To get employees back to the office voluntarily, facility managers need to rethink the feel, look and function of their workspaces.
As employers across the country try to get people back into the office, they’re meeting great resistance from employees who have fully embraced remote working and are pushing back against the idea that they have to show up in person to get their work done.
This dynamic, coupled with the still ongoing Great Resignation, has placed workplaces in uncharted territory. Along with establishing hybrid schedules, among the strategies they explore to woo these reluctant workers is creating spaces that people actually want to be in, says Beth Ralston, architectural product specialist for Henricksen, a contract furniture dealer specializing in furniture systems, seating and conference furniture, as well as architectural solutions such as modular walls. As such, says Ralston, facility leaders look to workplace designers, retailers and furniture makers for help in creating functional and attractive workspaces.
This assistance becomes all the more vital as occupancy rates have fallen and offices remain empty. Figures provided by Challie Stillman, vice president of sales and design for Resource Furniture, put that rate at 43.2% in the latest Kastle Systems survey, causing many businesses to rethink their real estate needs. and thinking about how to make the most of less space. Resource specializes in multifunctional furniture that optimizes space, such as convertible tables, seating and storage.
“A common plan for the future is to move to much smaller offices to allow for flexible, hybrid working,” Stillman says. “(Therefore), flexibility is a major priority for employees returning to the office. Having the ability to come back is essential, even if the office has been reduced.
“These small offices can’t afford workstations that take up so much valuable space when they’re only used a fraction of the time,” she continues. “(So, for example), instead of using a traditional freestanding desk, a pull-down desk that disappears into the wall creates office flexibility. With transformable tables, a desk can have a thin and decorative console, ideal as a desk for one person. This same table is then able to extend for conferences of 12 people.
If desks are going to entice workers to voluntarily return, they also need to become more inclusive, says Dennis Cheng, senior industrial designer for Teknion, which designs furniture for co-working spaces and for those where people work alone.
“(This) is key to valuing worker autonomy and enabling people to perform at their highest level,” Cheng says. “Our office spaces must offer choices that are influenced by how and where people work best. As designers, we must view our environments and the furniture within them as one of the many tools people use throughout their day to help them achieve their work goals. »
What workers want
As people return to the office after working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, they want a space of their own. One that feels safe, collaborative (or private, if desired), and personal, says Laura Barski, vice president of marketing and product design for Inscape, a designer of office products and services.
“Custom storage has been a major priority,” she says. “Especially in a hybrid model, employees need a space to keep their work supplies, documents, etc. There is an increased need for storage for personal items and to keep a clutter-free workspace. And the rotating work schedule demonstrated how essential personalized and customizable lockers, especially with electronic locks, are in the workplace. »
As office space shrinks, furniture needs to become more multifunctional and flexible, and spaces more easily configurable in order to make the most of the available square footage, Barski says. Cheng agrees, saying flexible solutions are a necessity if workplaces are to adapt to “new normals,” improving not only the workspace, but also the worker experience.
“For example,” Cheng said. “Digital equity has become increasingly important to ensure that all workers, whether remote or in-person, can fully engage with shared content and each other. A main screen for the content and a secondary screen for remote participation allow workers to direct their attention to what matters most.”
Designing office environments that promote teamwork is important because inspiring collaboration is a key reason employers want staff to return to the workplace, says Ryan Esche, director and vice president. by Henricksen. Because people have become accustomed to working from home, focusing on creating a comfortable office environment, such as providing ergonomic furniture and flexible workspaces, is a tactic worth exploring.
“Spaces should support an active, open plan that includes solo workstations, collaboration areas, huddle spaces, and reflective zones, enabling daily working in an oasis of fluid productivity,” says Esche. . “Flexibility is key because workers want to move in and out of collaborative and individual work as needed.”
In today’s ever-changing workplaces, it’s not a question of whether desks will need to be reconfigured, but rather how quickly they can reconfigure, Ralston says. Therefore, facility managers should consider using solutions such as modular freestanding walls, acoustic panels, and dividers, among other options, to create spaces that can change with little notice or effort and the do it economically.
Cheng advises asking employees for input when selecting furniture solutions that can be scaled up, scaled down, or easily reconfigured.
“By giving people the freedom to choose their tools and environments, companies respect their autonomy and welcome them back to do their best,” he says.
Matching needs, design
Adjustments are still needed when it comes to adapting furniture and desk design to the needs of today’s workforce, says Brian Homiak, Project Manager and Account Manager, Architectural Solutions for Henricksen. Nevertheless, he sees more use of flexible and adaptable options that adapt to the reconfiguration of workspace layouts. These include architectural wall systems that can be quickly reassembled and multipurpose furniture that can be easily moved and repositioned to create space dividers or open spaces.
Esche advises leaders and facility managers to think ahead about the future needs of their teams, exploring layout and furniture options that have greater adaptability.
“Offering solutions for multifunctional uses, such as wall systems with built-in shelves or dry erase boards, will go a long way towards creating a functional and useful space,” he said. “Facilities managers also need to determine how their employees feel about returning to the office and what critical decisions about seating, lighting, layout, materials, etc., will be most welcoming and inclusive.”
Ease of setup is key, Barski says. While it is difficult to plan for every business condition, the only certainty is that office and employee needs will change, requiring furnishings, layouts, etc. have the ability to adapt.
“An increased need for flexibility has led to office furniture that can be reused, which means a more durable and adaptable design,” says Barski, adding that the company is committed to achieving Tier 3 certification.” Using a simple kit of existing components allows products to be reused rather than dumped in landfills or recycling depots.”
Taking a deliberate approach to office design and furnishings puts every square inch to good use, says Stillman. It is also more economical and environmentally friendly.
“This eliminates the building, heating, cooling and power requirements of excessive desktop footprints. In return, we significantly minimize our impact on the environment,” she says.
“It’s becoming increasingly important for facility leaders to prioritize eco-friendly furniture choices,” Stillman continues. “By investing in quality, well-made furniture, the need to replace parts down the line is nearly eliminated.”
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Seal Beach, California.