Return to Work
When company leaders think about the future of the office, they must think not just in terms of space but in terms of people.
We are asked by clients, reporters, and curious friends what effect COVID-19 will have on the workplace of the future. Now that we know many jobs can be carried out from home, will we need less office space? What will we do there? Do we need offices at all?
We are cognizant of the tendency to jump to a simple conclusion: if people can work efficiently at home, then the office must be dead, no? While The Death of the Office makes for a great headline, it negates the complexity of the real issue: the challenge of reconciling the workplace as a space for connection, belonging, and IRL meaningful interaction.
Our response, as always, begins and ends with deep focus on the needs of people, of the human beings using the spaces we shape.
To better anticipate the effects of COVID-19 on your workplace, you’ll need to better understand the ongoing effects on your workforce.
We’re several months into an experiment that will yield learnings about how we as humans respond to unprecedented challenges, personal and professional. By being forced to work from home and constraining the scope of our daily world, we’ve uncovered a clearer view of what’s important to us and have sharper insights around what drives us toward more productive, creative, and efficient working postures.
The real future of workplace rides on the support of your workforce, and what people need to thrive in a new normal. To come out of this crisis in a better place, we’ll need to focus on the lessons that staff are learning about themselves and what they need to succeed — and then thoughtfully apply them to workplace strategy.
Listen and gather insight, together. Ask your employees what they’re learning, regularly. Reach out, check in, have them note the instances when they’re at their best and when they’re not — and why. Craft an ongoing survey program: analyze the positive and negative effects of remote work, track efficiencies and identify roadblocks. Be mindful of cultural impacts — work to identify the slow and potentially damaging results of having your staff dispersed, lacking the galvanizing power of meaningful, in-person connection. How can this data be woven into your post-pandemic work environment?
Then, define the initiatives necessary to support your employees, teams, and entire organization moving forward. These may come in many forms, but they’ll need to support all facets of wellbeing: psychological, physical, and emotional, as well as technical and technological.
At Rapt Studio, we’ve surveyed our staff and found numerous positive aspects of remote work: an increased feeling of efficiency and focus; an appreciation for the time gained from the elimination of commutes; a greater feeling of balance. From these, we know that allowing for the whole self to come through during a workday moving forward will be vital. But we’ve also discovered a feeling of disconnection from a larger mission, the common part of our common goal, and the shared stories that make Rapt Studio so vibrant — hard nuts to crack on a Zoom screen.
How we respond to this data — remembering that a human sits on the other side of each datapoint, with needs, desires, and fears — will require more than an interrogation of our collective synergies. By keeping in close touch with our workforce, we can map, together, the types of behaviors and interactions that make us who we are. These are the qualities we’ll need to champion and carry forward.
What is the Workplace of the Future?
If you believe, as we do, that the workplace is a vessel for culture and shared stories — that the success of a team is fueled by a workforce that feels a part of something larger than themselves — then the workplace still has a relevant and important role to play. The peculiar power of the workplace is its ability to foster connection and belonging — and we need this, perhaps now more than ever.
The Workplace of the Future is an ecosystem of spatial and virtual places that fully support your workforce, and therefore better supports the organization.
The office, then, is not dead — but it is evolving. Pre-crisis, the workplace had already become a hub in a broadened network of productive space, and as we navigate quarantine and move forward, this trend will be accelerated further. The expanded office will touch a diverse set of spaces: the home, the café, the park, the library, all working in concert with a central HQ. We’ve designed for these use cases — with adventurous clients — for some time now, but in a climate of increased remote work, these fringe cases are starting to take center stage.
We’re seeing the workplace become, for instance, a site dedicated to intensive collaboration for remote employees, or a brand flagship for client interface and external communications. The virtual tools at our disposal — Zoom, Jamboards, and beyond — can be thought of as the connective tissue keeping the whole wheel spinning. How these are tuned and what shape the ecosystem takes will vary widely from institution to institution, and will require not only workplace but workforce design.
In a distributed model, much like the one we’ve been forced into, you may start your week at home for focused work and remote collaboration, and then head to the office for a day midweek in order to gather with your team, get inspired, and allow for the kinds of interactions that are impossible to duplicate in the digital realm. In a distributed work model, should your employee benefits and other operational policies also distribute for a more equitable experience across virtual and in-person postures? Blending them will afford a richer, more efficient experience crafted around the specific success drivers for each task, mindset, and emotional effort.
The workplace of the future isn’t a one-size-fits-all entity. What insights will help shape the ecosystem of your future workplace? What brings your workforce together, and what sets it apart?
This should be a time of intense self-analysis, as it’s times like these that define an organization and force us to truly understand what’s important. Success will hinge on your ability to understand how to support your most valuable asset — your workforce, and in doing so will help to answer the question of the workplace.
By David Galullo, CEO and Chief Creative Officer, Rapt Studio. Special thanks to Nicola Broderick.
Rapt Studio is a strategic design consultancy. Our sweet spot is at the intersection of place, experience, and emotion. www.raptstudio.com