Architect says workplace design can attract employees to the office

What makes an office great? Or perhaps a more appropriate formulation for this post-pandemic moment might be: what makes an office a productive, inviting and, at the very least, tolerable place to work?

It’s a question many employers are asking today as the tussle over getting back to the office continues.

“When COVID first hit, a lot of companies extended their leases because they didn’t know what was going on and they didn’t want to rush into anything,” said Leonora Georgeoglou, architect and expert in designing the future of work at HED, the architecture agency. “As the pandemic has subsided, they’re now at a point where they’re asking us to rethink everything.”

Recent surveys show that while employees value flexibility and prefer working from home most of the time, many people want to spend at least some time in the office. LinkedIn research suggests that “collaborating in person” and “socializing with colleagues and clients” are among the biggest draws.

As a result, many employers are renovating and remodeling their stuffy, bland offices to make them more conducive to teamwork and collaboration, according to Georgeoglou. “They ask: how do we create a space that supports our culture, our brand and creates a community?”

Amid a chronic labor shortage, the reshuffles have profound implications for both the workforce and employers. Gartner research shows that employees who are happy with their work environment are more productive, more likely to stay, and more attracted to their company than to their competitors. Meanwhile, many CEOs worry that too much remote work is undermining innovation. Microsoft research suggests that reduced interaction between team members could hurt creativity in the long run.

“Companies need people in the room to spark ideas and brainstorm,” she said. “That’s what makes innovation happen.”

Insider recently spoke with Georgeoglou about how offices are changing and what that may mean for the future of work.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What are some of the biggest office design trends you’re seeing right now?

There’s more us space and less me space, and by that I mean there’s a lot less emphasis on individual spaces and a lot more on common spaces.

Before the pandemic, offices were open, dense and noisy places. You would see people sitting at tables with headphones on if they needed to do focused work. But now, when people need to do this kind of work, they do it at home, where they can be more productive.

Today, people need a variety of collaborative spaces: small team rooms where three or four people can meet in person and connect to a computer and bring in a remote colleague; large open spaces that can be used for meetings, trainings and freehand events; and other common areas that are flexible and can be converted for various purposes.

Northern Trust Corporate Institutional and Global Services Center, Chicago.

Research shows that exposure to nature can inspire creativity and even reduce stress.

Kendall McCaugherty

At a time when employees are demanding more autonomy in how, where and when they do their jobsdo you think these changes will be enough to attract them back to the office?

People never go back to the office five days a week. But when they come to the office, it’s to live an experience and create a community. They want to connect with their peers; they want training; and they want mentorship.

I now view the workplace as an offering of settings. As an employee, you have settings options and you choose throughout the day depending on the tasks you have to do.

Hybrid working, where employees spend time working in the office and time working from home, is considered the the worst of both worlds – especially from a technical point of view. How do companies solve this problem with new office configurations?

We work closely with corporate AV teams to make everything simple and intuitive. An employee should be able to walk into any space with their laptop, plug in and connect seamlessly.

We’re also working on ways to improve hybrid meetings. Typically, when some people are physically present in a meeting and others tune in, there are audio and video issues. The people furthest from the screen are dots and you can barely hear them. We’re looking at how we orient these spaces with technology so everyone feels like they’re part of the same meeting. We’re using more square and round tables so everyone is an equal distance from the camera, and we’re improving the planning and placement of audio technology like microphones and speakers in conference rooms as well as considerations acoustics within the office so you can hear everyone in the same way.

According to a Harvard pre-pandemic study this surveyed 1,601 employees across North Americaworkers want to very basic things from their offices, with access to natural light at the top of the list. Is it still as high a priority today?

Previous studies have shown that natural light is linked to productivity. But now the focus is on wellness. Having access to daylight improves mood. It makes people feel better. Mental health and burnout are at the heart of our conversations with employers. They know how important it is for people to have enough natural light for their well-being. This is just one of the ways in which well-designed workplaces can improve the quality of life of employees.

A bright and sunny modern office.

Benny Chan

Speaking of burnout, how are employers modernizing their offices to reduce stress levels?

Research shows that exposure to nature can inspire creativity and even reduce stress. We therefore use a lot of natural materials, such as stone and wood, which evoke nature. We have also found that a wallcovering printed with an image of mountains and a waterfall has the same effect.

The way Americans do their jobs has changed dramatically over the past two years and will no doubt continue to evolve. How many of the desktop changes we’re seeing right now will stick around?

From what we hear and see from CEOs and our research, the office needs to be a destination. Employees have already proven that they can be productive from home, but especially for creative fields, bringing people together in the office to collaborate has been shown to trigger more creativity and the sharing of ideas.

The changes to the office that we will see persist are things that allow it to compete with the home office, aspects of well-being like circadian and natural lighting, air quality and ergonomics, spaces fitness and wellness and nursing suites. What will make the shared office the workplace of choice, at least some of the time, are options that match the needs of the work you do, like collaborative spaces of varying scale and formality, and most importantly, elements that emphasize the brand. and corporate culture.

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