Five Things to Consider When Designing the Office of The Future

For many decades, the word “work” and “office” were synonymous concepts. But after two years of remote and hybrid working, organisations are struggling to persuade employees back to office-based work.

It’s not just that successive lockdowns taught office-based workers that they could work happily and productively from home. Months of hybrid working has taught them that what now lies at the end of every commute is a day of back-to-back Zoom calls and little opportunity for the hoped-for face-to-face contact and collaboration.

So, what does that mean for our office spaces? In short, they need to be repositioned and redesigned to support the work we do now. Here are 5 steps to help you as you navigate this:

1. Understand what makes people productive in your organisation – Your redesigned office needs to be influenced by the type of work your people are doing. Before you swap all your desks for beanbags, the first and most important step is to understand productivity levers for each of your job roles. For example, someone in a focused role needs stretches of undisturbed time to perform their tasks and can work asynchronously. Cooperative work – such as workshops, ideation, and interactive research – requires synchronicity of time.

2. Reframe the office – A critical part of office redesign is reframing its role. Even the phrase “return to work” assumes that work = office, something which is no longer true. Post pandemic, we need to position the office as a tool: a space for collaboration, interaction, and connection – and focus when we need it.

3. Curate the experience – Remote working fails when people try to replicate office working patterns and home – and unsurprisingly hybrid working fails when people try to replicate home working patterns in an office. In the past, offices delivered a largely similar, desk-based experience for everyone; now, they must ensure they can deliver the best experience for each type of work: quiet spaces for focused work, open plan spaces for collaborative work and private areas for meetings and (occasional) Zoom calls.

4. Make every type of work feel celebrated – Whether it’s focused or collaborative, every type of work should have its place and its value. If you’re planning on dedicating your office space to collaborative work, don’t make those engaged in focused tasks feel second best. Leaders must make an effort to ensure work is recognised – wherever it happens.

5. Be prepared to pay for inflexibility – as some organisations have already discovered, getting people to embrace full time office work is very difficult – and you can lose people in the process. They can be replaced – but your talent pool may be narrower and new entrants will demand higher salaries in return for the lack of autonomy. Is it worth the trade-offs?

The most important element when redesigning the role of the office is purpose: when people choose a job, they choose a culture. If your office space and your approach to using it are aligned with your overall purpose, then you will attract talent that wants to work the way you do – whether that’s five days in the office a week or a fully remote environment.

You can learn more about this topic by listening to founder of HSM Advisory, Prof. Lynda Gratton on the Wall Street Journal The Future of Everything podcast here.