Nearly 18 months after we left the office, businesses should not simply try to pick up where they left off and hope people return to the workplace environment as it was before.
Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “There are no precedents to follow in the aftermath of a global pandemic. Giant Leap has devised a list of 7 ‘must do’ actions that corporations, large and small, should consider when attracting new employees and welcoming back old staff, in light of unfamiliar working reality.”
Have a clear idea of who needs to be present in the office
Do you really need an in-office presence to order supplies or make cold calls? Smart business have learned that productivity is not a function of location; many job functions are location independent. “Identifying groups that can re-enter the workplace in phased stages is critical, based on the impact of location on the job function,” says Trim.
Begin to make the workplace ‘work ready’
In keeping with the primary goal of promoting a seamless transition back into the workplace, what needs must you address? Dedicated spaces for phone conversations? Expanded access to Wi-Fi? White Boards and erasable markers? A primed, well-prepared workplace evokes the feeling of homecoming as an alternative to yet another upheaval in the normal routine of life.
Creatively repurpose under-utilised space
The key to repurposing space is to ensure that it still benefits your company in its new incarnation. “For example, the addition of a coffee bar, ping-pong, day car or fitness room may seem like the perfect choice for repurposing empty space. It’s easy, inexpensive employee-centred fix,” says Trim.
Consider a workplace in the absence of assigned offices and/or dedicated seating
“The traditional office model of mazes of assigned workspaces has run its course and will be discarded in favour of a looser, more utilitarian work environment,” Trim notes.
“For anyone over the age of 40, this will likely be the most disruptive change they will encounter, while for those younger than 30, this will be welcomed as an engaging, community oriented working environment.” Strategies designed to allay anxieties, and promote acceptance, will require corporate investment and in-house promotion to accelerate acceptance and usage and promote well-being.
Create on-demand workplace services
In the absence of a full time onsite workforce, you no longer need a fully stocked canteen to feed employees that have opted for remote work settings. The same principle applies to workstations, conference rooms and lounging areas and parking garages. “The focus should be on adjusting workplace solutions for employees from an ‘on-site’ suite of services to ‘on-demand’ services,” Trim adds.
Make employee wellbeing a top priority
Employee wellbeing is a vital element for companies that want to attract and maintain top talent. A new generation of millennials entering the workforce seek companies that offer the right environment and values. “These workers need a workplace environment that is energising, engaging, and connected to the broader corporate community. Wellbeing is a theme that cuts across multiple aspects (safety, health, morale) of the workplace.
“Wellbeing is of paramount interest to executives today. The benefits of any post-pandemic workplace strategy must equally apply to all employees, regardless of income, education, or location,” Trim concludes.
Hot-desking, the idea that a desk in an office is used by many people whenever they find it free, has mushroomed in use over the past decade despite growing evidence that it’s unpopular with workers – and possibly bad for them too.
Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “The idea behind hot-desking is simple: you could save a lot of money by reducing the amount of expensive office space needed by sharing the large proportion of unused desks while people are away, in meetings or working elsewhere.
“Under-used office space in England and Wales for example costs businesses R200bn a year.”
She notes that while the cost savings ambitions are admirable the second tier effects of hot-desking haven’t been fully considered by some companies which have not adapted their offices to accommodate a style of working unfamiliar to many.
“We’ve noticed that workers often have to spend time finding somewhere to sit and can spend as much as 18 minutes a day on average looking for a spot. Clearly this is unproductive, and particularly impacts those who have arrived later to work. It can mean once someone has finally found a desk they are already quite stressed before the workday has even begun.”
While hot-desking suits some people, it can adversely affect the many staff who have to be in the office each day and need to know they’ve got everything they need where they need it.
Not knowing where the people you need to collaborate with are sitting can impair productivity too. “Often a query can be solved much quicker by simply going over to a coworker’s desk, rather than relying on email ping-pong. But that can’t happen if you’re wandering the floor trying to find them,” says Galloway-Gaul.
“In many workplaces now, poor acoustics and lack of visual privacy are a major concern but fixable,” she notes.
Hot-desking isn’t complete disaster because employers could be doing a lot more to make it work better for everyone – by looking into acoustic treatments for noisy open-plan offices and ensuring there’s a decent balance of collaborative and private work areas.
“Rows of open-plan space with hundreds of desks is not appealing to anyone,” she says.
“Companies need to be rethink how people move, create and collaborate and translate that into a thoughtfully designed place.”
