In offices around the world, organizations have adopted hybrid work policies, but haven’t changed their offices to support the new realities of hybrid work. Some say they’re waiting until employees are back in the office to make changes. But hybrid work means people will come and go at different times and, without changes, the office is often likely to feel empty and lack energy. After two years of isolation, who wants that?
The new era of hybrid work means people will have choices about where to work and, in many ways, the office must work even harder to attract people and keep them coming back. Offices will need to earn people’s commute by meeting a new set of needs—support hybrid work, establish connections, create a sense of belonging, and promote wellbeing—all of which suffered during the pandemic. This requires a shakeup in thinking about the future of the office. Rather than basing office design on the need to fit more people into less space, the workplace should draw inspiration from a new source that is less about efficiency and more about humanity—the vibrant communities in which we live: neighborhoods.
Offices will need to earn people’s commute by meeting a new set of needs
Neighborhoods exude vitality and energy; nothing is static, and places and activities adapt and change. Neighborhoods are where people form relationships, feel a sense of belonging and build trust. “A better vision for a workplace is a community, a place where people bond around shared values, feel valued as human beings, and have a voice in decisions that affect them,” says organizational psychologist and author Adam Grant. The best neighborhoods are ones that foster inclusion and exude personality, where ideas are born, and trends are launched. This is what people at work need more than ever before.
Neighborhoods at work, like the ones people live in, are a homebase for people and teams, departments, or project teams. They include a variety of interconnected spaces that support different types of work, a mixture of uses and the natural flow from one to another. They include: individual spaces assigned to one person or shared amongst the team; collaboration spaces for in-person and virtual interactions that support the different ways people need to come together; places with appropriate privacy for individual heads down work or finding solitude and rejuvenation; and areas to gather, socialize and learn with teammates.
Neighborhoods become a destination, where people feel comfort and confidence, they can find their teammates and the tools they need to do their work. For a neighborhood to truly work for people, it must be based on fundamentally new design goals, to be presented and discussed in a future article. It’s time now to put the needs of people in the forefront and think about the workplace in a whole new way. It is an investment in human capital that starts with understanding what matters most.