A strategic return-to-office for the world’s workforce will require a change in mindset, approach, behavior, and space. Despite a flurry of ever-changing rules and regulations, employees are ready to get back into the workplace. Business leaders are seeking best practices.

Over the last year, workspaces have been retrofitted with safety in mind. But what comes next? We have some insights on that.

DESIGNING FOR PRODUCTIVITY

Open-plan offices of the past lacked support for employee’s focus. Moving forward, organizations will benefit from creating multimodal spaces that support collaboration and focus work equally.

Post-pandemic workspaces should offer areas for effective team collaboration, heads-down focus work zones, and easy access to tools and resources for employees to stay productive. Privacy pods, workbooths, and modular seating are great product solutions that offer employees a range of work modes.

DESIGNING FOR COMMUNITY

In our remote-working reality, employees are missing their coworkers and the sense of belonging that their workspaces used to provide them. Organizations will need to rethink the purpose of their office from simply a workplace to becoming the infrastructure for building social capital and fostering a sense of purpose and belonging.

As employees return, offices can foster this feeling by offering spaces designed to encourage employee engagement and interaction. Communal areas like cafes, game rooms, and bleacher-style seating meeting spaces provide employees with a gathering place to collaborate with their coworkers and access to a sense of belonging that they were missing while working remotely.

DESIGNING FOR FLEXIBILITY

The pandemic has taught us that companies need to embrace flexibility. The workplaces of the future will utilize multi-use spaces that will support diverse types of activities.

These spaces will use furnishings that easily move to allow settings to expand and contract, supporting distancing needs when necessary and accommodating different-size groups and activities seamlessly. Mixed location teams will collaborate in uninterrupted harmony with integrated technology solutions, like e-meeting rooms, with screens preset for video conferencing.

With a few tweaks like these, offices can morph and change to serve employees’ ever-changing needs and expectations in the post-pandemic work world.

Download our complete guide on “What’s Next In the Workplace” here.

Learn more from Steelcase’s Global Report: Employee expectations have changed. Is your workplace ready?

Empire’s Director of Strategic Partnerships Elizabeth Irizarry co-hosted a special podcast along with special guests Steven Burgos, Senior Associate | Design Director at Gensler Miami, and Randy Carballo, EVP at Blanca Commercial Real Estate, on the topic of The Future of Work, It’s Complicated.

The spirited conversation touched on many interesting topics related to where many of us find ourselves today – navigating the hybrid work environment and what’s to come for the future of offices. 

Top of mind for many companies in planning their return to work is a space that enables flexibility and agility. All speakers agreed that in order for companies to transition their workforce back into the office effectively, there needs to be an apparent reason for them to come back, and the space must provide for a specific purpose. The days of going into an office to “punch a timecard” are gone; now, employees are coming in to get something they can’t get at home. Whether it’s meeting with clients, collaborating with coworkers, or participating in a shared experience, the office can still serve a purpose. However, the true intent of the office coming out of this pandemic will be something to continue to watch. Companies must be prepared to make adjustments as needed to best support their employees’ needs. 

Other changes include transforming the commercial office to function more as our home offices do. Heads-down time and focused work product improved for many during the pandemic with the ability to work from home. For companies looking to retain that spike in focus and productivity, an open office where all employees sit in a large space all together may not be the answer. Adding focus rooms or nooks can balance out the time spent collaborating amongst coworkers with the quiet, focused time we have become accustomed to at home.

Lastly, the speakers see technology continuing to play a huge role as we transition back to the office. The rise of Zoom was not limited to just the WFH era. As more and more companies roll out their hybrid workforce plans, many predict you’ll see even more need for technology that can connect both virtual and in-person conferencing. In addition, spatial intelligence technology will be even more critical to monitor space usage within the office, enabling companies to make better decisions regarding the design of their space based on actual data. 

Overall, there is a greater focus on worker wellness, health and wellbeing after one of the most challenging periods many of us have faced in our lifetimes. Providing employees the freedom to work where they do it best, along with making company-specific decisions on bringing everyone back together, remains a considerable challenge and highlights a paradox in workplace planning that won’t be solved overnight.

As the speakers suggest, there is no “one size fits all” approach, and every company’s needs are very different. The question is not whether we need more or less office space but rather: why are my employees coming into the office? As Steven pointed out, this can be a massive opportunity for companies to impact change within their workforce and create a more productive and innovative environment. 

