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New Ways of Working

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The Evolution of Work and Workplace

How the changing nature of work is transforming the modern office.
Kay Sargent
Kay Sargent
Director of Thought Leadership, Interiors
Washington, D.C.
Tom Polucci
Tom Polucci
Firm-wide Director of Interiors
New York
How the changing nature of work is transforming the modern office.

The last few years have given us an opportunity to rethink something we have taken for granted for decades—the way we work. Organizations today are struggling to adapt to new ways of work, be it coming back into shared spaces, working remotely, or in a hybrid manner. At the same time, they are in locked in a war for talent that gives employees an upperhand when it comes to work and work accommodations. Where we work, when we work and what new work policies and procedures we need are all being questioned.

Fewer of us are in the office Monday through Friday, yet the office remains an important place for collaboration, team building and creating a sense of belonging. It’s within the office that we best engage with one another, develop new ideas and build organizational culture.

In this new era of work, organizations want to ensure their real estate is being leveraged to the benefit of all.  For some, this means right sizing the office by reducing its total footprint while expanding its flexibility. For others, it means adjusting how space is allocated to provide the right settings, amenities, and services. Highly adaptable, workplaces can transform to serve a variety of needs, from large group functions to quiet, heads-down tasks. Simply put, the overall purpose of place is in question and there is an increased need to make workplaces deserved destination that are fit for purpose.

Beyond just being flexible, today’s workplaces also are more inviting and inspiring than ever. They seek to be destinations in their own right—magnets that justify the commute by offering employees what they can’t get at home, be that access to others, energized spaces, and/or additional features and amenities.

In creating this year’s HOK Forward, HOK surveyed organizations from across three large, yet distinct, employment sectors—government, legal and professional services—to get their perspective on hybrid work and the hybrid workplace.

We also included our own research into work and societal trends and pulled insights from clients across other industries.

Current workplace statistics and trends of note:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that we’ve set the stage a bit, let’s dive into the workplace commonalities we’re seeing across the three sectors of government, law and professional services.

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Hybrid Work

Organizations across all three sectors are still trying to reshape the office in the wake of the pandemic.

Organizations that are finding success are embracing the notion that “one size, or solution, misfits all” and aligning their approach with the core business missions and the needs of their workforce. Companies are starting to realize that hybrid is more of an operational mode then simply a workplace solution. That has many companies reassessing where, and when, people work. The drivers behind each organization’s strategy should be based on:

  1. Employee work style and functional requirements of the job
  2. What our jobs and clients require and what drives value
  3. What colleagues need from each other
  4. Employee preferences related to their personal circumstances.

If companies don’t put in the hard work to make the hybrid office effective, it could be the worst of both – where people commute in to sit on Zoom calls all day or lock themselves in a room to escape their surroundings and focus on work.

To be successful going forward organizations need to reassess the purpose of place, their overall portfolio strategy, and develop new management policies and training to better support today’s variety of work solutions.

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Experience-Driven Spaces

Successful workplaces today draw employees to the office by offering them experiences and choices they cannot get at home, such as a variety of work settings, amenities and curated services.

Gathering spaces: Being able to meet, collaborate and socialize in-person with colleagues is a major allure of the office. Organizations need to be mindful of creating the right density in the workplace to ensure a certain level of energy, vibrancy and collaboration. Informal social spaces within the office help generate buzz by bringing people together to spur collaboration and define corporate culture.

Focus spaces: While density is important, organizations must also be mindful to not over-densify the office. One way organizations can avoid this is by providing distinct zones that transition from busy and loud, to softer and more structured and, finally, to private and quiet. Many are embracing free-choice environments that provide individuals with work setting options. This strategy provides employees with some degree of control and can eliminates the need for a 1 :1 assigned desks that sit empty most of the time. This balancing of shared and solo space helps people find places to do heads-down, concentrative while also having areas to socialize with one another, entertain clients and innovate.

