As our “temporary” work from home routine has stretched from weeks to months and into years, working from home has become the new normal for office workers across the globe. For many, the mythical golden ring of work-life balance has finally come into reach: schedules are more flexible; work environments are more personal; it’s easier to run a few errands or do home chores between zoom calls and commute times no longer exist. For many, life has become less complicated as the flexibility of working from home has measurably increased happiness, health and well-being.
In light of the flexibility and convenience of working from home, what will entice workers to return to a communal work environment, even for a few days a week? More and more employees are asking “What’s in it for me?” as their expectations continue to rise.
One benefit — and a big one to note — is building back a sense of community. Working from home may have increased facetime with family but has done so at the cost of feeling disconnected from one’s work team and organization. We know now that productivity has not decreased with remote working, but that opportunities for collaboration and community-building have plummeted. Further, we no longer have those serendipitous moments in the office where we share ideas or offer mentorship. We rarely have the opportunity to grab a coffee with a co-worker and just share a moment together, discussing casual/non-work-related topics.
Before 2020, designers spoke frequently about how vital serendipitous collaboration is to a company’s culture and well-being. We understand that a strong culture and connected teammates with shared goals are key drivers for employee happiness, innovative thinking and, ultimately, business success. We shared how an increased number of physical amenities in the workplace can help bring people together to drive these moments of collaboration. While many companies listened, these amenities often ended up as a footnote in a list of “nice-to-have” considerations, if budgets permitted.
Since 2020, business models have changed. Companies are recognizing that without a strong company culture and connected employees, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain a creative edge. A global labor shortage and an em-powered base of workers, now more used to calling its own shots during the workday, have complicated the equation and upset the existing power dynamic of the office. It’s clear that workers now have the upper hand on when, where and how they want to work.
Luckily, there is common ground that may serve to satisfy both the needs of the remote worker, who feels content at home but isolated, and the company that is losing its identity and competitive edge. This compromise is taking the form of a new workplace typology: one with a rich amenity package that successfully recreates some of the comforts and conveniences of home while simultaneously integrating a socially interactive and connected office environment.
Developing a company workplace typology, as well as knowing which amenities will be most beneficial, is a very individualized exercise; what works for some may not work for all. Understanding the employee demographic is essential to understanding what workplace amenities will resonate strongest and encourage the greatest amount of employee participation.
Amenities focused on health and well-being resonate strongly with employees and can assist in developing a culture of trust and empathy in the workplace. Creating an environment that promotes physical activity, healthy dining, access to light and fresh air all promote a workstyle that says, “Take a break and take care of yourself.”
One popular benefit of remote working is being able to choose where one wants to work that day or moment. Do I want to work from my home office, the back deck or the coffeehouse down the block? Choice is an essential amenity that can be easily provided in the office. Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, offices should be configured to provide a wide variety of sizes and shapes of work environments wherever possible. These can include discrete areas for solo/heads-down work, lounges of various sizes and configurations for more social and teaming opportunities or an assortment of enclosed and open spaces with a variety of furniture options that employees can reconfigure and modify as they wish.
Lastly, office typologies should offer convenience for workers. This is where understanding employee demographics can begin to suggest the kind of thoughtful, highly tailored amenities that provide both high-reward and engagement. Perhaps laundry drop-off and pick-up, expanding the on-site food options to offer grab-and-go meals to take home to families or offering a limited number of free reservable parking spaces in urban settings for employees who aren’t ready to take trains.
Remote work is an experiment that, for the most part, has been a success. As with all experiments, we continue to learn and adapt to enjoy the best possible outcomes. We’ve learned that meaningful, personal engagement is the booster shot that keeps workers and companies thriving. Creating opportunities for engagement and connection within office environments is perhaps the best way to deliver this boost.