As we think about the future of work, we know we’re not going back to the old ways of doing things. We have an opportunity to explore new possibilities, bringing the best of how we worked during the pandemic to work better post-pandemic. We can imagine a new workplace ecosystem that puts the focus on what’s best for individuals and teams based on how they do their best work. Policies, technology and the physical workplace are tools to create a dynamic experience for employees.
Gensler conducted 11 global surveys (gensler.com/workplace-surveys) over the course of the pandemic to understand how employee preferences and company expectations were evolving. The workplace is the melting pot for people to come together and to connect, build relationships and establish cultural norms. The role of the office has become increasingly apparent in our research since the pandemic began.
Beyond the practicalities, there are other motivations based on people’s desire for authentic experiences beyond virtual exchanges. Offices must offer twice the experience they did before the pandemic. The new office must be an experience multiplier, a destination rather than an obligation for workers who crave authentic engagement and interaction.
With all these strategies, the key is providing workers with choices. After a lengthy period of isolation from our peers while working at home, we understand that the workplace needs to provide functional spaces to support work activities and also social experiences that people crave. The workplace must be re-envisioned as a collection of flexible, adaptable spaces where people are empowered to choose the space best suited to the job at hand and the size of their team.
And yet, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. As people increasingly come back to the workplace, we will experiment, pilot and test how spaces can support new ways of working and what places work best for people — both in and out of the office. As Janet Pogue McLaurin, Gensler’s global director of workplace research, put it, “Real estate’s value will be directly tied to how we experience these spaces — and how well it meets our needs and expectations. The potential to provide great experiences for people will drive value.”
As we work through these changes, here are six design strategies we can implement now to foster experience in the workplace:
Create team-based neighborhoods. Workplaces should move away from the idea of a one-size-fits-all seating strategy. Teams can be assigned to “neighborhoods” with an assortment of work settings. Some spaces might support individual focus and privacy, while others are better suited to small-group collaboration and brainstorming.
Leverage in-between spaces for flexibility and culture building. In offices that are big enough to contain several neighborhoods, it’s important to pay attention to the transition points where the neighborhoods intersect. These are ideal places to fulfill a host of needs: storage, impromptu team meetings, enclosed meeting rooms, phone booths and other team resources. Beyond their functional importance, these spaces should reflect the personality of the surrounding neighborhoods, allowing teams to stamp them with their own identity.
Provide relief from computer screens. Long hours in front of computer screens can be stressful and tiring for mind and body. In response to this, we’re starting to see tech-free spaces in offices, designed with ambient light and sound to support creative, calm or active ways for workers to reset their state of mind.
Embrace the outdoors. People feel valued when their surroundings demonstrate concern for their health and well-being. We are seeing a significant increase in our clients who want to add outdoor space to their workplaces. Both in new buildings and renovations, there’s a rising interest in offices that have direct connections to exterior balconies or patios that are furnished much like outdoor living rooms.
Enrich the experience with new technologies. As more companies work the kinks out of their hybrid work strategies, there’s an increasing need for cutting-edge technology that brings teams together and levels the playing field for remote workers who might fear missing out. This includes video conferencing tools to promote equitable hybrid interactions, sensors to detect and respond to individual preferences for temperature and lighting, health and safety monitoring systems and more.
Have some fun. For knowledge workers, socializing is an important part of productive work. It’s not only a time to build personal connections among co-workers, but it’s also a great opportunity for idea generation. Chance encounters are critical to innovation because that’s when ideas collide in unplanned ways.
Rory Carder, NCIDQ, is workplace studio director with Gensler’s Phoenix office. Carder leads design, strategy and operations in her leadership role, with more than 24 years of experience in the commercial interiors industry. Arizona Commercial Real Estate Magazine recognized Carder as one of the Most Influential Women in Commercial Real Estate and she is regularly invited to speak on industry panels about the future of the workplace.