In-between spaces: Beyond group and individual workspaces, today’s workspaces are also providing employees additional amenities for work and/or play. Rooftop gardens and outdoor terraces are providing people a place to work and socialize outside the office. Café areas—that double as all-hands meeting rooms—offer employees an alternative space to touchdown. Wellness and fitness rooms are helping people unwind and focus throughout the day. Style is also important, with well-designed support spaces creating a ‘stickiness’ and a lifestyle vibe that infuses the best elements of remote working into our shared spaces and foster social capital, trust and connection.

Branding spaces: The office remains the physical embodiment of an organization and an important place to showcase organizational culture, history and ambitions. Though wall graphics, art and digital displays, organizations are using the workplace to share their stories and reiterate their values with clients and staff.

Leveraging Technology

Technology, particularly communications technology, enabled organizations to continue to operate during the pandemic. At the same time, the rapid adoption of virtual meetings has increased the amount of time people spend on virtual calls leading to “Zoom fatigue,” which is impacting not only our social connections, well-being, and physical health but also the quality of what is being produced. And back-to-back meetings are leaving people stressed, burned out and anxious about the upcoming meeting. Many companies are seeking to create more balance hence the push for more in-person presence in workplaces.

Artificial intelligence is another technology with immense opportunities—and challenges—for businesses. AI has the potential to profoundly reshape workplace environments and position savvy companies with a distinct competitive advantage.

Where we go from there is still up for debate, but McKinsey has estimated that 49% of the activities people are paid to do could be automated. Technology is evolving rapidly and those that aren’t actively addressing the changing needs and opportunities are likely to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

 

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Wellness, Inclusion and Equity

The office is becoming healthier and more inclusive than ever as organizations realize that today’s workplace must accommodate people’s physical and mental health needs. Ways organizations are fostering health and well-being in the workplace include:

Nourishing food and beverage – A breakroom vending machine dispersing shelf-stable snacks doesn’t cut it anymore. People want the option of fresh fruit, filtered water and other wholesome food choices.

Neurodiverse work choices – An estimated 15-20% of people are neurodivergent. Providing employees with work settings that meet a variety of sensory needs—from busy hyposensitive spaces to quiet hypersensitive spaces—ensures that both neurodivergent and neurotypical employers get the most out of the office.

Nature and biophilia – Nature is a proven stress-reducer, and organizations are looking at more ways to bring the outdoors in. This includes relocating private offices away from the perimeter of building (so more employees have access to natural light and views) and incorporating biophilic design (elements of nature such as plants and organic building and finish materials like wood and stone) into the office.

Wellness rooms in multiple forms – To help balance people’s work/life needs, organizations are adding wellness spaces to the office. Beyond exercise rooms, these spaces can include private areas for meditation rooms, prayer and new mothers.

Social spaces – The number of people reporting feelings of loneliness spiked during the pandemic and remains above historic averages.  By infusing elements of hospitality and social spaces into the office, organizations can create more welcoming environments that support connections and a sense of belonging to help address the “loneliness epidemic” and help rebuild social capital among teams.

Sustainability –Many jurisdictions and cities are toughening their climate standards and beginning to tax buildings that don’t meet the new carbon emissions requirements. Yet given the current depressed state of commercial real estate, this can be as challenge. Organizations with the resources are taking sustainability to the next level by considering the impact of the office on both the health of the planet and the health of employees. As such, many are looking to develop more comprehensive strategies that go beyond sustainability by embracing circularity and regeneration.

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Going Forward

We have an opportunity to embrace the disruption of today and proactively rethink how we can best serve organizations and the workforce. To do so, we must not only rethink the workplace but work itself.

In the next chapters we take an in-depth look at how organizations in three sectors – Government, Professionals Services and Legal are designing their workplaces to address the changing world of work.

Kay Sargent
Director of Thought Leadership, Interiors – Washington, D.C.
kay.sargent@hok.com

Tom Polucci
Firm-wide Director of Interiors – New York
tom.polucci@hok.com

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