Galloway-Gaul recommended companies use use light-scale, light-weight, easily movable furniture which allows teams to feel empowered to take over the space and easily create a space that best suits their needs.
Another suggestion is to combine furniture and technology in a way that encourages equal contribution by all members of a team.
“Companies also need enable privacy and control over the environment to provide a ‘safe haven’ spaces where new ideas can incubate,” she concluded.
To attract the best and the brightest, many companies are creating an “anti-office” — a Silicon Valley inspired, more relaxed environment that looks more like a trendy coffee shop or the foyer of a boutique hotel.
But many of these inspiring workspaces are sitting puzzlingly empty, despite contrasting strongly with the more formal, conventional offices favoured in the past.
Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Despite significant investments to create inspiring workplaces that will attract talent, especially Millennials, many of these more casual and fun workspaces sit empty, while others are in constant use.
“The question is why do people choose one space over another? And is there a right formula for creating these spaces? Given the time and investment it takes, it’s really important for businesses to get it right the first time.”
Galloway-Gaul notes that most of the time, the primary driver for creating shared spaces is simply aesthetics with not enough thought given to the varied ways in which people actually work.
“People need more than a beautiful sofa and a coffee table. They come to the office to work. Organisations therefore need to turn their focus toward reducing what’s unnecessary and getting back to facilitating a focus on work,” she says.
Many shared spaces are designed primarily for social interactions and provide limited options for performance work.
“Unable to find the right space for doing heads down work, it’s not unusual, for example, to find people doing focus work in large spaces designed for collaboration or trying to collaborate in areas designed for respite,” Galloway-Gaul notes.
“It’s fine and even appealing to make the workspace look like a designer home, but businesses need to use every square meter of office space in a meaningful way, so these spaces can also be productive and help people perform.”
The key is to provide people with a mix of diverse spaces that support different work modes and styles. The lack of these may be why employees of large corporations are only moderately satisfied with the shared spaces their organisations provide them.
A study by Steelcase confirmed that employees prefer to work in a range of spaces, rather than a single setting.
In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers increasing spend on well-intentioned wellness programmes such as onsite gyms and standing desks.
But Linda Trim, director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap, said while employees do like the extra facilities, “they want the basics first” – which is something companies tend to forget.
“Employees want better air quality, access to natural light, and the ability to personalise their workspace more than anything else. It makes sense: these factors are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and wellbeing.
“We are increasingly asked to consult to CEOs of South African businesses on how to improve poor workspaces which prevent people and companies from progressing. For them it’s become a pressing need to have people-first workspaces.”
A high-quality workplace can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year. This can have a major impact on the bottom line. Employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay, and 30% more attracted to their company over competitors.
Here are three steps you can take to improve your work environments and the wellbeing of your employees:
- Stop spending on barely used office perks. “A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want — but instead, find ways to ask them,” Trim advised. They might then put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym), and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact all employees like air quality and access to light. Interestingly, we find that many employees want a view of the outdoors.
- Personalise when possible. We’ve all gotten used to personalising our outside-of-work lives. We watch the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear. “Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace,” Trim noted. “Specifically, employees want to personalise workplace temperature, overhead and desk lighting and noise levels.”
Research by global acoustics company St Gobain, which Giant Leap partnered with for a recent installation, showed that good acoustics could mean a 15% reduction in cognitive stress for office workers working in an open plan office. American technology company Cisco manages the acoustic levels in their space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighbourhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely, or those who choose to work alone.
Others companies like US biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals allow employees to control natural light streaming in through their office windows with a cell phone app. “The same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core,” Trim said.
- Create a holistic view of workplace wellness. Workplace wellness includes physical wellness, emotional wellness, and environmental wellness.All three need consideration:
- Emotional wellness – give employees access to natural light , and quiet rooms where they can comfortably focus on their work.
- Physical wellness – provide people with healthy food options, and ergonomically designed work stations.
- Environmental wellness – make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature, and proper acoustics.
For many employees the physical work environment ranks among one of the top factors that influence their decisions to join a company. And with a global war for talent intensifying, the workplace can be a strategic asset that distinguishes an organisation as an exceptional employer.
Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, says: “As workplaces look to attract the best and brightest, companies are turning to design to help differentiate their work environment, focusing on an increased understanding of what employees really need to make them happy and engaged at work.”
