The last year flipped the work experience paradigm for all of us. Collectively working from home for several months to over a year, we gained invaluable insights into the way we work and how we can adapt workplaces to serve us better in the future. Our Work from Anywhere International Summit gave the floor to experts in corporate real estate, designers, architects, work environment managers, health and well-being program managers, workspace researchers, as well as designers of office furniture products and collaborative remote solutions. Together, we explored the many facets of new office models, questioned the future of the office, and shared best practices. Following are six key insights shared by industry experts during this two-day event.
1. There is No Going Back
The digital age enabled organizations to work virtually—and the coronavirus pandemic forced us to embrace it—possibly pushing us years forward in the progress of implementing remote work. For months, approximately 85% of global employees were working at home. Now, organizations around the world are reactivating their office spaces while evaluating what’s next.
Out with the old and in with the new, there is no going back to the way things were. What does this mean for the future office? Allison English represents Leesman, conducting research to understand what the future of work looks like, measuring workplace effectiveness and employee experience, and determining how to create better corporate workplaces and other places to work. According to English, who shared findings from a global hybrid work study that included participants from over 90 countries, “It is now more important than ever to define the workplace ‘why.’”
In the panel discussion “Strategies for a Better Future,” Antonio Brunner, Global Head of Digital Workplace at Deutsche Bank; Valda Tsang, Executive Advisor – Procurement, Corporate Real Estate & Facility Management at Rio Tinto; and Per Hansen, Global Head of Workplace Strategy at Credit Suisse assessed the pros and cons of remote work, how the office will be only one piece of the work from anywhere ecosystem, and the importance of employees choosing to return.
Patricia Urquiola shared, “Being a creative, it was a discovery and a journey to understand how to use this time in a better way—use these circumstances in the best way possible.” Currently, learning to shape new routines and habits, while understanding their impact on design, Patricia believes the new normal is going to be about how we adapt to new circumstances.
2. Work from Home is Here to Stay
Remote work satisfaction varies by our situation. And while we have all learned to appreciate the upsides of working from home (no commute, comfort of personal space, etc.), findings show that not all home working experiences are equal. Differences can be driven by:
Age Demographics – Affect salary, seniority, and your intrapersonal network based on the length of your career
Location – Urban and suburban areas vary in cost of living and real estate
Living Situation – Can require accommodations for living alone vs. with others vs. with small children
Corporate and National Culture – Affect the level of job flexibility afforded to you and the perception of “visibility” in your culture
Job Functions and Roles – Dictate the extent of support needed for individual focus work and/or highly collaborative teamwork
3. Flexible is the New Black
Research shows us how understanding and implementing activity-based working will support our requirements for the future. It also shows that there will be a broader ecosystem for working in the future, which includes three primary workplaces.
Office: The epicenter for team collaboration, creativity, and culture, with easy access to physical materials and resources
Home: A convenient place to support individual focus work, reading, scheduled calls, and virtual meetings
Third Places: Provide flexible options for temporary focus work or touchdown activities in different settings away from distractions that may be in the office or home
There is no prescriptive rhythm to using these spaces. Every organization will need to find the right balance of all three for its employees.
The essential workplace quality required to thrive in the years ahead will be flexibility: the ability to adapt quickly and persevere in the face of unexpected circumstances. New “close-to-home” preferences were brought on by the pandemic. The optimal work environments should be a blend of office-based and flexible working.
4. Going to the Office, Not to Work
The new normal demands a deep understanding of the current and future sentiment of the workforce and how we as designers, business leaders, property developers, or manufacturers need to quickly adapt to create environments where people want to work, socialize, and be a part of again. They will demand more from their office than ever before.
It is evident that the pandemic has brought workplace design into its next paradigm shift and that the role of the office workplace is becoming more significant and purposeful than ever. The past year has shown businesses and workers what can be done well remotely, and which activities are better performed in the office. Companies will need to make room for serendipity—to provide space and time for the unexpected, chance interactions, and moments designed to foster creativity.
5. Organizations Need a Paradigm Shift
While many people are excited to come back to the office, most will prefer some level of “flex” working in the future. Furthermore, research shows us that offices designed with a high level of inclusivity, flexibility, and hospitality will encourage people to return more than three days a week, as opposed to sub-optimal offices without these considerations—where the majority of people would prefer not to come in more than two days a week.
Outstanding offices will attract talent and contribute to a positive employee experience. So how do you build a compelling environment that employees want to come back to? Some things done better in the office include knowledge sharing, informal collaboration, ad-hoc meetings, and feeling connected. As people’s perspective have changed, having a great experience is key.
In addition to the listed requirements for future-oriented offices, cognitive work environments are also expected to find broad application. Such environments are those that support Affordances, which promote people’s performance, well-being, and health in equal measure. Imagine the possibilities of creating workplaces that continuously adapt to the individual user, their personal needs, and their activities.
With the pandemic rapidly accelerating work environment evolution and employee expectations, an intelligent workplace—in the not-so-distant future—will be able to recognize that you need to focus and therefore, mute your smartphone and adjust the temperature and lighting conditions to your personal biorhythm. This could be supplemented by design that takes environmental psychology into account, as well. In other words, in a cognitive environment, each workstation would recognize its user and adjust itself optimally for that person. Who wouldn’t want control over their space, performance, and well-being without even having to think about it?
6. Well-Being is Not a Luxury Anymore
Working remotely has also provided the unfortunate benefit of understanding the consequences of removing nearly all in-person social interaction between employees. Companies should take the time to assess the impact on morale, culture, productivity, and quality of work. For those who live alone, the impact of isolation can be detrimental to their mental health.
Stress has a major impact, especially on your high performers. High performers that have frequent stress symptoms are at risk for burnout, so it’s very important to put strategies in place to build resilience. Placing greater emphasis on people over the place is a growing trend, and the health and well-being of building occupants through certification and standards, such as WELL, will be top of mind.
Biophilia benefits well-being, air quality, and can save on heating costs. People are also increasingly concerned about where a product is made, who makes it, and what it is made from. Sustainable behavior will extend beyond personal and home life to the workplace.