At Empire Office, we are excited to play a role in planning the future of work with our clients and industry partners such as Gensler and Blanca Real Estate. There is no doubt that we will indeed feel the trends and impacts of this pandemic era for years to come. 

To listen to the full podcast, use the following link and select your preferred platform: https://linktr.ee/Infiniteattraction.

Designing in an ongoing pandemic is challenging. This time has shown us that flexibility is paramount in any space. Get back into the office with these three workspace alterations.

1. Spatial Division Made Beautiful
Support distancing measures and make directional paths simpler to follow with physical barriers; use planters or open shelving to add some aesthetic value. Layer your branding into your space with custom signage that clearly marks directional paths or open work areas.

Explore Our Picks:

2. All-Around Protection
Install division screens or wrap-around workbooths to provide spatial workstation protection for your employees. Made from either acrylic or PET felt, division screens should be at least 24″H and wrap 3-ways around to provide optimal protection for your employees.

Explore Our Picks:

3. A Different View On Ancillary
Ancillary areas can still be an incredible asset for employee collaboration with some minor adjustments made. Make employees comfortable in breakout spaces furnished with pieces designed with distancing protocols in mind.

Explore Our Picks:

COVID-19 SERVICES
Get back to work safely with our COVID-19 services. Retrofit your current space using technology-backed tools and best-in-class product solutions.

Learn More Here.

What lies ahead in the upcoming months is uncertain at best. However, we are confident in the fact that we will all eventually be back to work in our offices–at some point. Once government mandates and restrictions start lifting, companies and employees may need to rethink the way they work in the office.

Over the past several years, workplace design has promoted a more collaborative setting with lower physical barriers to achieve a more dynamic work environment. In preparing for a workplace post-COVID-19, our clients are beginning to discuss how to retrofit these types of open-plan offices to protect employees during this fluid time, even if it’s just a short-term strategy. A complete overhaul may not be necessary, but adding a few additional protective pieces and rethinking the layout of the space along with establishing new protocols may help keep everyone safe and healthy while returning to work.

Here are some things we are already starting to see.

  1. Face-to-Face Protection.
    1. Protective partitions affixed to the front of the work surface and made from non-porous/wipe-able surfaces
  2. Side-to-Side Protection.
    1. Protective division pieces in between individuals that extend beyond the work surface
    2. Additional storage added between stations for further “physical distancing”
    3. Increasing desk sizes to support social distancing
    4. For already dense applications, sit every other desk to maintain a proper distance
  3. Infection Control.
    1. Antimicrobial surfaces/elements added for arm caps on chairs and deskpads on work surfaces
    2. Easily accessible sanitization stations, including hand sanitizers and wipes, gloves and masks
    3. Antimicrobial trash receptacle
  4. Easy to Clean Surfaces.
    1. Swap out the fabric on seat and pedestal cushions for vinyl and/or bleach-cleanable material

In the months ahead, there will certainly be even more expertise around these topics, and some lessons learned once they are put into practice. Below are some insightful thought leadership pieces created by some of our favorite industry partners.

What Happens When We Return to the Workplace

By Gensler

How Leaders are Responding to Covid Workplace Disruption

By Gallup

What happens when the physical office is no longer open for business? For many people across the country, this has become a reality. With concerns over COVID-19 spreading, workplaces large and small are asking employees to work from home.

The media is reporting more and more on what these changes mean for the economy, individuals and families. While the extent of the impacts are unknown, this is sure to be felt in a multitude of areas.

As a leading commercial furniture dealer, we are typically focused on workspaces and the furniture and pieces that come together to make those spaces functional, productive, branded and inspiring. Those adjectives don’t really come to mind though when most of us think about our homes. So now that many of us are facing an abrupt change in work environment, how can we best prepare our homes to become our offices, even if just temporarily?

For many living in smaller homes or apartments, the idea of a home office is just not a reality. Even individuals with more space at home or a dedicated room in the house for an office may not be completely set up to work effectively for a prolonged period of time.

