For those wishing to return to work this year, PDR’s Larry Lander outlines how to foster the new creative office.
A lot of ink has been used, bytes consumed, and panelists empaneled – all to prognosticate on the new creative office. There are those organizations that have returned to a February-like existence as if the last many months never happened; others have embraced WFH (no need to spell out that acronym anymore) and on that score, maybe forever is just fine.
But for those of you located somewhere firmly between those two bookends, what is the right path forward? What best serves your organization? And how can you be resilient enough to survive another business interruption?
The Office, A Place for Creativity
Your organization’s success is predicated on creative and innovative employees who are motivated and inspired to do their very best work. This has been crystalized by the last months—you should see the pandemic as an accelerant of good ideas rather than the cause of them. With that, the best idea is that the workplace needs to be a place that promotes creativity and innovation. Your workplace can’t hinder that, it can’t even be a neutral player. The new workplace actually promotes creativity and drives innovation. The new workplace will allow your colleagues and your organization to thrive and leap forward.
Workplace with Intention
Just as important as the What – how much and what kind – is the Why. What are your intentions for an office? What is your purpose in being there? What really is an office?
A variety of surveys (we have relied on Leesman’s robust global data) show that – perhaps surprisingly for some – satisfaction working from home is strong and getting stronger over time. Indeed, many report greater satisfaction at home than at the office they left behind. As WFH has become normalized, home set ups have gradually improved with better equipment, better furniture, better WiFi, and better places to work. While it is not always great all the time—childcare or eldercare come to top of mind—your employees have proven amazingly resilient and resourceful. It turns out that the workplace you left behind may not have been such a great place for many activities after all! Privacy, a place for heads-down concentration, and flexibility in where and when work gets done do not have a place in many workplaces.
There are, however, disquieting currents indicating not all is perfect: Your colleagues’ ability to get together in person for truly collaborative work, replicating the fairy dust you call your company’s culture, and encouraging informality over coffee or lunch—none of these translate well via yet another Zoom call.
There are three big ideas that will characterize the approach to the post-pandemic workplace. Keeping these in mind can allow your organization to advance and truly thrive.
Promote Innovation and Creativity
Across a wide spectrum of industries, geographies, and demographics, three mindsets consistently characterize truly innovative organizations. While it may take a mindset shift to describe this new office for you, the why around your workplace begins with these three paradigm shifts.
- Organizations will be willing to shed the baggage by consciously breaking old rules and paradigms. Creative organizations regard the workplace as a tool to help them truly be creative. Employees are empowered to work in the most productive ways possible and all the spaces—the architecture, the building systems, the furniture, and the technology—work in harmony to allow wide choice and flexibility in how and where work gets done.
- Organizations will amplify employee’s individual strengths and inherent creativity through the idea of a “one room wonder” where talent gets together without regard for rank or hierarchy. A simple example are organizations that simply do not assign solo workspaces to each individual. Solo spaces are shared on an as-needed basis, but the primary focus for these companies’ workplaces is the amplification of the shared, collaborative experience. They use pay and responsibility to value individuals, not the awarding of wood-paneled, private offices or adherence to an inflexible set of office standards.
- Organizations will embrace “we the people” and allow teams to literally make their own playbook for using the workplace in ways that best support the way they work together. Workplaces can increasingly be spaces where flexible furniture and partitions allow rapid physical changes initiated and even executed by the people who work there. It’s physically easy (and protocols allow!) desks to be moved together for teamwork or for panels to be arranged for greater visual privacy. Teams decide on the level of openness or privacy and the building systems are designed to allow that on-the-spot flexibility.
Focus on the Employee Experience
The innovative organization’s workplace is a compelling place because—regardless of colors, materials, or look and feel, it’s always characterized by three broad features:
- It exhibits Collegiality: Something important is happening here and I want to be a part of it. My work and my effort have meaning and are clearly important to my organization. Maybe your company has a product or service at the top in its league. Whether you authored it, perfected it, promoted it, or not, you’re proud of the company’s accomplishments. You are part of something bigger. Your contribution is recognized and important. A workplace can amplify this.
- It has an Urban Vibe: There is a buzz and a level of activity that is energizing, invigorating, and apparent. For the same reasons people like sidewalk cafes, or working from a coffee shop, or any host of uniquely urban settings, the workplace, too, can be a place of productive and engaging activity and action. If it feels like a place where it’s cool to be, it is an effective workplace.
- It promotes a Walk in the Park: The restorative effects of nature are integrated into the workplace. It is apparent that this organization cares about its employees’ well-being. We need a break from time-to-time. We need to regroup, regenerate, and rest; and an effective workplace supports this. Maybe it’s as simple as a view, or integrating interior planting, or even literally a walk in the park across the street, but it’s this attribute you need to unpack. It’s a feature we often overlook, and it’s one—back to pandemics and human-centered workplaces—that can have a profound influence on the success of an office.
Embrace Robust Flexibility
Who among us believes this will never happen again? Certainly, business interruption has now moved from an academic exercise to a real threat to your organization.
Workspaces are flexible, allow and even encourage rapid and easy physical change, and provide space for focused individual work, effective collaboration, and spaces to promote community and a shared culture.
Some of our most successful collaborations have sprung from workplace solutions that allow physical change to workspaces overnight at no cost to the organization. These solutions require an overall modularity to not just a planning grid, but to all the building systems: the architecture, the ceiling, the floor, lighting, sprinklers, HVAC distribution and data systems. Furniture systems and technology applications are truly a limited kit of parts that allow rapid deployment and reconfiguration—even with an individual’s ability to make easy physical changes themselves. This requires not only an organization’s buy in to address all the workplace systems in a highly modular way, but also the protocols and approvals to embrace and encourage easy changes.
These successful organizations harness innovation energy by creating spaces for both collective work—formal and impromptu meetings, group thinking, workshops, small group sessions, and project team spaces—and for independent work—highly focused efforts, incubation, ideation, and prototyping and maker work.
What We Have Learned
Organizations will likely need less space, but at the heart of it, it is not simply about the amount of space, but more importantly the kinds of spaces and the very intentions around the workplace. Your workplace must truly be a compelling place for employees to be.
To overcome any reticence of employees to make that commute—after all, WFH is a great alternative — or to promote well-being once at the office, and to work at peak performance, the workplace will need to provide an alternative to home (or even third places) that is truly compelling and inspiring.
It’s an exciting time if you study the science and art of the workplace. Indeed, it’s a time to be optimistic about accelerating change and advancing good ideas for the new creative office. We’re not just housing employees anymore—the effective workplace has truly become a tool that is fundamental to an organization’s success and bottom line.