Happy New Year! It’s 2022. Covid is still around and although we are all more acquainted with the Greek alphabet, vaccines and better care have gradually been reducing the risk of further lockdowns and the need to socially distance ourselves. Although it’s likely we will still be encountering the odd adversity (Omicron is still a thing), my mindset is that society is moving forward and we just need to navigate ourselves wisely in order to overcome challenges ahead.
At In’Sight we’ve been dedicating ourselves to workplace design and what I’m finding fascinating is that as we overcome adversities, workplace design is evolving into something that is better and more suited to the contemporary workforce.
Hybrid Workplace is now a thing. The workforce has tasted Home Office and wants to somehow maintain the advantages gained. Saving time from commuting and greater schedule flexibility are high on the list as it provides valuable opportunities to focus on what is dear to us.
On the other hand, business leaders are concerned with reduced human interactions and the slow but inevitable distancing between colleagues, teams, and company culture. Home Office makes it difficult for us to bond and relate with each other and eliminates the casual but vital problem solving and exchanges around the coffee machine.
Another shift, perhaps less apparent, is the cultural shift within the workforce. As generations Y and Z become predominant, so do their values. These generations have never been unconnected from the internet. They are digitally native and are globally focused. They see the world as a live-sharing 24/7 evolving entity. They seek a greater purpose in life, job satisfaction, and demand a better work-life balance.
The Hybrid Workplace is our attempt at satisfying these needs. Finding the right balance between home and in-office becomes the new challenge and it’s fascinating to see how it has fundamentally shifted our priorities. Employers and designers are now looking at how they can improve the workplace so that staff prefer to be in-office rather than working from home. The fundamental question then becomes: How can workplace design create an environment that entices the brightest and best talent to gather in person, connect with colleagues and re-engage with the company core values and identity?
At In’Sight, we believe that hospitality design can shed some light on how the workplace can potentially tackle these issues. Hospitality, as an industry, has long targeted its efforts towards designing and providing the best possible guest experience to those who use its services. It broadly attempts to fulfill every possible need a guest may have during their stay in order to momentarily remove the desire to leave and, ultimately create such an experience and memory that the guest parts with the desire to return.
Without going into detail on the full range of design strategies applied in hospitality design, here are some that are perhaps useful to workplace design. To start: focus on work experience. This shift in mindset sets the priorities on what is needed in order for the workforce to fulfill their duties as efficiently and motivated as possible. It may seem like a minor shift but it can have substantial implications as it distances itself from outdated dogmas on how things should be done. These dogmas may no longer be working and have inadvertently become a hurdle to productivity.
To name just one dogma eliminated by this shift: the previously important metric of headcount per m2. This traditional workplace criterion made sense when what a company needed was pure human power to get through what needed doing. The higher the headcount meant the faster a task could get done. But today’s challenges are knowledge-based, and what is truly needed is an ability to nurture innovative and nimble knowledge creation.
There is also a reduction in demand for permanent workstations. Home Office has created an opportunity to repurpose the work environment and provide a more diverse range of areas to stimulate group dynamics and integration, encourage team agility, interaction, and creativity. We must design in a way that grants us the ability to interact face-to-face, whether in formal meeting rooms or accidentally in corridors or breakout areas. Our body language, vocal interjections, and camaraderie contribute to the gold standard of collaboration.
The requirements of the workforce are also now different. Headphones, smartphones, laptops, and charging cords are the key ingredients to a metaphysical workspace. Workplace design needs to understand this. Design needs to address and embrace the new dynamic and agile nature of the workforce. The workplace has now a chance to become a collaborative hub with amenities for meetings, dedicated spaces for focused work, privacy pods for explorative creative work, etc.
If we want people to return to the workplace, then it must become the physical heart and soul of a business by reflecting its core brand and culture. The contemporary workforce wants a balanced and visually attractive workplace experience that reflects the company’s mission and vision, its environmental and social beliefs and, is friendly to a diverse workforce.
Workplace Design is central to getting this right. Designers and architects are at the helm of this evolution and must tackle, through design thinking, the dogmatic design barriers preventing the workforce from wanting to return. As a Lighting Designer, I think our profession will need to widen its approach by understanding the dynamic nature of work habits, these have long foregone the traditional office lighting solutions.