that is certain is the environment must be tactile, engaging, and above all else oriented for social interaction.
A Social Office. It will be a place you want to visit.