In the weeks ahead as we all get used to our new normal, we’ve solicited a few tips from some of our long-time remote employees to help you start strong. Here’s what they had to say:

  1. Establish a routine. We are creatures of habit, even if we desire to mix things up a bit from time to time. We are most productive when we can anticipate what’s next in our day, and plan accordingly. As one of our sales leaders put it, “During this time of change, it’s important to try to mirror the activities of your normal day-to-day routine. Get up around the same time, get dressed and ready for your day, eat healthy, take coffee breaks, walk around, etc.” While it may not feel exactly the same, we can at least enjoy the extra time back in the day from no commute!
  2. Set up a dedicated space. It’s easy to be distracted at home, especially when you’re at the kitchen table and other family members or roommates are home as well due to work and school closures. The best way to stay productive and focused is to isolate an area of your home to be your workspace, and communicate it to others you live with as well. “To ensure you won’t be tempted to worry about dishes, laundry or other house-hold tasks while on-the-clock, create a visual barrier as well if possible,” added one of our remote design-specifiers.
  3. Stay connected and over-communicate. By nature, social distancing can be very isolating. Workers not used to this can be at a greater risk for the negative effects associated with isolation. “Companies should be hyper-aware of this and create opportunities to connect employees through video conferencing and communicator platforms,” explains one of our managers. If you’re the leader of a team or department, make it a point to connect daily with your team, even if it’s just a quick touch-base. With many schools and workplaces closed, there should also be a reasonable level of understanding that work schedules may need to be flexible. Staying in contact with what’s going on and building a habit of over-communicating will ensure there are no questions on where your employees are and when the work is getting done.

We are hopeful that this time passes sooner rather than later, and we can all get back to business as usual. Our heart-felt thoughts are with everyone and their loved ones that have been or will be impacted during this time.

As participants in creating highly effective and efficient workplaces for decades, our curiosity about what this will mean for those workplaces remains strong. We are committed to documenting this change in our history and invite you to stay connected with us for more insights throughout the weeks ahead.

For even more resources related to this topic, join the Steelcase LinkedIn Group: Suddenly Working From Home.

Peter Gaslow, President and CEO of Empire Office, Inc., a leading provider of contract furniture solutions, announces the launch of the company’s new brand identity, architecture, and design. The new corporate brand identity was thoughtfully designed to celebrate the heritage and experience of the 73-year-old company while elevating and simplifying its visual assets and messaging.

“We are a successful, proven company with a clear vision for our future,” Gaslow stated. “As Empire Office has grown over the years to include many more locations, and new differentiated service offerings, we needed an identity that better reflects who we are and where we are going as a company. We have some of the brightest minds and best talent in the industry, and our commitment to our clients is unmatched. With our full suite of services and 73+ years of experience, we are raising the bar for what our brand represents.”

For the creative design, Empire partnered with LA-based Brand Studio at CAA. The project commenced with an in-depth competitive analysis, which highlighted the loftier design objectives of today’s workspaces. Jocelyn Corrigan, who serves as Empire’s EVP of Sales & Corporate Strategies and who also oversees the company’s marketing function, was instrumental in steering the strategy behind the project.

“Today’s workspaces have greater social and brand aspirations and are viewed as a canvas for creative expression, community, connectedness, and enhanced productivity,” Corrigan stated. “Branded environments have become a crucial part of the marketing mix for any company. We view our role as a conduit for the creation of memorable, inspiring, and immersive office experiences to help build brands through bespoke design, furniture, craftsmanship, inspiration, and big ideas.”

The company also explored ways to drive more value to its existing client relationships. What started as special test projects for existing clients turned into fully-fleshed, specialized divisions ranging in services from small scale design-build services to custom-built furniture pieces and millwork solutions. Paralleling the rebranding project already underway, the company created a comprehensive brand architecture system, including new division logos, unifying all under the Empire Office umbrella.

Empire Office—together with its divisions—now offers clients a complete end-to-end solution. From architecture, design, and construction services to custom millwork, furniture, and ancillary packages, Empire provides a single-source option for companies looking to simplify what can often be a complicated, lengthy process.

In recent years, Empire Office has grown its physical footprint and is actively evaluating potential opportunities to expand even further. Empire has been recognized as a leader both nationally and regionally, including being ranked on Crain’s New York Area’s Largest Privately Held Companies list and named as one of the Best Places to Work by Orlando Business Journal, among others.

Training rooms in corporate workplaces can look very different. Seeing what solutions others have been successful in implementing can help in planning what’s right for your space and corporate culture.

First, we’ll look at what driving the need for change is across organizations.

