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.
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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.
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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.
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Get back to work safely with our COVID-19 services. Retrofit your current space using technology-backed tools and best-in-class product solutions.
We are in difficult, trying times. Over the last few weeks, throughout the country, we have seen widespread unrest. All of the communities where Empire is a part of have been affected by the recent events. While we are opposed to any form of violence, our nation cannot turn a “blind eye” to intolerance, injustice and inequity, to any person, or group of people. As an industry leader, it is important to address this, and to clearly state: we are committed to the principle that each individual is entitled to humanity, safety, liberty, and security.
Empire is extremely proud of our diverse population of employees, made up of people from many backgrounds, races and ethnicities. This rich diversity makes us better as individuals and as a company. This diversity also assists us in every aspect of how we think and perform. Diversity makes us more innovative, and hopefully, helps us all embrace our differences for a common good.
While we are listening with open ears to the truths being communicated, we aren’t sitting idly by on the sidelines. Empire is committed to being part of the long overdue change in our country. This week we introduced our “90-day Charity Support Program,” in which we have identified certain charities to match employee donations dollar for dollar. We are proud to partner with these great organizations that serve a diverse community and are well known and respected.
Empire’s donations, combined with the donations of its employees, could lead to considerable monies donated to the respective charities, and Empire and its employees will be able to help support these important causes in a much-needed time in our nation’s history.
The charities in Empire’s Charity Program are as follows:
2. United Way
We will consolidate all donations and make the matching donations on August 31, 2020.
Beyond the charity contributions, Empire has been committed to and will continue to uphold our equal opportunity employer status promoting diversity and inclusion within our own workplace.
It is our sincere hope and prayer that the universal outcry from these events will bring about tangible changes that will create a more just and inclusive society.
We wish everyone good health and safety during these trying times.
The Empire Management Team
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.