Workplace With A Purpose: A New Generation Space

Designed for resiliency and to support an agile blended workforce, Heidi Hendy shares how the office of tomorrow will not look like the office of today.

As we come to the end of the most expensive economic crisis in modern history, business leaders are finally seeing the glimmer of light at the end of the shutdown tunnel. Battered by decreased revenues and not wanting to make costly decisions, they now must answer a critical question:  how and when should we bring our organizations into the new business normal?

MBK Real Estate in Irvine, CA –  ©Bilyana Dimitrova Photography

As leadership leans forward to press the giant restart button, many are reevaluating organizational structures, processes, digitalization strategies and work programs. Awed by the rapid cadence of the new remote workforce, leaders are challenged to sustain lessons learned from this massive work-from-home experiment and maintain the enhanced productivity, reduced operational cost and content workforce.

Organizations have successfully broken loose from the shackles of legacy linear work processes and are not reverting back to the old cadence and metrics. We are entering one of the most innovative periods in 20 years as leaders rethink and reposition conventional business knowledge and norms. Now, it’s time to look forward to the new era of business and workplace environments.

One Digital in Irvine, CA – © RMA Photography Inc.

The Great Leap to Remote Work

It has been said that sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help to realize your true potential.

For years, companies have had the ability and technology necessary to effectively deploy a remote workforce, but were met with resistance from management and leadership. Stay-at-home orders have proven the nay sayer wrong as overnight companies took the great leap over the wall of organizational resistance, and many companies now are experiencing spikes in employee productivity, satisfaction and effective team communication due to remote working. The pandemic shutdown has crushed the most conventional business wisdom: that physical workplace was critical for effective management, higher levels of productivity, cultural enhancement and attracting top talent.

Remote Work Becomes a Business Strategy

Global Workplace Analytics reported that for every part-time telecommuter, businesses would save an average of $11,000 per year and telecommuters would save $2-$7K year.

Leaders also realize benefits such as further geographic reach, scalability, recruiting and reduced real estate and operational fees. In fact, Global Workplace Analytics reported that for every part-time telecommuter, businesses would save an average of $11,000 per year and telecommuters would save $2-$7K annually.The success of this experience has not only shifted preconceived notions about remote work, but has mobilized 75 percent of U.S. workers to opt in. A recent survey by Future of Work revealed that 78 percent of workers list teleworking as the most effective non-monetary way to increase retention. Key reasons: improved work-life balance, focus and flexibility and no commute.

If employees who could work remotely did so half the time, that translates to more than $700 billion in national savings.

SAP and Hana Haus in Newport Beach, CA – © RMA Photography Inc.

What does this mean for the future of office? For many organizations, the way work is being done has fundamentally transformed forever.  While there are a wealth of benefits to remote working, we are social beings who need human interaction. A reimagined workplace can help solve for key challenges that arise from isolation, such as lack of team interaction, disconnection to organizational culture and limited access to leadership. The new workplace will incorporate all of the important lessons learned from this year’s eye-opening experience.

The Office Isn’t Dead. It Has A New Purpose

The new generation workspace is purpose-driven and designed to support today’s blended workforce of onsite and remote employees. It’s a physical manifestation of an organization’s brand and culture. A place for executive teams to assemble. An environment aimed to support activities that can’t be done remotely. Like a “hive,” the new workplace will serve as a place where people collaborate, socialize, feel safe and want to be.

All hives serve a common purpose: to be a space that supports this new way of working; one that is seamless and intuitive; one that supports the need for in-person collaboration and helps build team connections. Creating the right hive environment will require more than a space filled with desirable amenities and a creative look. It will be a new type of workspace model designed for resiliency, committed to health and wellness, and in support of a blended workforce. Key components of the “hive” may include:

  • Flexible, Agile: As employees continue to flex in and out, there will be 30-50 percent less people in the office than before. This means fewer dedicated areas are needed and the newfound space can be used for other purposes. However, these zones should be flexible and convertible without construction. Think movable walls, roll-up garage doors and mobile furniture. Office buildings also will no longer serve a single purpose but have multiple uses – similar to how schools become centers for community events.
  • De-Densified: The concept of five feet benching is officially dead and six feet social distancing is the new norm. Looking ahead, 10-15 percent de-densification also will be required in the office to meet new health and safety guidelines. And with a reduced permanent on-site headcount, and a tailored approach to work environments, there is no benchmark for square-foot-per-person as each solution will be unique to the organization. 
  • Healthy & Well: The new generation workspace will prioritize and optimize employee well-being, helping organizations meet new protocols and protect their most important asset, their people. Features and strategies incorporated will include increased natural light, access to outdoor spaces, improved biophilic design and augmented ventilation and airflow, to name a few. With sustained wellness programs proven to earn businesses a 6:1 return on investment, companies also should consider leveraging existing healthy building rating systems including International WELL Building Institute™ and Fitwel.
  • Technology & Innovation: The new generation workspace will experience a surge in technology adoption and integration to help create immersive in-office experiences, improve remote collaboration and ease concerns about shared spaces. Technologies include high-quality sound and video, VR and gaming, booking and cleaning systems, voice and motion sensor equipment and Integrated Workplace Management Systems and analytics that predict when a space was last used and sanitized.
  • Reimagined Office Spaces: The office “hive” will introduce new and reimagined spaces designed to fit the needs of the blended mobile/in-office workforce. Key spaces will be tailored to include private, bookable rooms for focused work; cognitive, creative spaces where teams can drop in and pin up; hubs for leadership, training and onboarding and areas dedicated to cultural events, entertainment and hospitality. Everything you can’t do effectively at home or offsite becomes an employee experience.
Green Street in Newport Beach, CA – ©Bilyana Dimitrova Photography

Attaining the New Generation Workspace

The first step in reimagining your workplace design is to evaluate your unique workplace needs – both culturally and operationally. With support from a professional interior architect and workplace strategy partner, the following are steps to achieve the new generation workspace:

  • Employee Surveys: Poll employees to understand key factors including whether they’re willing and able to return to the office, their preferred schedule of onsite vs. remote working and other workspace-specific needs. A technology assessment also will help employers identify any new software or other upgrades employees need to be productive both in the office and at home.
  • Organizational Analysis: An assessment of the organization including input from executive management also will help unearth new business, leadership and blended workforce needs. This includes evolved roles and responsibilities, who and what the organization has become and where it’s going.
  • Visioning for the Future: Once this data is collected, a team of workplace strategists can help define shared beliefs, needs and opportunities that will inform how the workspace will need to evolve. This data also can unveil pain points, new criteria for the office environment, employees’ perceptions on space ownership and ultimately provide the intel to begin conceptualizing a new layout and vision for the future.

Additional support to achieve the new generation workspace may include workplace health and wellness assessments complete with recommendations and a cost analysis for certification, defining workplace protocols and change management to ensure that new processes are easy to follow and seamlessly adopted.

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