Many employers are in the throes of planning their employees' return to the office. One top-of-mind consideration is how to redesign the office to accommodate new hybrid work models. According to research by Microsoft, 66 percent of employers are redesigning their offices to meet the new demands of hybrid work.
As a leader, the decisions you make about redesigning your office space matter. As you contemplate redesigning your office space for a hybrid workforce, here are three strategies to set your employees up for success:
1. Embrace a data-driven approach
Just like other aspects of remote work, you can't afford to rely on your gut to make mission-critical decisions about how to redesign your office space. By leveraging surveys, interviews, and focus groups, you can deeply understand your employees' work styles and create environments that your employees are eager to work from.
It's not as simple as categorizing your employees as "remote," "hybrid," or "in-office" workers. Global design firm Perkins&Will's Austin studio, for example, has created several different personas to inform the types of offices they design for their clients:
The "Anchor" conducts 90 percent of their work in a fixed location in the office and tends to engage in focused, heads-down work. Anchors are ideal candidates for dedicated workstations or offices.
The "Resident" also conducts 90 percent of their work in the office but engages in highly collaborative work. They may not need (or want) a dedicated workspace and will, instead, retreat to touchdown, informal workspaces.
The "Transient" conducts 40 percent of their work at the office and tends to engage in independent, focused work. Transients tend to gravitate toward reservable workstations.
The "Nomad" conducts 60 percent of their work at the office, engages in mostly collaborative work, and prefers to move freely throughout the office. They typically are inclined to occupy collaboration spaces and café spaces rather than dedicated or reservable workstations.
The "Trekker" typically spends only 5 percent of their time in the office because they regularly travel to client locations. Trekkers may require touchdown spaces on rare occasions.
Understanding the distribution of your employees' work styles is key to developing resilient office design solutions that meet the evolving needs of your employees.
2. Avoid the lure of open office layouts
As employers are transitioning to a hybrid work environment, many are opting for more open office space designs. The lure of open office layouts seems logical--when hybrid workers come into the office, employers want the focus to be on collaboration and face-to-face interactions, and open space layouts seem to facilitate that.
Yet open office spaces have been misunderstood for years. The research consistently shows that open office spaces are overrated and often do more harm than good. Research by Harvard professor Ethan Bernstein found that open-plan office spaces actually decrease face-to-face interactions by 73 percent!
Especially concerning in our current times, open-plan offices appear to spread germs more easily than shared offices. Multiple research studies have found that employees in open-plan offices of all sizes report taking more sick leaves. In one study, sick days were 62 percent higher in open offices than for individual offices and an eerie 30 percent higher than when six people shared a closed office.
3. Design with mental health as a priority
More than ever before, a spotlight is being placed on employees' mental health. Employees want to come back to an office that prioritizes mental health.
Nicole Zack, a design leader at global architecture and design firm Nelson Worldwide, told me that she's seeing a broad shift in workplaces now designing for mental health. She explained that workplaces are looking more like "small-scale luxury spas with transformative lighting and sound machines, even salt therapy rooms."
Additionally, Zack explained that offices are increasingly incorporating group fitness rooms, Peloton studios, "Zen pods," and even no-tech library spaces. At Asana, where I work, we've designed new dedicated wellness zones that promote mindfulness and taking breaks, as well as a rooftop garden that capitalizes on the research that shows that spending time in nature reduces stress.
Employers are quickly realizing that they need to design their offices to support the work-life integration that employees have learned to foster over the past 18 months. As a leader, supporting your employees' mental wellness while in the physical office means prioritizing architectural and design foundations that put mental health on a pedestal.
Evolving your office layout
Your return-to-office plan will inevitably be rife with complexity. Few decisions are as important as how you will redesign your physical workplace to meet the evolving needs of your employees. Your employees don't think or work in the same way they did when they left the office in 2020. Your office layout should similarly evolve.