The future of the workplace seems to be one of the most talked-about subjects over the last year, regardless of geography, industry, or profession; even from the very first day of the pandemic, we all suddenly had to pause and adjust to a new way of working. At first, we thought that this pandemic would be a temporary interruption to our everyday processes. Little did we know, this change was here to stay! The pandemic, in many ways, led us down a path that no one could have fully anticipated or prepared for. Working remotely was a foreign concept to many until early 2020.
One thing that this pandemic has highlighted is the resilience that we have as a community. Many industries and professions quickly pivoted their habits and patterns– not without a bit of grumble or frustration – into new ways of working. This was possible because of the technological advancements that we already had at our disposal but may not have taken full advantage of. The ‘quick’ switch happened for most because we had tools that could be leveraged to facilitate this shift.
Within less than a week, across the globe, everyone figured out that platforms like Zoom, Webex, Teams, and Google Meet were essential for remote work survival. Before we realized it, we had embraced the virtual workplace. While not a full replacement of being in-person, virtual backgrounds, chat sessions, and emoji reactions helped mirror our previous norms of communication. Within a couple of months, we were seamlessly working remote, collaborating virtually and ‘zoom fatigue’ was the new talk of the town!
Now, realizing how agile we are, the question shifts to “what’s next”? Most acknowledge that remote working is NOT where we all want to settle for the future of the workplace. Some organizations have already made a move to consolidate and take this opportunity to realign, but for many, it is still a temporary solution. Most in the industry recognize that while ‘work’ is happening, there is still something missing.
While each organization has different specific needs, one common thread in conversation is the physical office. Do we still need office space? What doesthe ‘physical space’ offer that ‘remote space’ cannot, and may never, offer? Now that the pandemic has blurred the boundaries of work and home, how do we define the new workplace of tomorrow?
There are no precise answers to these questions. The answer will be based on each organization’s unique perspective and experience. Here are some concepts to consider that could be the ingredients to your magic recipe.
We are inherently social beings who like to interact, gather, socialize, celebrate and learn. The sense of community, need to collaborate, and need to build relationships is critical, and the success of our teams can determine our personal successes. Culture will be the biggest driver in the shift to return to the physical workspace. People will want to come to work because they miss the micro-connections – the coffee chats, the watercooler breaks, the conversations you overheard sitting in the open office, that sense of being at the ‘firm you always dreamed of’, etc. These important connections will never happen remotely. The physical office will be the cultural hub, an essential microorganism within the bigger ecosystem that our communities are part of. So, for those of you who think physical office spaces are a thing of the past, think again.
While getting back in the office is essential for many reasons, we recognize it will not be without change. Flexibility will be adopted on an unprecedented scale and embraced as an integral part of company culture. We have never been better positioned to embrace the work/life balance that we have always sought. Though the pandemic posed many challenges, it has also revealed an opportunity to redefine boundaries. Morning rush-hour commutes have been replaced with walks, yoga routines or time for an extra coffee. Your desk is by your window, on your patio, in your basement, or in your bedroom. This flexibility has empowered employees to create balance in their lives, aiding in renewed familial connections, captured time to slow down, and recognition of the importance of how precious life truly is.
We must acknowledge that without technology, we would never have managed to work from home. The shift in the workplace, adaptability, and culture was only possible because of technology, which showcases how vital technology is in our lives. Whether it was remote learning for our children, communicating with distant family members, or staying in touch with clients, our devices and software allowed for a smoother transition to virtual connectivity. As we look ahead, companies are strategizing about various platforms they must invest in to stay ahead of the curve. It is evident that technology will remain at the forefront of returning to the workplace in the coming months.
Creating healthy spaces that focus on employee’s well-being will be of great importance as we discuss the future of the workplace. Now, more than ever, the spotlight is on employee wellbeing, and it’s being evaluated from all angles. The quality of the indoor environment, the incorporation, and association of air, light, or water, the design of spaces that inspire creativity, improve efficiency, and foster health, collectively will be the mantra of the new vanguard.
What is the right balance? While every organization will have its own perspective, it will be important that each of these ingredients be evaluated in terms of priority to define your organization’s ‘Culture’. It is essential to understand that a hybrid schedule will work successfully when the ‘right’ teams are together in the ‘right’ physical space. Having people just be ‘present’ in the office will not facilitate necessary and important employee engagement. At the same time, it will be essential to remember that those who cannot physically return to the office do not feel left out. Organizations will have to adopt and implement methods for equity and inclusivity to ensure that physical office space doesn’t create a divide amongst team members.
The workplace has undergone a cultural shift. The mute button has been turned off, and now it is time to embrace a new workplace that reflects the vision of the 21st century in its true sense – a modern, equitable, inclusive nucleus that will foster collaboration, well-being, and creativity to create new Live, Work, Play communities that we have always longed for!
For any questions, contact Shivalika Vohra, Director of Corporate/Commercial at Spiezle Architectural Group at email@example.com, or Jill Di Clementi, Director of Interior Design Spiezle Architectural Group at Jdiclementi@spiezle.com.