The conversations around return to office focus on the challenges that a distributive workforce poses for management. In many ways, it’s made us romanticize the magic of teams collaborating in person, the impromptu gatherings or water cooler chats in passing, and missed opportunities to learn through osmosis.
As a result, we’ve seemingly over-indexed on the benefits of the office being a place for teamwork.
This works just fine for someone like myself who occasionally comes into the office. I plan for in-office days to be less about getting work done and more about building connections. However, for those being called back to the office with greater frequency weekly, the office needs to be a place for connecting and, even more importantly, where they can effectively do heads-down work.
After all, I don’t know a single individual who collaborates 100% of the time, and according to a prepandemic report by McKinsey – they found that the average knowledge worker spends 14% of their workweek communicating and collaborating internally. This includes both in-person and remote collaboration.
And if you consider the number of individuals who were able to create what they believe to be the perfect work environment for them within their home office – there’s an argument to be made that the time those individuals spend in the office trying to do heads-down work is not nearly as productive if they spent that same focus downtime in an environment that is most suitable to their needs.
I’m a person who enjoys a lot of background noise, often in the form of the latest billboard hits, a podcast, or a TV series streaming in the corner of a secondary monitor while I work. Couple that with a ton of natural light and a set-up that prevents glare from forming on any of my screens.
Others, though, prefer the quiet, the dark, or more indistinguishable white noise… and now we know more than we ever have about using workplace design to accommodate neurodivergent individuals.
All this is to say, given the new ecosystem that we all work within, the role of the office needs to accomplish a lot more than it ever did before to make the office a hub of collaboration and productivity truly.
That’s hard to do when leadership is still considering reducing the real estate footprint while simultaneously calling their workforce back into the office.
So, how does the office deliver on this promise?
– Provide a variety of workspaces to accommodate different work styles and needs. In addition to collaborative areas, pay attention to the importance of focus rooms and quiet areas or libraries.
– Provide various seating options within these areas, from more formal desk arrangements to soft seating and loungers.
– Introduce as much nature as you can indoors, and consider the importance of quality furniture for outdoor spaces that can get additional use during the day beyond lunch hours.
– If the environment allows, provide adequate lighting and temperature controls so that employees can create the most comfortable environment.
Creating the right kind of office environment for the majority of your workers requires careful consideration and a better understanding of their work styles and needs, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s important to acknowledge that many of the offices that were built pre-pandemic were only sometimes ideal for all of our employees. Moreover, since many have been able to create more comfortable solutions working from home, they are more keenly aware of their needs are to create a more focused work environment. This makes them that much more reluctant to return to the office.
Make sure that when you redesign your offices you are accounting for all of your employees’ needs, and not just when they are collaborating.
Learn more about our Author: Evelyn Lee, FAIA, is the first-ever Global Head of Workplace Strategy and Innovation at Slack Technologies, Founder of the Practice of Architecture, and CoHost of the Podcast, Practice Disrupted. Lee integrates her business and architecture background with a qualitative and quantitative focus to build better experiences for the organization’s employees, clients, and guests.
She is widely published, wrote a monthly column for Contract magazine for over three years, frequently contributed to Architect Magazine, and is working with Architizer awards, including the 2016 40 Under 40 award for Building Design + Construction and the 2014 AIA National Young Architects Award. She recently served as the first-ever female Treasurer to the AIA National Board in 2020-2021 and was recently elected to serve as the 101st President of AIA National in 2025.
*Disclaimer: This post was not generated by A.I. It is indeed written by a real life human. A pretty cool human in fact.