  1. GENERATION Z ENTERING THE WORKPLACE
    61 million gen zers will enter the workforce in the coming years. This generation values workplace atmosphere and job fluidity (75% of gen zers expressed interest in learning and inhabiting numerous roles within a company).
  2. HEIGHTENED COMPETITION FOR TALENT
    Competing with tech companies to attract/retain talent, companies are using space and offering continuous education as an engagement and recruiting tool.
  3. IMPORTANCE PLACED ON KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER BETWEEN WORKERS
    With baby boomers retiring and the newer generations of workers coming into the workplace, knowledge transfer is crucial. Mentoring and reverse mentoring can help companies facing this transition spark continuous innovation.
  4. TECHNOLOGY TO ENHANCE EXPERIENCE
    Technology in the workplace is not new, but major innovations have been developed in recent years that make the idea of “plug and play” more tangible than ever.

In our exploration, we found the way our corporate clients are implementing training rooms and team project spaces varies depending on the company and the type of work they specialize in.

Some lean more towards a hands-on maker space, others need solutions for viewing digital media, and some favor more discussion and lecture-based learning. Some are more casual and others more formal—reflecting the uniqueness of their corporate cultures.

Our education clients are incorporating new strategies and solutions to better support today’s way of learning as well as to better equip students entering the workplace.

What we see:

FLEXIBILITY

COLLABORATIVE LEARNING

TIERED SEATING

OPEN, MULTI-PURPOSE SPACES

PERMANENT, FIXED SPACES

Many of our manufacturer partners put a great deal of resources behind research on this topic. Steelcase Education, for one, has invested a great deal in researching the parallels between higher education classroom learning environments and corporate learning environments.

Entire product lines have been introduced that reflect their deep understanding on the matter of training and education whether that takes place in the classroom or the workplace.

More information on any of the above products can be seen at: www.steelcase.com. For a full listing of our manufacturer partners, please download our full line list here.

In the business world as we know it today, 43% of all US employees work remotely. This can’t come to a huge surprise as we all know handfuls of people who don’t report to an office every day. Reports claim that when employers offer a variety of work settings, there is a 12% increase in employee satisfaction.

In our audit within the legal industry, we found that many of our legal clients reflect a wide range of workplace strategies and layout/product choices, and not necessarily all have jumped on the bandwagon with regard to this new way of working.

While some are edging more towards a future-thinking workplace, others are still very traditional in their mindset. We do expect to see many more firms start to explore alternate strategies as their current leases expire and they prepare for the influx of the next generation of attorneys. While most leases are 10-15 years, that means most companies today are planning for the workplace needs of 2030 and beyond.

CBRE has estimated that 29 million square feet of law firm lease space is set to expire in the next 5 years. (Half of these lease expirations are in New York, Houston, Chicago & Washington D.C.)

In the legal industry specifically:

While we know workplace planning is in a constant state of flux, we find it’s interesting to look at some of the nuances with regards to specific verticals while also comparing them to some of the macroeconomic drivers for change.

  1. INCREASED REAL ESTATE COSTS: Forcing firms to choose between downsizing or relocating.
  2. EXPECTATIONS OF THE NEXT GENERATION: Incoming workforce expects a certain level of technology access & cares less about status.
  3. INCREASED COLLABORATION IN LEGAL PROCESS: Rising need for more shared spaces and collaborative solutions.
  4. HEIGHTENED COMPETITION FOR TALENT: Competing with financial and tech companies to attract/retain talent; using space as a recruiting tool.
  5. INCREASED PRESSURE ON ATTORNEY RATES: Finding ways to work more efficiently in order to pass the savings on to clients.
  6. LESS CLIENTS IN OFFICE: Shifting workplace strategy from client-focused to more worker-focused.

From our viewpoint, we see many shifts starting to happen. Some mirror what we see currently happening in other industries, and some are different due to the unique needs and habits of legal workplaces.

FLEXIBILITY

STANDARDS CHANGING

SMART LAYOUT

WELLNESS

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

In a world where it appears the norm is inching closer towards remote working, legal firms are sticking to the philosophy of creating a place that people want to come to because they can’t get the tools, technology and peer-to-peer interaction anywhere else.

SOURCES

Gallup State of the American Workplace Report 2017

BISNOW: Law Firms Are ‘Future-Proofing’ The Workplace To Remain Competitive

BISNOW: Goodbye Dark And Dreary, Hello Open, Well-Lit Law Office

CBRE 2017 US Law Firm Trends Report

BISNOW: Law Firms Are ‘Future-Proofing’ The Workplace To Remain Competitive / CBRE 2017 US Law Firm Trends Report

With 73 years of experience, we have helped clients navigate through the complex decisions they face with planning and managing their national and global footprint. One of the most consistently successful strategies we have experienced is the implementation of a furniture standards program.

