Heidi Hendy and Anna Grayhek explore what’s next for the office and how organizations can apply what we have learned from this past year. Enter the New Generation Space.
Never before in modern history has the business community, and more specifically commercial real estate, experienced such profound and dramatic change. The marketplace faced a long and arduous year with unexpected demands on resources and personnel. It was more than transitional; it has been transformative, educational and an eye-opening experience for us all.
What Have We Learned?
Over the past year, we witnessed a fundamental change in the role of office. As we quickly transitioned to virtual and digital workspaces, we saw leadership change their perspective on remote working and physical space. Business leaders have also shared concerns over workplace purpose and rightsizing their future office requirements, yet they have been awed and inspired by the complexity of the single question: “What is the future of work?”
Now that we have untethered from our in-office cubicles, desks and paperwork there will be no turning back to the old ways of working. Remote work is here to stay, and recent data implies that it will only continue to accelerate. According to Upwork’s “Future of the Workforce Pulse Report,” one in four Americans (26.7 percent of the workforce) will be working remotely in 2021 and 36.2 million Americans will be fully remote by 2025—16.8 million more people compared to pre-pandemic rates.
Through this disruption, organizations are boldly questioning conventional business norms and expressing concerns about the shift from dedicated, individual spaces to more agile, shared workspaces. Key questions business owners are asking include:
- What is the best office size and configuration?
- What are the long-term, post pandemic implications on real estate decisions made today?
- How do we establish organizational culture and maintain employee engagement in a blended/hybrid workspace?
- What technologies will be needed immediately to successfully transition and support the physical office of the future?
Digital Business Transformation Becomes Catalyst for Remote Work
The pandemic and its overriding demand for safety and wellness, drove an overnight transition to remote work and the sudden implementation of tools that existed but were often underutilized. We now have a broad, experienced and digital savvy workforce with the right tools to make remote work successful. So, what’s next for the office and how do organizations apply what we have learned from this past year? Enter the New Generation Space.
Components of The New Generation Space
The New Generation Space is a purpose-built environment that drives employee engagement: a memorable and inspiring place where people want to work and be. This hybrid workplace can also be viewed as a “Hive;” the place people return to for human connection that supports the activities an individual does not want to do, or cannot do, from home. And although it is not one-size-fits-all (with solutions tailored to each company’s unique needs) there is a general emphasis on the following elements:
- Leadership: Presence and vision are the heart of an organization. Associates, both new and seasoned, will need to see and be seen to fully connect with the company’s culture and vision.
- Cultural Experience: The work environment is a physical manifestation of a company’s values, organizational purpose and brand promise. In-person employee engagement also helps create the social capital that binds organizational culture.
- In-Office Employees: Though many employees will embrace remote work, others will still prefer the in-office environment. Resident employees will likely be in the office most of the time and may require individual, assigned workspaces. Companies should consider building in flexibility to expand and contract as on-site headcount needs adjust.
- Collaboration and Innovation: Although platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have made virtual meetings more successful than most would have anticipated, virtual collaboration misses out on the nuances of body language and other visual cues in communication that impact the brainstorming process. The “Hive” will incorporate innovation labs, project rooms and other areas for team-based work and tactile learning.
- Agile Workspace: Similar to an activity-based work model, agile workspace allows associates to choose a preferred setting based on the task being performed. A hybrid workforce requires the freedom to choose between focus areas, quiet zones, and collaboration spaces that are tech-enabled to promote productivity and cross-pollination of ideas.
Three Steps to Attaining the New Generation Space
Companies are currently experiencing varying degrees of readiness and acceptance of the hybrid workplace model and the concept of the “Hive.” Organizations have extensive investments in existing real estate, deeply ingrained leadership styles and cultural history, often supported by well-established industry norms. To address these issues, a new methodology has been developed to guide businesses through the uncertainty and help them find the best solution for their needs. Following are three key steps to help your organization achieve your New Generation Space.
1. Confirm Your Purpose
The process begins with listening and understanding leadership as it confirms – or redefines – the organization’s vision, mission, values and culture, and how those may be impacted by a dynamic workforce or new business processes. This self-examination will undoubtedly create uncertainties and provoke many questions. Addressing these concerns is imperative for a united leadership direction and guiding the company to the right workplace solution. During this process, we also identify leadership’s threshold for change regarding remote work, digital processes and financial commitment.
Secondly, assessing the employee work-from-home (WFH) experience is crucial to understanding what is working and what can be improved in terms of: technology, performance, distractions, engagement, social isolation, and organizational connection. Through employee experience surveys, businesses with support of an interior architecture partner can capture feedback regarding preferred future WFH schedules, in-office activities, desired on-site resources, and amenities. This helps organizations understand the individual personas within their company and provide insight to the new workplace purpose. These surveys coupled with leadership’s goals are key in identifying the issues, priorities and expectations that will be addressed in the next step, “Future of Work Sessions.”
Future of Work Sessions include participants from a cross-section of the organization representing various departments, cohorts, and responsibilities for a broad perspective on beliefs, needs, and expectations. These set the stage for creating opportunities and exploring the process of moving from “where we are” today to “where we want to be” tomorrow. Future of Work Sessions utilize several tailored exercises based on a modified design thinking methodology – a human-centered approach to problem solving. One such exercise develops “How might we?” questions to frame the challenge from a different perspective. Examples include:
- How might we design a workplace that is intuitive/easy for all occupants to use?
- How might we design a workplace that improves remote worker engagement?
Not only does Future of Work Sessions align all stakeholders on the vision and purpose of the new workplace environment, but it establishes the “seeds of change” and becomes the basis for developing new workplace processes and protocols, and then determining what change management is required for a successful transformation.
2. Develop a Strategy
The next step applies the results of the Future of Work Sessions to real-world applications. Using these ideas and solutions we can test what impact various “What if” scenarios might have on the future office needs. Some examples might be: “What impact does remote scheduling have on the total real estate requirement?”, “What if we implement a desk-sharing system?” or “What if everyone shows up on the same day?”
As individual space becomes shared space and alternative work settings are utilized, space plans are no longer measured simply by the number of workstations and private offices. A capacity analysis can determine how many “seats” will be needed to meet current and future demand as associates adapt to this new way of working.
Finally, developing a comprehensive workplace strategy must include aligning IT and HR. This strategy should address how to best support an untethered workforce and what new tools and platforms should be provided. The appropriate technology infrastructure must be implemented to support a seamless user experience. These may include integrated employee dashboards, booking systems, or sensor technology that manage the relationship between people and spaces. HR’s involvement regarding policy and protocols are also established during this step, as changes in space may require new behaviors and training to maximize use of The New Generation Space.
3. Create an Experience
The heart of the New Generation Space is connecting individuals as part of an extended community and embracing the human side of an organization. With well-planned migration patterns and deliberate touchpoints, the environment becomes a memorable experience that drives engagement. As the physical manifestation of a company’s brand promise, it embodies an organization’s culture and values. It will be purpose-built and tech-enabled, integrating positive sensory experience for all.
This workplace model will be easy to use and intuitive with seamless, plug-and-play technology. Integrated platforms will provide organizational insights, that track trends and schedules, and improve the overall communication and user experience across the hybrid workforce. When designed efficiently and effectively, the New Generation Space will build both personal and professional relationships, drive engagement, and foster collaboration and innovation.