April 30th, 2021

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While many companies plan to reopen their offices this year, leaders are having to grapple with the potential impact COVID-19 will have on their long-term real estate strategy.

One thing most experts can agree on: Employers must revamp the workplace in order to meet new requirements and expectations.

A long-awaited return to the office

It used to be that you could tell a lot by the inside of a business’s workspace. Their culture, their business, their employees, and even their clients — all of these factors contributed to the productivity, creativity, and efficiency of the office.

In pre-pandemic times, some businesses catered to the latest and greatest meeting room displays, modern visitor management systems, and even internal workplace analytic software. Others prefered to simplify it by being strictly tech-free, though there were fewer businesses that subscribed to this ideology.

As in-office work becomes a possibility again after over a year of working from home, leaders are rethinking how the office will look and function given that many experts predict varying degrees of workplace flexibility moving forward.

Redefining the workplace experience

There's still a role for the corporate office — but research indicates that post-pandemic office design will reflect new, hybrid ways of working.

If an employer wants to entice people back to office buildings, they need to make sure the environment is fully equipped with technology to accomodate a positive physical and digital workplace experience at work.

Well-thought workspace planning and design will become even more tailored to the specific preferences of your employees. The right workspace for your organization will match the exact needs and work style of your employees as well as the goals your organization is hoping to accomplish.

Take, for example, what Apple’s Steve Wozniak detailed in his memoir, iWoz:

“Most inventors and engineers are like me – they’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists."

“In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone where they can control an invention’s design without a lot of other people designing it for marketing or some other committee. I don’t believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee.”

Woz’s comment illustrates the importance of understanding how space will be used and focusing on providing value. You put your people — such as the introverts Wozniak mentions — first.

How workspace design is affecting productivity

Offices sporting well-thought-out designs will bolster and brag that their layout remains far superior to any other. In fact, many of the hottest businesses would vouch for their amenities and modern luxuries, throwing their names into the hat. 

In recent years, meeting room displays, room organizer apps, and conference room management software have taken to the skies in terms of popularity, with businesses like HP, Squarespace, LinkedIn, and others taking this technology to the streets and testing the results.

And for many of these Fortune 500 corporations, their spaces became about showcasing productivity, employee experience in the workplace, and balance for their industry, product, and workforce. 

While something can be said for company-centric individuality and productivity, shared workspaces, despite fancy workplace analytics and visitor management systems, set their own tone of popularity. 

Offices began seeing this giant change some years ago when open floor plans were first introduced. By scrapping the idea of walling employees into cubicles, many agencies believed that this was conducive to team building, transparency, collaborative productivity, and company culture.

While it's unclear if this trend will continue after the pandemic, corporations have started to rely on the statistics behind the idea for incorporating open co-working spaces. In fact, Fast Company referenced a 2010 study conducted by the International Facility Management Association, stating 68% of companies reported having open workspaces, undoubtedly to encourage collaboration, communication, and energy.  

Since 2010, however, many employees and corporations have reported the downfalls of entertaining open floor plans and shared working spaces, according to Pooja Singh at Entrepreneur

Recent research shows that such offices result in 73% less face-to-face interaction and a 67% increase in email interaction. Why? All the distracting noise of an open office causes employees to tune out with their headphones, and they resort to sending their queries to colleagues via email instead of standing in front of them owing to lack of privacy.

Other sources, such as Fast Company, The Perspective, and Slate report everything from decreased productivity to increased employee health risks.

So, how will a modern workspace achieve an effective balance? 

Think about Wozniak’s comment on artists: They need options to concentrate, to focus and “control an invention’s design.” If every employee is an artist and is expected to be productive, then open office spaces warrant effective and accessible quiet spaces to create and contribute individual works of art. 

Characteristics of a successful workplace experience strategy

So, how is a experience in the workplace created? By curating an achievable balance between in-person and digital workplace user experience. While installing cool tech, like iPad receptionists and meeting room displays may modernize your space, finding a balance goes beyond even that.

Fortunately, many of the sources that bashed co-working and open office spaces also provided solutions for balance and have inspired these five “habits” of effective workplace experience and room management designs: 

  1. Fit both the employee and the output. This includes desk needs, office layout designs, number and location of conference rooms, meeting room displays, the location of common areas and inclusion of quiet or huddle spaces.
  2. Consider what space can do to enhance productivity for the office collectively. Accessibility, lighting, sound, comfort — anything can play a role in the team’s productivity.
  3. Organize teams geographically where they can collaborate, but keep physical distancing needs in mind and separate teams with work styles or job functions that clash. 

For example, place your sales team near your customer support team and your product development group near testing and quality control teams. But separate a team of tech writers from the team that spends most of its day on the phone or meeting with clients.

  1. Seek to increase communication, transparency, and creativity. Make in-demand areas readily accessible to everyone and allow for nearby meeting spaces and workspaces. Ensure it’s easy to tell when space is available with conference room management or room organizer apps, too, so small groups can quickly reserve a space to continue brainstorming without disturbing other teams.
  2. Support your long-term goals through practical alternatives. Many corporate offices have opted for co-working spaces for remote employees or those with longer commutes. Other options include telecommuting, hiring freelancers and vying for company-wide flexibility, like unlimited PTO or flexible seating arrangements and work hours. 

Organizations face a number of challenging factors when designing or modifying their office space.

As we’ve seen in the past, cubicles and strictly open office spaces don’t work and there's no one-size-fits-all workplace experience strategy.

So how will the choices you make enhance productivity? Remember, the only way to achieve your business’s goals is to achieve a physical balance between the physical and digital workplace experience.

Fortunately, a new workplace experience strategy that reflects changes in office demand, space availability, and policies.

There's a flexible seating strategy that can help you create a better workplace experience for returning employees. Learn more.

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