Humoring Hybrid: 4 Ways to Design for Hybrid Workplaces
Adjusting our societal needs to reflect the post-pandemic workscape has caused a staggering paradigm shift for employers and employees. With phenomena like the Great Resignation and the Great Rethink, companies & workers are reassessing what they want out of the labor experience. The emergence of COVID-19 has caused employees to dig deeper into existential questions and reflect on how their time is being spent and what they ultimately want out of life. The sampling of remote work that we have experienced has left us with a fresh vision of how work-life balance should be. Remote workers have relished the freedoms and flexibility of working from home. During an economically uncertain time, they’ve saved on gas, childcare, and food expenses. With all of the benefits of working from home, it’s a no-brainer why 45% of U.S. office employees would like to remain fully remote instead of returning to the office. With this information in mind, companies are beginning to prioritize the workers’ needs by adopting a hybrid work model. The hybrid work model is a clear compromise to bridge the gap between employee and employer demands.
Despite the overwhelming desire of the workforce to continue remote, two-thirds of office workers expect a return to the workplace. Employees understand that specific tasks, like brainstorming sessions and meetings, can be performed better from a physical location. However, employees also expect significant changes to the work environment to support the needs of hybrid work. Returning office workers would like to see a significant increase in private workspaces and amenities that will make their on-site time more comfortable. And these terms aren’t necessarily negotiable — employee retention and talent acquisition depend on it. There’s a shortage of ‘good jobs’ out there, and workers no longer wish to settle. With employee empowerment at an all-time high, it’s time for companies to get on board with the hybrid work model and enhance their office spaces to encourage the transition.
Here are four ways to design hybrid workplaces that will optimize employee satisfaction:
1. Create Collaborative Spaces
The most common reason employees want to return to the office a few days a week is to connect and collaborate with their colleagues. Full-time remote work has left some feeling deflated and ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Many employees fear that their co-workers who chose to work on-site will more likely be chosen for promotions. This is a valid fear, as studies show that employees who socialize with higher-ups are seen as more favorable options for raises and accolades. Additionally, employees are happier and more productive when they form meaningful bonds with their team members. Providing staff with spaces to brainstorm, meet, learn, and connect informally will be paramount upon return to the office.
Popular furniture for collaboration spaces include:
- Stadium Seating: a tiered system of steps, which allows for informal seating in a similar style to a theater or a sports arena.
- Office Pods: enclosed, semi-private booths with either built-in or freestanding tables, designed for groups or as individual workstations.
- Modular Seating: seating designed in rearrangeable components that can be configured to create different furniture layouts.
- Community Tables: bar height tables that can accommodate ten or more people, often equipped with power outlets and USB ports.
- Collaborative Seating: seating arrangements that can seat more than ten people and serve many purposes like working, dining, and lounging.
2. Create Private Spaces
There’s no place like home. Provide the best of both worlds by designing private workspaces along with collaborative spaces. Remote workers have experienced the privilege of working in the privacy of their own homes for a prolonged period of time and they do not want to relinquish their peace & quiet. Before the pandemic hit, a majority of workplaces had adopted an open office floorplan, but in a recent survey by Gensler — employees cited that they want their office to be more private. Private workspaces help with deep concentration and eliminate distractions like chatty co-workers and phone conversations.
Trending furniture for private workspaces include:
- Single Work Pods: enclosed workspaces with privacy panels, upholstered seating, and a built-in table.
- Privacy Panels: easy-to-move partitions that create a private experience while delineating the workplace.
- Console Tables: long, shallow tables that can be equipped with power outlets and USB ports.
3. Biophilic Elements
Biophilic design can be characterized in three ways. The first is nature in the space — this is the inclusion of natural elements like plants, naturally-occurring sounds, scents, and views of nature. The second type of biophilic design is natural analogues, which incorporates textures, colors, patterns, shapes, and materials that are reminiscent of nature. Lastly, nature of the space — imitations of natural landscapes through furniture layout and architectural design elements like windows or acoustical panels.
Studies compiled over the past twenty years provide evidence of the inherent benefits of biophilic design to productivity, learning comprehension, and mental well-being. The Human Spaces study of 7,600 office workers from 16 countries revealed that biophilic elements in the workplace results in a 15% increase in well-being, a 6% increase in perceived productivity, and a 15% increase in feelings of creativity. Additionally, 33% of office workers say that the design of an office would affect their decision to work at a company.
Some design ideas for creating biophilic offices include:
- Indoor planters, living plant walls, terrariums
- An abundance of natural light
- Flickering light sources to mimic fire or light flickering through trees
- Reflective surfaces to allude to water and enhance natural lighting
- Moving objects like fish or swinging furniture
- Solariums, skylights, or garage doors
- Outdoor furniture in indoor spaces – picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, wicker or teak
- Sustainable materials
- Terraces, gardens, or outdoor seating
- Organically-shaped furniture
4. Residential Design Elements
Comfort and familiarity are at the forefront of employees’ minds as they return to the office. Office workers want their on-site experience to provide value and enrichment. The “resimercial” design trend picked up traction before the pandemic and now it’s really catching on. Resimercial design intermingles residential design characteristics with the durability and production quality of a commercial product. The “resimercial” design style is linked to reducing stress and promoting productivity within the workplace.
Resimercial design can range from simply changing the style of a leg on an otherwise residential-looking sofa to something more commercial-grade. Little tweaks to contemporary commercial styles, like adding throw pillows to a sofa, can make an office interior feel homey and inviting.
Some ideas for designing a ‘resimercial’ office include:
- Knick knacks and oddities, like novelty decor
- Framed artwork
- Residential-style curtains or shades
- Diffusers, candles, or fireplaces
- Throw blankets and pillows
- Sectionals and ottomans
- Beanbag chairs or hammocks
- Dog beds for furry visitors
- Desk lamps and floor lamps
The post-pandemic, hybrid workplace is evolving to become more inclusive and adaptable for employees. With demand for reform in all industries, employers are being challenged to improve the quality of their in-office work experience. It seems we are on the precipice of a much-needed adjustment to America’s work-life balance. The past few years have been a series of trials & failures and growth & learning experiences. The next few years will be the final adjustments to the new hybrid work model. Offices are already being redefined as places for specific tasks, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution to work. Individuals’ needs will be addressed and employees will take into account what their brick-and-mortar workplaces can offer them in terms of productivity, amenities, comfort and independence. It’s time to shape up the office for hybrid work, or ship out your valued talent.