According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey,1 “In 2019, 24 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at home on days they worked, and 82 percent of employed persons did some or all of their work at their workplace.”
Less than one year later, things have completely shifted. In a post-pandemic future, the workplace dynamics have completely shifted from where they were in 2019, when most Americans worked nearly a third of their day in offices. It is more crucial than ever for evolving organizations to design workplaces that better reflect the present parameters for performance, flexibility, responsibility, productivity, and efficiency, among other things.
1. The Amenity-Driven Office
No matter how avant-garde virtual conferencing applications become, the fruitfulness and productivity of the workplace is irreproducible. As innovative as these technological advances are, the human element is essential to the workplace. It’s not unusual for many people accustomed to in-person work models to feel somewhat disconnected from their co-workers once they begin to work remotely. They felt deprived of amenity spaces, team collaborations, focused discussions, relationship-building, and in-person conversations. This is why workplace design strategies in 2021 will do much more to promote employee interaction and culture—absence does make the heart grow fonder.
The amenity-driven workplace has blossomed significantly in recent years. The alluring novelties that appeared during the “dot-com” era have since matured into a sophisticated set of amenities and distinguishing features that allow property managers and tenants to set their properties apart from one another. As a result, the workplace design of 2021 will blend the best of traditional commercial offices, hospitality, and residential into a propitious work and lifestyle environment.
2. Designing Frictionless Workplace Environments
Workplace design strategies of 2021 will see a continuation of movable walls and lightweight furniture. In an era when time is a luxury and instant gratification is a mainstay of society, friction can also arise. Implementing measures that remove unnecessary roadblocks in how an office functions basically removes distraction.
To create a frictionless environment, designers are layering technology in the workplace to augment the workplace environment. Layered technology helps employees focus, prioritize their time, and offload non-value added activities (scheduling, moving work-in-process from point-to-point, setting up equipment, recording time spent on a particular job, inspecting a part, billing customers, etc). Technological advances have allowed both analog and digital solutions to be developed to make people’s jobs more simple.
3. Flexible Office Spaces
Coinciding with frictionless workplace environments, flexible office spaces are designed for adaptability. Flexible designs are the superior solution given the uncertainty and fast paced changes of design trends in the coming decades. We don’t know what crisis will disrupt operations.
Movable walls, quickly reconfigurable access flooring solutions, and lightweight furniture make it easy for organizations to reorganize their spaces whenever, however, and as many times as needed.
Workplace design strategies should promote productivity, adaptability, future-proofing, and efficiency. Many organizations will be adopting things like enterprise-based wireless presentation systems in 2021 if they haven’t already. This simplifies things by getting rid of the numerous dongles and bulky, outdated cabling components.
4. Workplace Design Strategies for Movement
A few of the major challenges facing large corporations today include attracting skilled and knowledgeable talent, diminishing productivity because of employee health problems, and the burgeoning cost of healthcare benefits. These challenges are prompting organizations to confront the issue of workplace wellness. Wellness programs are being augmented with innovative workplace design strategies to solve this issue.
The average person spends more than 90,000 hours at the workplace in their lifetime. More disturbingly, statistics revealed that people’s jobs can contribute to insomnia, workaholism, family issues, and divorce—bad for business but most importantly bad for society. This explains why 87 percent of employees feel no passion for their job. Before the pandemic, workers spent an average of 54 minutes per day commuting to and from work.
Expect workplace design strategies in 2021 to focus on the following:
- Encouraging employees to walk
- Adding active furniture (sit-stand desks, desk bikes, standing chairs, balance boards, etc)
- Integrating a vertical circulation system in high rises
- Adding strategically-located staircases
- Including exercise and decompression spaces
- Understanding workplace utilization patterns
- Removing any roadblocks that prevent people from utilizing these amenities
5. Renewed Focus on Workplace Safety
Whether your organization has remained open during the pandemic or intends to reopen once vaccines start showing results, your top priority is to keep your employees and visitors safe. It’s important to remember that some may be skeptical about returning to “business as usual.” It is vital that you are compassionate to the members of your team, as there may be one or more people on your team who lost a loved one during the pandemic, or at least knew of someone who did. Thus, we should be aware of such things and show sensitivity.
Displaying a renewed focus on workplace health and safety will do a lot to ease team members anxiety and concerns after a year of loss and upheaval. Employers in 2021 will be implementing more rigorous health screening measures like screening, triage, and stocking up on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). To keep completely up to date on what other measures to take, regularly monitor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) FAQ for businesses.
6. An Increased Focus on Building a Sustainable Workforce
While retention of talent is a linchpin of monetary success and a thriving culture, cultivating a sustainable workforce secures the longevity of your organization while navigating it towards success. When team members aren’t on board, the whole organization suffers—the culture suffers. Focusing on establishing a sustainable workforce is required for organizations striving to see authentic results. Organizational sustainability typically requires leaders to look at the impact their organization is having locally and globally. However, many fail to understand that organizational sustainability begins with the people behind the scenes, with work-life balance, and positive work culture.
Actioninclusion.org defines organizational sustainability as “having the leadership, talent, global insights, and change strategies necessary to rise to the unique challenges facing organizations today.”
It goes on to explain that these include but are not limited to:
- Maximizing a global talent pool which includes four generations spread across many cultures
- Creating an inclusive workplace
- Developing leaders who can leverage diversity
- Developing female talent globally
- Implementing customized diversity strategies (rather than one size fits all)
- Communicating with impact and across borders
Sustainability and social responsibility are rooted in value sets that span demographic groups. Multiple studies show that people, especially millennials, prioritize working for an organization aligned with their values over anything else. Organizations find that along with reducing their carbon footprint, prioritizing sustainability initiatives helps attract and retain talented, environmentally-minded people. Additionally, being more engaged in sustainability increases employee satisfaction.