Since transitioning ‘back to normal’ after the pandemic, we have been seeing organisations calling their people back to the office on a full-time or hybrid basis. Some are adopting mandatory measures in the form of return-to-office policies, whereas others are taking gentler tactics, such as offering flexible schedules.. Regardless of approach, organisations now need to clarify the purpose of returning to the office and its role in driving sustainable high performance.
Traditionally, offices were seen as physical locations where employees gathered to perform their duties, with emphasis on productivity and efficiency since the 1860s. Accelerated by the rise of knowledge workers in the 1980s, offices were redesigned to take various forms, moving from the productivity and focus-driven cubicle design more open-plan layouts, to promote effective communication and collaboration.
The pace of office redesign and iteration remained consistent until COVID-19 emerged in 2020, where almost all organisations worldwide were forced to implement large-scale remote working. Previous studies showed that working virtually full-time made people feel lonelier and more isolated, owing to the having fewer face-to-face interactions. The limited physical connections could also decrease opportunity to build meaningful relationships – with a further impact on belonging and organisational culture.
So how can organisations respond? To create a work environment that is well-suited for the future and addresses the challenges arising from the pandemic, consider redefining the concept of “place” when designing your office. “Place” is the space that has been given meaning through personal, group or cultural processes. It is characterised by the values and meanings people attach to a location. These values and meanings serve as the purpose for people to return to the office. HSM Advisory identified three key purposes of an office:
Driving Sustainable High Performance – The key drivers of productivity include energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation. The office can be a place where people work more efficiently for creativity and innovation through face-to-face activities. Facilities like noise-proof areas, movable furniture, and adjustable light setting also help people to work productively in an inclusive workplace.
Make Culture Visible – Leaders can create a strong cultural narrative on what it means to work in the organisation. It gives better clarity on the sense of meaningfulness, such as “who we are” and “who we want to be”, for all people at the workplace. The office can be a place where people enjoy the fulfilment, energy and engagement through the alignment of their individual goals and the organisational purpose.
Building Social Capital – People have long expressed a need for face-to-face interactions as a builder of authentic human connection. We found that informal interactions are vital for facilitating knowledge transfer, friendship, and wellbeing in the workplace. With design features like large common areas, the office can be a place where people socialise and engage in informal moments, such as team events and impromptu conversations, to build shared values and belonging.
You can read more about redesigning office, read HSM Advisory’s White Paper “Redesigning the Office” here.