Designing a magnetic workplace
How can workplace designers create a magnetic workplace that attracts employees?
Says Trim: “The most important principle is that the office space should make people feel really good.” Landscapes, nature views or the introduction of plants in the office strongly impact productivity because there is a powerful bond between humans and the natural world referred to as Biophilia. Studies have shown that being surrounded by nature improves both physical and mental health.
Feel good spaces should also be tactile and have ample daylight. Living walls, or biowalls, combined with natural materials bring a sense of the outside into the work environment.
Office appeal and productivity can also be improved by offering a variety of interior settings that allow employees to choose where they want to work that day based on the mode of work required.
“For example, in the morning, workers could gather in a cafe style area for coffee and informal interaction. In the afternoon, they can move to a gathering place designed for teamwork or to a privacy ‘hive’ for focused work,” says Trim.
Magnetic workplaces support the unique roles, work styles, and personalities of each individual, and provide a range of space types, furnishings, and multi-functional common areas that draw people in and keep them wanting to come back to the office.
The coming challenge for design
Telecommuting offers employees an alternative to working in a traditional office. This trend, combined with the number of hours people now spend online, means individuals are interacting in vastly different ways than they once were.
Remote work is likely to become ever more the norm. The designing challenge therefore is to create a space that attracts employees back to the office.
“A magnetic workplace will be defined as one that is so appealing that employees who might otherwise work remotely from home or in a coffee shop, choose to come and spend their day at work,” says Trim.
There are already examples of this in co-working spaces which blur the lines between office and social venue.
“Knowing that our future workplaces present a greater emphasis on virtual communication, workplace designers will be challenged to create physical spaces that encourage face-to-face interaction and speak to our innate need for human connection. Many view the workplace as a second home, so employees will be drawn to magnetic workplaces offering comfortable environments where they can work, socialise, and simply be themselves,” Trim concludes.
The notion of teamwork is not new, and for most of the twentieth century teams functioned like an assembly line, focusing on areas of expertise and the division of tasks.
“But this siloed work style ended up slowing things down, causing errors and overlooked opportunities,” says Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, an Africa-wide office space and furniture consultancy.
“To combat this problem, that paradigm gave way in many organisations to open plan offices. According to global office architects and furniture designers Steelcase, 69 percent of all offices now have an open floor plan. But work in these settings is mostly an independent pursuit, interspersed with team meetings and water cooler conversations.
Says Galloway-Gaul: “Without question, the need to reboot the corporate workplace is overdue because while the processes and activities of teams today has dramatically changed, some businesses spaces have not kept up.”
Today work gets done through networks and lateral relationships. Employees who once operated in different universes must come together in interdependent, fluid teams. The spaces that best support this kind of work are designed specifically for teams, while embracing the needs of all the constituent individuals.
“Forget the adage that ‘there is no ‘I’ in team,” says Galloway-Gaul. “Teams are made up of individuals. We need to design for multidisciplinary teamwork in a way that also gives the individual what they need to do their best work.”
There is therefore a growing demand for user control over spaces – people want to be able to adapt spaces at the pace of the project, and to give team members agency in defining how the ‘me’ and the ‘we’ need to work together at a given time.“
But right now, although many organisations have become nimble, there are still businesses in which employees need to file requests with facilities and end up waiting weeks for the changes they’ve asked for. Galloway-Gaul noted. “Project work moves through different phases and each phase has its own set of activities. It’s important that the space can evolve with the project.”
So what do teams need from their work environments?
Teams need a sense of shared purpose, cohesion and identity to be able to successfully work together and build on each others’ ideas. Galloway-Gaul says companies should consider three things to help their teams excel.
1) Build a home for teams – the role of team space is bigger than just supporting the work itself. It’s also about the human dimension. The team space should reflect and encourage the type of practices and working style of the team where they can foster a sense of identity, cohesion and trust.
2) Flex space to process – teams need a dynamic space that keeps up with their process and keeps them in flow. The space should let teams in rapid cycles reorganise in a natural, spontaneous way.
3) Empower teams – teams need control over their environments to cope rapidly with individual preferences and project needs. Empower teams and individuals to make quick adjustments to their space on demand to keep projects moving.
During the last decade, the workplace has undergone dramatic change: but it pales in comparison to how new organisational structures will impact the work environment as we move towards 2020.
Isla Galloway-Gaul, MD of Inspiration Office, says: “Our ways of working have changed as many societies become wealthier, as consumers demand new types of products and services and as we constantly seek to increase productivity.”
