Return to Work Experience: The Reimagining of the Office as a Destination

Caroline Lemoine from Gensler Austin explores the evolving workplace landscape as organizations return to the office.

office as a destination
Reimagining the office as a destination – Wipro Austin – Credit: Gensler

For the first time in recent history, work was intentionally decoupled from the traditional office. As the pandemic enters its third year, the longer impacts – supply chain issues, labor shortages and inflation – are driving competition as the world learns to live with some form of the virus for the foreseeable future.

Design has offered innovative solutions to confront these tough new realities, and the resiliency demonstrated across industries has created a roadmap for how to move forward. Here we are faced with an opportunity to experiment and rethink the physical workplace to offer fluid, unique and meaningful experiences that can attract and retain top talent, whether that’s through new technologies or new types of spaces.

office as a destination
500 W 2nd St. Austin – Credit: Gensler

Real Estate Sets the Stage for the War on Talent

Here in Austin, we’re seeing an unprecedented influx of workers from all over the world, creating a unique opportunity to design for and contribute to a rapidly growing city. As companies, developers and landlords look to optimize their real estate portfolios, the experience they deliver to tenants and employees will be a key differentiator.

As we return to office, we’re finding that certain activities — collaboration, learning, togetherness — are more effective when performed in-office, while others, virtual calls, quiet concentration, are not. Mentorship, social interaction and other intangibles workers can’t find at home provide the added value of the physical workplace. To invite existing team members back and attract new talent, we must reimagine the office as a destination that prioritizes experience and embodies company values and culture. A workplace that provides a collection of flexible and purposeful spaces supplied with optimal technology can then create an equitable experience for all workers, whether they’re participating virtually or in-person.

Spacestor Flagship – Credit: Gensler

Experimentation, Prototypes, and Learning are the New Normal

Today, many of our conversations revolve around how to design an effective hybrid team dynamic. Workplace strategy is never a one-size-fits-all solution and creating the right toolkit for any organization takes time, as well as some trial and error. “Beta mode,” pilot programs for testing workplace models, is now a critical function of real estate planning and strategizing for our clients.

Pre-pandemic, pilot projects were occasionally deployed to temporarily test space configurations without investing in a full-blown office renovation. Now, with the proliferation of pilot programs across industries, companies are empowered to explore new furniture systems, experiment with inclusive collaboration technologies, investigate modular architecture and even sustainable workplace strategies, such as low-carbon building materials.

office as a destination
EF Education First ATX – Credit: Gensler

The Tech Ecosystem Continues to Drive Workplace Design Decisions

In our hybrid work environment, the workplace experience must extend beyond physical space to support employees more holistically by merging the best of “work” and “home”. Working remotely created the need for us to fine-tune and upgrade our work-from-home setups in one way or another. We hunted for camera lights that give Instagram filters a run for their money, sourced the perfect keyboards that click “just so”, and created quiet, private environments that allow us to be effective and productive. The more tech-savvy we continue to become, the more we will expect the workplace to keep pace and accommodate our connected needs.

We hunted for camera lights that give Instagram filters a run for their money, sourced the perfect keyboards that click “just so”, and created quiet, private environments that allow us to be effective and productive.

With the re-acclimation to the workplace taking shape, the physical office needs to provide adaptable and enhanced technology to seamlessly integrate remote and in-person work. Companies can no longer focus on single-point workplace technology, like hot desking or conference room booking systems. Adopting more holistic tech ecosystems to unify employees under a common, connected experience is critical to the success of the hybrid workplace.

office as a destination
Gensler Austin Music Lane – Credit: Eric Laignel

Flexible, Purposeful Spaces and Technology are Fundamental to Future Success

What we have learned over the course of the pandemic is that the physical workplace remains a critical asset. The office is where companies can support the health, happiness, productivity, and overall well-being of employees. By reimagining the office as a destination that embodies company values and culture, employers can attract new hires while welcoming existing team members back into a blended, equitable environment that truly prioritizes the human experience.

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