In this post, we outline some of the benefits and reasons why you should consider implementing a similar program.

BRAND IN THE WORKPLACE
Developing a furniture standards program can help align facilities worldwide with a consistent branded environment and ‘look and feel’ within each facility.

Consistency Across The Globe: From North Carolina to Asia-Pacific, a consistent experience within all locations can be vital. However, each location should be adjusted to accommodate for local cultural differences that may exist within each country.

Culture & Employee Engagement: Aligning brand and culture with workplace design allows the employees to live and breathe the brand and be better aligned to the corporate mission. A recognizable branded interior can further enhance employee brand evangelism through sharing and pride.

PLACE WINS TOP TALENT Well-executed standards can aid in planning and designing workspaces that enable better collaboration, concentration, experimentation and learning.

Place Matters, People Matter: Employees today want a workplace that provides choice and control over where and how they work. Standards can help enforce various workplace strategies across all locations.

Talent Competition
: Companies are looking at their workplaces to provide their employees more reasons to come to the office vs. work remotely, to choose their company over another and to be motivated and inspired to work effectively and innovate.

SAVINGS WITH FLEX Today’s workspaces need an ecosystem of spaces designed to adapt and evolve over time, optimizing real estate while fostering higher levels of employee engagement.

Adaptable, Flexible Spaces: Create zones designed to accommodate and anticipate changing organizational and employee needs. This flexibility reduces the need to move or add real estate when current space is outgrown and can be standardized across all locations.

Define A Spec: Establish a benchmark for best practices globally across the company. Partner with a single source supplier to benefit from volume discounts and streamlined processes which ultimately speeds up a project’s life cycle and saves the company money.

STRATEGY FOR DRIVING SAVINGS A standards program combined with a detailed reuse strategy ensures complete accountability over assets and the related environmental impact.

Asset Management Is Key: Developing a clear asset management strategy can be crucial for lengthening the life cycle of your product investments while also reducing waste.

Shared Kit-Of-Parts: Consider products that employ a similar kit-of-parts which can be redeployed as locations expand or are consolidated.

KEYS FOR BUILDING STANDARDS Furniture standards documents can vary depending on the brand and objective, but overall we’ve seen success when implementing these key features.

A Unifying Brand & Culture Statement: Scripting a clear and concise statement about how the desired aesthetic, design and products relate back to your brand can help to directly align your space with your culture.

Detailed Product/Typical Info: Give as much detail as necessary when listing each product and typical. This can include: manufacturer, model, finish/fabric, dimensions, pricing and a clear image or rendering of the product.

Range Of Products Per Area: As the standards are built out, consider adding a range of products approved for each area or product type at a variety of price ranges. Picturing them side-by-side in a grid format allows for easy comparison.

An idea born from the rise of third places and brought to life in boutique hotel lobbies and co-working spaces across the world, it seems resimercial design is here to stay. It’s a thought that workers can be more relaxed, enhance their social interactions, and produce more inspired work as a result of these refreshing, comfortable spaces.

Recognizing the opportunity in the blending of these worlds, many residential brands have started entering the commercial space in recent years—either by acquisition or new venture –and the results have changed the face of the modern workspace as we know it.

Over the years, Empire has purchased from and partnered with many consumer/retail furniture and accessories companies on behalf of our clients to help them achieve the style and aesthetic they desired. Now with the strategic alignment of contract manufacturers with these decidedly residential brands, it proves the driving desire to make the workplace a bit more warm and cozy and a little less sterile feeling.

Resimercial style can look very different stylistically and really should fit for the individual culture of the company; however, we have seen it is often described as warm, comfortable, inviting & approachable, featuring natural elements & a connection to the outside, with carefully curated textures and patterns. The adjusted layout implications mean multiple places to work, meet, take a call, or grab a coffee. Kitchen islands for gathering are a must as are soft seating sofas and lounge chairs. Then factor in the incredible in-house amenities such as on-campus baristas, chefs, and fully stocked kitchens, and it’s hard to work comfortably from anywhere else.

The right mix of resimercial design is different depending on the company and the functionality of the work at hand; however, we’ve seen some pretty innovative ideas from some of our own clients, and we can’t wait to see what type of inspired work comes out of these spaces.

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