She notes that there are four megatrends, which will have a profound impact on how we work:
The rise of mobile knowledge workers
A knowledge worker uses research skills to define a problem, identify possible solutions, communicate this information and then works on one or several of these possible solutions. “The rise of knowledge workers sets new requirements for office design. Knowledge work is flexible, and knowledge workers are far more likely than other types of workers to work from home and be more mobile.
“The design of the work environment must be adapted to specific work needs as well as suit personal preferences, “ Galloway-Gaul notes.
Burst of new technology
For more than 30 years, IT and mobile advancements have had a profound influence on how we work and it’s likely this exponential advance will continue.
A few emerging technologies are already so advanced that it is possible to gauge their future influence. For example the Internet of Things, a connected network of physical devices, can connect and exchange data, resulting in efficiency improvements, economic benefits, and reduced human efforts. Real time speech recognition and translation will support easier communications between different language speakers and big data will allow companies to recognise patterns and make better decisions.
From Generation X to Generation Y
Generation X describes people born from the early 60s to the early 80s, many of whom hold now senior and work-influential positions in society today. Generation Y, often referred to as millennials, represent the generation that followed Generation X.
Says Galloway-Gaul: “Looking ahead to understand how our ways of working will change, it is necessary to understand what Generation Y need from their workplace, what their characteristics are like and how differently they see the world.” For example millennials tend to be more family-centric which means they are willing to trade higher pay for a better work-life balance. They are also the most tech-savvy generation which makes remote work possible, even desirable. They are achievement orientated and seek frequent new challenges.
Globalisation and the pressure to perform
Globalisation affects how we work in at least two ways. “Firstly, there is a now a larger, global talent pool available which means talent is more geographically dispersed and culturally diverse.
“As we head towards 2020, people will increasingly work with co-workers they have never met before,” Galloway-Gaul says.
Secondly, globalisation increases the pressure to perform. Previously companies could produce goods and have a secure home market with limited competition. “Now many products are sold at similar or more cost effective prices with the same or better service, and innovation is copied by competitors within weeks. This puts the question of whether work or services should be outsourced to other countries on the strategic agenda of any corporation,” Galloway-Gaul concludes.
Increasingly offices are beginning to look a lot more like our homes. But what is behind this popular global trend?
Linda Trim, Director at workplace design specialists Giant Leap said: “The term ‘resi-mercial,’ has been coined to describe this blending of residential and commercial furnishings and feel in the workplace. We are seeing greater numbers of requests for our installations to look more casual and more like home.”
Trim noted that it is all about about creating a space that people want to be in. When you think that we spend about a third of our lives working, no one wants to feel like they’re in an office.
“It’s not so much managing work, home and play but the blending of it.”She added that with more people using laptops instead of desktop computers, people are no longer tethered to a desk. “People pick up their laptops and will perhaps sit or lounge on a couch, much like they they do at home.”
More comfortable work space also appeals to younger employees Trim noted. “This is a really important consideration for companies in competition to attract and retain skilled workers.”
A mix of desks and couches is practical too – it makes it easier to do different types of work, from collaborative brainstorming sessions to heads down work.But it’s not just all about adding colourful sofas around the the office. Beyond the traditional desk, there are different sized couches, bar-tall tables let people sit or stand, and even work spaces that resemble a kitchen table or diner are popular.
“The right mix of furnishings can create an environment that increases employee engagement and satisfaction, which are considered key drivers to a company’s success. A space plays a role in the cognitive, physical and emotional well-being of workers. In that world, you have to think more about informal spaces,” says Trim.
Trim adds that home-like offices reduced the sense of hierarchy in offices. “Previously the ‘boss’ would have his own office in the corner while workers sat in rows somewhere else. A more casual environment does away with this old fashioned rigidity and can therefore reduce the tension in the workplace.”
By David Nield for Popular Science
With a changing economy, more flexible job roles, and the continued spread of broadband internet, more and more of us are working from home. According to the most recent statistics, more than 5% of the U.S. workforce spends at least part of their office hours at home.
While this habit lets us avoid the stress of commuting and spend all day in sweatpants, the consequences aren’t all positive. With so many distractions at home, and no manager looming nearby, productivity can take a hit. To avoid this, we rounded up some apps and tools to help you stay on task. Include some of these in your home office setup to raise your productivity and motivation levels.
