The widespread shift to a hybrid working model among tech industry employers is having knock-on effects at all kinds of different levels, not least in terms of office design. And whether or not there is a return to the office on any scale, that office itself is going to need to be rethought for the Vaccine Economy.
According to a report entitled ‘The office, but not as we know it: The future of the workplace’ by Kitt, which finds and manages office space for companies across all sectors, this scenario is manifesting itself in a number of ways. Firstly, there has been a “surge in demand for collaborative spaces that allow people to come together”, whether to undertake specific long-term projects, a quick brainstorm or to socialise, the study says.
This situation is leading to demand for workplaces that are more adaptable and flexible. The focus is on having more “breakout areas, meeting rooms and moveable furniture” that make it possible to shape areas to “the purpose of work and the people in it”. As the report points out:
Clients typically use just 20-30% of their offices for fixed desk space. The rest revolves around hassle-free, multipurpose areas that can be used for an all-hands meeting one minute and a client presentation, a one-to-one catch up or a happy hour the next.
The ultimate aim is to better enable collaboration, spark innovation and support a sense of cultural belonging and engagement.
A second trend, meanwhile, revolves around making the office a “brand showcase, complete with stylish personalisation” to mirror the organisation’s purpose and values.
Salesforce creates community hubs
One company that is taking such trends seriously is Salesforce, which is in the process of building a new consolidated European headquarters in Dublin, which is due to open next summer.
Although the project was delayed due to the pandemic, going for a new build provided the cloud-based CRM software provider with an opportunity to re-evaluate its priorities and reimagine what its office space could look like, particularly in light of a widespread shift to hybrid working. Terri Maloney, who heads the company’s Employee Success team, explains:
Knowing that our people are looking for flexibility, we’re making our offices into community hubs to enable connection, camaraderie and coming together in person for collaboration. So the role of the office will be what we do when we’re together. We’ll still have desks but there’ll be more breakout and collaboration spaces and we’ll also have an open-air meeting area on the top floor so people can get together individually and in small groups. There’ll be large tables to gather around to keep things engaging and collaborative, meeting booths in restaurants, lobbies and on the floors, but there’ll also be focus spaces for people who want quiet time. It’s a much softer environment than a traditional office and we’ll be really encouraging people to sit and talk as opposed to sit and work.
In terms of the “brand showcase” element, Maloney believes the company’s latest Salesforce Tower will reflect its values in a number of ways. For example, the fact that it is employing sustainable building materials, will introduce sustainable furniture and use renewable energy reflects its environmental commitment.
That it is not requiring staff to clock in and out demonstrates the value it places on trust, while the vendor’s focus on equality is reflected in a decision to go above and beyond national access standards for people with disabilities to ensure the needs of people with both visible and hidden conditions are catered to appropriately.
In relation to customer service, meanwhile, areas will be made available for clients to learn about the firm’s products and services, while a social lounge will also be created for community groups and NGOs to use for meetings and events on a free-of-charge basis. As Maloney says:
Our brand values have been critical when designing the building…What we’re doing is moving to our next evolution in terms of culture and leadership.
Nexthink focuses on socialization spaces
Another employer that intends to revamp its European headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, as soon as plans receive approval from the government, is Nexthink. Work here was similarly delayed due to the pandemic, but the employee experience platform provider also took the chance to rethink its approach following discussions with staff as to their post-lockdown wants and needs. Meg Donovan, the supplier’s Chief People Officer, explains:
We were willing to give people the opportunity to be fully remote, but 85% wanted to be in the office, just not 40 hours a week. So we thought about the purpose of the office, which isn’t just about people being at a desk all day but about socialising and interacting with others. There’s more progress on projects if everyone’s in the same room, so that started a conversation. We then asked what’s important about our culture and the way we engage and interact, and what do we want the space to be. The most important thing for us is socialisation, so the focus was on ensuring we designed somewhere where it’s not just allowed but encouraged.
This insight will lead to the creation of 25 meeting rooms that are optimised for particular purposes, such as enabling informal collaboration or creating private space, which includes for nursing mothers. There will also be areas for people to meet informally and a social hub space dedicated to socialising, which will take up half of the third level.
While each floor will be open plan in design terms, partitions made of open bookcases holding plants to improve air quality will be installed “to create a feeling of openness and privacy at the same time”. Donavan says:
It’s about making it look like a house with modern, modular furniture that can be put into different configurations, with shared sit stand desks and multiple monitors for those that need them. So it’s modern, clean, and flexible because you can drag things around. The idea is that the space has to be as flexible as the workforce, so you can mix and match it to meet your needs that day.
Another important consideration, meanwhile, is co-locating teams that work together a lot into ‘neighbourhoods’ to make it easy and convenient for them to collaborate. As Donovan says, office design is important in this context as it helps ensure staff get the most from their interactions with colleagues without having to try too hard:
It all goes back to our philosophy as a company, which is about delighting our employees so that they’re highly engaged, stay longer, are more productive and profitable. It’s just so aligned with what we believe about the workplace – that employees need the tools, environment and culture to be successful. There’s real value in the things that people learn by happenstance when they’re in close proximity. It builds greater trust when we know each other, and that’s much harder to do in a remote environment. To be wildly successful, it’s vital that your people have high trust relationships and are engaged.
Nexthink is in the process of moving offices in Boston too and is planning a similar revamp before rolling the same model out around the rest of the world.
Office design can help play an important role in shaping company culture and how employees behave, so understanding your purpose and values as an employer is really much more vital than you might think. The shape and feel of an office space is also going to be a critical factor in helping employees to feel confident returning to the workplace post-pandemic.