Do offices have a role in the future of work?

That is a question that many businesses and employees have been wondering as they endure consecutive waves of Covid-19 and the sudden effects it has had on the economy and on work culture.

While the transition to a work-from-home model of employment is regularly cited as being beneficial, the effects of the rapid and mass-scale shift toward it cannot yet fully be understood. One immediately notable benefit of this change is the savings businesses could incur by downsizing the real estate left vacant by their newly home-based workers—yet it seems as though some of the most innovative and purpose-driven companies like Google, Apple and Facebook have continued to make massive investments in real estate during the pandemic.

Why resist the shift to a work-from-home based model? What value are office spaces able to provide to a business and their employees, and is that going to change given the experiences of employees who have adjusted to working from home?

The Importance of Providing Spaces

Jokes about participating in meetings in underwear aside, there are notable benefits to support the idea that working from home is the future “workspace”. Among them is the efficiency of being able to start and finish your workday sooner and the environmental and emotional benefits of eliminating lengthy commutes. But despite the benefits and the prevalent thought that working from home should be sought-after, studies have shown that benefits depend heavily on maintaining a proper work/life balance and that can be difficult to do.

During a study co-authored by Nicholas Bloom, a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), it was found that productivity increased an average of 13% when working from home. But an often neglected finding is that employee satisfaction was not necessarily improved—in fact 50% of those who had been working from home requested to head back into the office with many citing increased depression and feelings of loneliness.

Lost in translation

The conditions for this study were strict, including the requirement for a separate and dedicated workspace at the home and for the employee to come into the office every fifth day. But according to Bloom the situation many were facing at the peak of Covid-19 “is completely different thanks to four factors: children, space, privacy and choice.” A feeling of being trapped at home compounded with the need to share space with roommates, spouses or children all but eliminates the productivity increase seen during his study.

This proves that working from home does not guarantee an increase in productivity and employee satisfaction. Instead, is posits that perhaps hybrid working where the employee can work from various locations in addition to the office should be the future of workspaces. Spaces that bring people together will create trust and familiarity amongst individuals and remind teams what unites them. This means offices are certain to retain a role in the future of workspaces, but the role they play may be open to interpretation—especially when confronted by a workforce who has now seen that alterations to the status quo can be done en masse when required.

Meeting New Expectations

The thought that returning to the office could feel like a taste of freedom may be a funny one, but the lack of choice being cooped up at home all day has taken a toll on employees. The workforce is expecting to return to a space that has their safety in mind but with a sense of normalcy that allows for the regular social interaction and in-person collaboration with colleagues they were missing—but why retain all features of the status quo? During the pandemic employees learned that working from home has flaws, but that the ability to incorporate hybrid working and the choice to work from home can be advantageous when done properly.

People would rather put up with lower pay and forego a fancy title than deal with a bad workplace environment.

Offices will need to adjust to meet the flexibility that comes with hybrid working by creating spaces designed for group work and collaboration and providing individual focus spaces for the types of virtual communication that have become so abundant during the pandemic. This goes along with the need to reinforce a happy and healthy workplace culture that promotes a sense of teamwork and provides employees the resources they need to be at their best wherever they work.

The importance of a healthy workplace culture was stressed in a recent Linked-in survey that found “people would rather put up with lower pay (65%) and forego a fancy title (26%) than deal with a bad workplace environment.” It is a work culture that promotes proper work-life balance and flexibility that will be able to meet the needs of the pandemic weary returning workforce, retain employees, and best revitalize their business.

Facilitating Places of Purpose

A place of purpose looks at the needs of those who will inhabit the given space and is designed to adapt to them. A hybrid workplace needs to fulfill a variety of shifting uses in addition to a fluctuating number of employees (typically a 3-in 2-out of office day rotation) all while reinforcing the company values. It may seem like a hard feat to accomplish, but there are some approaches to this kind of space design intended to efficiently deal with this degree of flexibility—one such approach being the use of office pods.

Designing for hybrid work

How can office pods help organizations make the most of their workspaces? Phone booths are essential for virtual communication and adaptable to changing office needs. They provide spaces for focused tasks while reducing noise and distractions in the office and are highly mobile. They provide the advantages of private rooms without committing to a permanent change to the office layout so that you can provide spaces for fluctuating numbers of employees without the need for additional infrastructure. Office pods like Loop Phone booths also provide extensive customization to allow you to embrace your brand personality and make a statement in your office for both staff and clients.

The features and functions of these flexible office pods improve whichever space you occupy and can move with your business as it changes and grows. Innovative approaches like these are what will enable businesses to meet the changing needs of their employees as they adjust to their future workspace.