Never in modern history has the business community, and specifically commercial real estate, experienced such profound and dramatic change. The marketplace faced a long, arduous year with unexpected demands on resources and personnel. Beyond transitional, it’s been a transformative, educational and eye-opening experience.
We witnessed a fundamental change in the role of the office. As we transitioned to virtual workspaces, perspective on remote working and physical space changed. Business leaders have been awed and inspired by a single question: “What is the future of work?”
Now that we’ve untethered from our cubicles, there will be no turning back. Remote work is here to stay, and Upwork’s “Future of Workforce Report” reveals that 36.2 million Americans will be fully remote by 2025 — 16.8 million more than pre-pandemic rates.
Through this disruption, organizations are questioning business norms and expressing concerns about the shift to more agile workspaces. Key questions business owners are asking include: the best office size and configuration and the long-term, post-pandemic implications on real estate decisions today?
The pandemic drove an overnight transition to remote work and sudden implementation of often underutilized tools. We now have an experienced, digitally-savvy workforce with the tools to make remote work successful. So what’s next for office and how do organizations apply learning lessons? Enter the New Generation Space.
Components of New Generation Space
The New Generation Space is a purpose-built environment that drives employee engagement — an inspiring place where people want to work and be. This hybrid workplace can also be viewed as a “Hive;” the place people return to for human connection that supports activities employees can’t do from home. And although it’s not one-size-fits-all, there’s an emphasis on the following:
Presence and vision are the heart of an organization. Associates need to see and be seen to fully connect with the culture and vision.
Work environments are a manifestation of a company’s values, purpose and brand promise. In-person engagement helps create social capital that binds organizational culture.
Though many will embrace remote work, others will prefer the office environment. Resident employees will likely be in-office often and require assigned workspaces. Companies should incorporate flexibility to expand and contract as needs adjust.
Collaboration & Innovation
Although virtual meetings are successful, they miss nuances of body language and visual cues that impact brainstorming. The “Hive” will incorporate innovation labs and project rooms for teamwork and tactile learning.
Similar to activity-based work models, associates can choose work settings based on tasks. A hybrid workforce requires freedom to choose between tech-enabled focus areas, quiet zones and collaboration spaces.
Attaining the New Generation Space
Companies are experiencing degrees of readiness and acceptance of the Hive. Organizations have extensive investments in existing real estate, deeply ingrained leadership styles and cultural history, often supported by industry norms. To address these issues, Hendy developed a methodology to guide businesses through uncertainty and help find the best workplace solution. Following are steps to achieve your New Generation Space.
Confirm Your Purpose
The process begins with listening and understanding leadership as it confirms — or redefines — the organization’s vision, mission, values and culture and how those may be impacted by a dynamic workforce or new processes. This self-examination will create uncertainties and provoke questions. Addressing concerns is imperative for a united leadership and guiding companies to their solution. During this process, we also identify leadership’s threshold for change.
Secondly, assessing employee work-from-home (WFH) experience is crucial to understanding what’s working and what can be improved regarding technology, performance, distractions, engagement, isolation and organizational connection. Through employee experience surveys, businesses can capture feedback regarding preferred WFH schedules, in-office activities, desired on-site resources and amenities. Surveys, coupled with leadership’s goals, are key in identifying issues, priorities and expectations addressed in the next step, “Future of Work Sessions.”
The sessions include a cross-section of company participants for a broad perspective on beliefs, needs and expectations. These insights set the stage for creating opportunities and exploring the shift from “where we are” to “where we want to be.” Sessions utilize tailored exercises based on a modified design thinking methodology. One develops “How might we?” questions to frame the challenge. Examples are: how we might we design a workplace that’s intuitive for all occupants and how we might design a workplace that improves remote worker engagement.
Not only do these sessions align all stake-holders on the vision and purpose of the environment, they establish seeds of change, become the basis for developing new processes and protocols and determine change management required for transformation.
Develop a Strategy
This step applies session results to real-world applications. Using these ideas and solutions, we test the impact “What if” scenarios would have on future office needs. An example is, “What if everyone shows up the same day?”
As space becomes shared and alternative work settings are utilized, space plans are no longer measured by number of workstations and private offices. A capacity analysis determines the seats needed to meet current and future demand.
Finally, developing a comprehensive work-place strategy includes aligning IT and HR to support an untethered workforce and the new tools required. Appropriate technology infrastructure must be implemented to support a seamless user experience. These may include integrated employee dashboards, booking systems or sensor technology that manage relationships between people and spaces. Policy and protocols are also established as changes in space require new behaviors and training to maximize use.
Create an Experience
The heart of the New Generation Space is connecting individuals and embracing the human side of an organization. Integrated platforms will provide insights that track trends and schedules and improve communication and user experience. When designed effectively, it will build relationships and foster collaboration and innovation.
Heidi Hendy is managing principal of H. Hendy Associates, a Southern California-based architecture and planning firm. Anna Grayhek is a workplace strategist and certified change practitioner at Hendy.