Lynda Gratton of MIT states, "The essentials of productive work begin with energy." You may want your employees to return to the office, but do they want to return? If employees are reluctant to return to the office, their energy has already decreased and affected their work. While many factors contribute to whether or not employees want to return, let's focus specifically on your office space's physical design and characteristics. What does your office space offer that an employee's home does not? It may offer: spaces for focused work, spaces for collaboration, resources for innovation, or opportunities for structure and routine. What characteristics or elements of your office design incentivize employees to work from the office versus their home? Whether you ask employees to work from the office 1 or 5 days a week, this question of what your office space offers applies.
Working from home, many employees experienced a level of choice not typically accessible in an office environment. The choice to work inside or outside. The choice to work next to a lamp or under an overhead light. The choice to take a call on a treadmill for exercise or step into a bathroom for quiet and solitude. While the brush stroke choice of "work from home" was made for most people, how they worked was left primarily up to the individual. Now that employees have experienced this level of choice, it is unattractive to return to an office with limited choices.
Companies can introduce choice to their office spaces by creating and labeling soundproofed focus areas and collaboration/innovation areas. These options enable employees to come to the office for the quiet space to focus or the social space to collaborate and connect with clients or coworkers. Companies may want to consider modular setups in their offices that can shift from focus areas to collaboration areas in a single day.
Creating a hybrid workstation is an excellent incentive for employees to gather at your office. Providing great technology for in-person employees to connect with remote clients or coworkers is a hybrid experience irreplicable at home. By integrating 360 camera meeting technology into your conference rooms, remote and in-person employees can meet seamlessly.
Lawrence F. Lander, Principal Designer at PDR Corporation writes, "It's all about the experience. Work is where we want to be not where we have to be." Lander's goes onto to describe the three universal characteristics of workplaces employees want to be in. First, a workplace that reminds employees that they are a part of something bigger, a collective mission of the company. Second, an energetic buzz from employees gathering together. This may mean strategically reorganizing employees' desks or workspaces if fewer employees are in the building at one time and are now spread throughout the space. Third, a connection to the outdoors. This can be windows, plants, patios, or photos of landscapes to create a connection to nature and its therapeutic and energizing effects.
Most importantly, ask your employees what they require from a workplace. You may be surprised by how many employees are looking for structure and focus and how many are looking for collaboration and social connection. Adrienne Rowe, Head of Workplace Strategy at Raytheon, offers the following advice, "No one truly knows what work and the workplace will look like post-pandemic. The smart approach to workplace will be test-learn-adapt. If you can do that, while staying grounded in the objectives of the business and needs of your people, you'll head in the right direction."
Christy Slothower is the Director of Client Experience at Work Wisdom LCC and is incubating Work Wisdom Design. You can reach Christy at email@example.com