On Friday, December 10, SHP vice president of architecture, Jeffrey Sackenheim, was a featured speaker for the UC Real Estate Center’s December Roundtable Series “Return to the Office: How does the future of work look from varying industry perspectives?”
During his remarks, Jeffrey outlined just how important the power of space is when creating a work environment that enables employees to feel safe, healthy and inspired. Prior to the pandemic, an evolution was already in motion—motivated by attracting and retaining top talent, the importance of corporate culture, the frequency of job and career changes, and an influx of new careers that simply did not exist previously. These forces were exacerbated by the pandemic. Simply put, there is no going back to the way it was—employees have experienced the benefits of flexibility, autonomy and personal accountability. To respond to these forces, employee engagement and workplace strategy should be aligned so that a company’s vision, culture and definition of success (efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability) is tied directly to its real estate needs.
With the discussion fresh in his mind, we asked Jeffrey to provide a few predictions on what workplaces/corporate environments can expect in 2022.
The Need for Virtual and Physical Spaces
Thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most employees have grown accustomed to remote work, one where meetings, as well as social gatherings, occur virtually. While this style of work may be a current necessity, Jeffrey stressed that, “we are social creatures, and we still have a need to interact with one another.” With this in mind, the office of the future must have the ability to accommodate both the virtual and physical—in a way that it’s not currently doing. Immersive physical and digital environments are the wave of the future, we just need the technology to catch up.
Additionally, today’s students are learning with and leveraging these virtual technologies. So much so that they will be inseparable when they graduate and join the workforce. Companies need to anticipate and integrate these technologies into not only the way that they operate their business, but also how they structure their office spaces.
How Design Can Attract and Retain Talent
Office spaces are more than just a place to come and work. Employees have more freedom and choice than ever before when it comes to work opportunities. Thanks to remote work options, employees can widen their search for employment to the national and even global level. With that, the physical office space needs to create ways that inspire and encourage employees to want to come in. The office needs to represent the better choice—to do more—than a person’s house, the neighborhood coffee shop or wherever that person now chooses to work.
Lately, there has been an increased demand for the development of outdoor spaces and rooftops as these allow for safer social interaction due to pandemic restrictions. “Increasingly, companies want their spaces to be more ‘Instagramable,’” said Jeffrey. (Hear more of Jeffrey’s thoughts on Instagrammable spaces in the latest version of our SHPodcast, embedded below.)
Does My Office Need A Bar?
While the need for individual workspaces, conference rooms and other basics haven’t gone away, companies are beginning to find ways of incorporating immersive spaces that are designed for authentic employee experiences. Examples of this would be the addition of spaces for group health classes like yoga, a dedicated company café, and yes, even a bar.
On the surface, additions like these may seem superficial, but companies should not underestimate the downstream benefits of group activities. Time spent at a happy hour not only allows employees the ability to relax, but also sets the stage for a transfer of knowledge. Groups of employees who might not otherwise interact on a daily basis are now able to share stories, anecdotes, and issues they may be having with a project or client. While virtual gatherings help to fulfill a part of this need, physical spaces are where the greatest interactions and bonds will ultimately be created.
Designing for Employee Wellbeing: Mental and Physical Health
Among the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us, one important one is the need for employees to feel healthy in the workplace. Due to a heightened awareness on one’s physical environment, renewed attention is being placed on indoor air quality, efficient mechanical systems and anti-microbial surfaces. They’re also looking for more than just hand sanitizer stations and automatic doors, but rather how their space fosters positive mental and emotional wellbeing.
The office of the future will be designed to accommodate all aspects of the company’s needs. Instead of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, there will be loud spaces for community events as well as quiet spaces for heads-down work. Along those same lines, there will be a need for technology-free zones which will allow for a quiet respite from the constant incursion of our virtual tools.
Upscaling Office Spaces to Upskill Employees
As workspaces begin to upscale their spaces for a post-COVID future, office design can also assist in the ongoing task of reskilling and upskilling employees. Training rooms and flexible spaces that can shift from conference room to classroom will help with the ongoing professional development of current and future employees. By incorporating spaces such as these—and the corresponding professional development programs – into an office design, employees will feel confident that they have a pathway to learn, grow and develop.