David Schwarz of HUSH predicts workplaces of the future will rely less on function and more on experience, enticing employees back to the office with destination-worthy workplaces. Stay tuned for more 2021 trend predictions all month long!
Though the pandemic has not yet run its course, organizations are beginning to create and evaluate their return-to-work strategies. And even amidst the continued struggle, these plans are breathing new life into the future of the workplace. COVID-19 has upended many of our ideas about ourselves and the world around us, so it’s no surprise that it’s challenged all of our preconceived notions about the purpose – and design – of the workplace.
The idea of a “workplace” itself has even evolved. Though many companies were increasingly offering some sort of remote or blended work-from-home option before the pandemic began, COVID assured us that, in our technologically-enriched day and age, a workplace can be wherever you can bring your laptop.
The problem with this rationale, however, is that the commercial real estate allocated to places of work still exist and will be filled eventually, so we have to tackle what these new spaces will mean for employees. With increased flexibility on their side, employees will grapple with the daily existential question: “Where will I be most productive and happy today?” And if they have the choice to work from home, or even an equally comfortable third-party location like a coworking space or their favorite coffee shop, what could possibly incentivize them to come back to the (original) office?
Enter the era of the destination-worthy workplace.
This may seem like a strong term, but only a complete, radical overhaul of the entire concept of the workplace can save it from becoming obsolete. Our vision of the workplace as a purely functional space used to perform the traditional definition of ‘work’ must evolve. Rather than centering that vision around the core workplace programs of the past – seating, conferencing, and amenities spaces – we have to rethink the workplace as hub for experience, or more: an entire ecosystem of vision-defining experiences that work in tandem to support and recruit top talent and uplift the company’s mission. This elevates the workplace from a space to a community center, a destination where team members can’t help but want to gather, collaborate, investigate and innovate within a space designed to inspire.
How each organization accomplishes this should look different, with experience design gestures that are in line with the company’s culture and tone. Leading the transformation, the most dynamic organizations are already making massive shifts to their workplace design and program as a catalyst to help incentivize and excite employees to return to the office – as it’s their emotional touchstone, the beating heart of company culture.
With these shifts, there are the necessary improvements to increase health, safety, and security, like touchless tech, controlled circulation, and increased space per employee. However, the potential to use design, artistry, interaction and inspiring technology to make the workplace a destination that employees want to return to may be an even greater force than the safety protocols alone. The workplace of the future has the potential to stage unique multi-sensory experiences that prioritize culture and collaboration above the outdated model of the workplace.
In some ways, this shift is not entirely new. Pre-pandemic, many leading global organizations realized that the best avenue for recruiting and retaining top talent lies in using the workplace as the most substantive representation of their corporate culture and vision. The pandemic has simply been an accelerator for more companies to align with this vision – but now it’s not discretionary. Without these workplace design shifts, most employees may opt to work from home most of the time – losing that vital connection to the root of the organization, the vibrant community, at the epicenter of team innovation and interpersonal relationships.
As we move into the new year, we’ll see organizations design new measures of beauty and collaborative workplace experience to help employees rally around their shared mission. In 2021 and beyond, the most important trend will be taking the functional “work” program out of the workplace and replacing it with new experience design spaces that are meaningful, beautiful – and worth the trip.