Play background noise
If you work best with a constant murmur in the background, you’ll find plenty of white-noise apps to provide that hum.
Pick the noises you want to hear, and the relative volumes you’d like them to play at. Preset soundscapes are designed to help with relaxation or productivity, helping to optimise your brainwaves to improve your cognitive function, helping you focus, relax, or drift off to sleep.
Track your time
Where does all the time go? With no boss around to check when you start work or take a break (or three), your routine can quickly stagnate. That’s why you need an app to help you keep track of how you’re spending your time.
Cut out distractions
At home, you’re surrounded by temptations like your snack-filled kitchen, potential Netflix binges, and, of course, the ever-present siren song of your smartphone. You need help tuning out these distractions in order to stay on track.
Include some break time
All work and no play is a recipe for burnout: If you don’t take the odd breather, your productivity will experience diminishing returns. You should take five minutes of rest for every 25 minutes of work, and you can also adjust these parameters to split your time differently.
You should use those break minutes to refresh your brain. If you’d prefer distraction to meditation, why not rest your eyes while listening to a podcast?
Even when you’re not in the office, you need to stay in touch with your colleagues. So apps that connect you with other members of your team are an essential part of working from home.
Improve your workspace
Besides the apps we’ve mentioned, you can also modify your physical home-office setup. A more comfortable working situation will make you more productive—and less vulnerable to distractions.
For your comfort and your health, you should make sure your chair and desk help you sit without straining your body. For example, keep your screen at eye level to avoid damaging your neck and back.
Consider building a custom computer desk designed to help you sit ergonomically.
In addition to your computer, you probably have a few other gadgets on that desk. You’ll want to keep them all charged to make sure a dead battery doesn’t make you miss a call from the boss.
Finally, illuminating your workspace is essential for both staying focused and reducing strain on your eyes. You can pick any lamp that fits your tastes and needs.
What time do you power down your laptop at night? Look at the plug next to your bed. How many devices are plugged in there? Your answers to these questions have probably revealed you’re at the office more than you’re actually in it, tucking into some bite-sized admin with breakfast at the corner café or catching a quick IM meeting from the back seat of an Uber. Your staff are no doubt doing the same. So, how do you restore work-life balance to encourage happy, healthy and motivated employees when everyone’s overflowing inbox is tagging along home with them? Make them feel at home with a lifestyle-focused work environment.
At the moment, a fundamental shift away from hierarchically designed offices, toward more inclusive, collaborative spaces, is taking place. One major reason for this is the growing platoon of Millennials in the modern workforce. These super-social and adept multi-taskers like open plan coffee-shop style environments, tech bedecked meeting hubs, acoustic pods, and even working from treadmills or barber shop chairs is not an unusual request these days. As a result, more and more companies are starting to mimic the trendy offices of the Googles and Facebooks of the world. But what if that doesn’t align with your brand… and your older staff just can’t comprehend the idea of morning meetings in an indoor treehouse?
Embracing lifestyle-focused work spaces doesn’t mean your office needs to look like a children’s playground. It’s simply about making the office more flexible to your employee and business needs. That means the first step to an ideal workspace is to understand your company requirements, culture and staff. Traders are bound to their workstations, attorneys require privacy, creatives like space to throw ideas around in, and so all the lifestyle-focused workspaces for these kinds of employees will need to be different to efficiently support the way in which they operate. However, there are a few minor changes that we’ve noticed can help to streamline any and every office, improving efficiency while giving it a homey air.
Comfortable soft seating hubs, intimate task lighting, quiet areas, private spaces, warm colour palettes, and the smell of brewing coffee are just a few minor tweaks that make most staff feel at home in the office. But another major stand-out benefit and consideration of lifestyle-focused work spaces is scalability. Lifestyle focused spaces allow for expansion without the costs of a new workstation for each new staff member. Instead, employees may move around an environment, without desk ownership, working from a pod or quiet room, canteen or bar-height collaboration table.
A lifestyle focused workspace that looks and feels more welcoming and comfortable will put your staff at ease, make their work-lives more meaningful and encourage them to invest more passion and drive into a company that is investing in their in-office experience and overall work-life balance. After all, home is where the heart is. Start your journey to a more lifestyle-focused workspace today and get more heart from your staff, as well as a responsive and agile office that changes and grows around you, instead of the other way around.
By Robyn Gray, Associate Director for Tétris South Africa