From Workplace to Workforce

To win in a post-pandemic world, we need to prioritize the needs of the workforce over the requirements of workplace facilities.

We at Rapt Studio are talking with companies across the globe about how to create the best possible work experience for employees as we emerge from the pandemic and beyond. We’ve translated a few of our key insights into provocations for you to consider as you determine the shape of your workplace moving forward. The central takeaway? It’s more important than ever to put the needs of your workforce at the center of the conversation.

People need to believe in what they do or they’ll move on.

Since you’re competing across geographies, prospective employees will need more than just competitive benefits and the ability to work from anywhere.

As knowledge workers come to expect more flexibility, and companies accommodate to attract new talent, the pool has widened. In this new environment, it’s worth asking ourselves: how are we building a shared sense of mission, and an authentic connection to meaningful work? How are we offering employees the chance to be part of something larger than themselves?

Take the time to double-down on your company values, and underscore the importance of your employees’ output.

While flexible-work may have become the default mode in 2020, it still has hard edges that need polish. The experience of a distributed workforce should be designed as strategically, and with as much care, as the experience of a traditional workplace.

Offer talent an equitable experience, with equal access to opportunities, wherever they may work.

Define and streamline remote processes, from employee onboarding to workflow management.

Re-prioritize around retention: keep employees long-term by eschewing policies that limit their flexibility.

Think creatively about your benefits packages: what keeps you competitive, everywhere you’re pulling talent from?

Know how & when to unplug.

Technology saved the day in 2020, proving that remote work can be efficient and fruitful. But it can’t be relied on too heavily. If used incorrectly, it can put up walls that hinder effective collaboration and can quash the informal moments that foster authentic belonging.

Technology will continue to be a key tool for companies and employees, and with new products emerging regularly that fine-tune the elements of remote production, it will deepen our experience of work and of each other. But Zoom fatigue is real, and remote integration can’t replace the dynamism of in-person collaboration.

When planning your future workplace, it’s important to identify and prioritize the kinds of collaboration that are essential to have face-to-face. Likewise, accommodating for the social, unplanned connections is just as vital — both in your future office, and now, in a remote setting.

How are you capturing the informality of a hallway conversation, or a casual ‘hello’ in your remote workplace? How will your future office encourage and accommodate them? It’s these kinds of connections that create a shared sense of mission that’s vital to your success as a company.

Help employees connect and belong by optimizing the physical workplace for collaboration and interaction.

Remote tech can’t digitize or replace old behaviors, but it can enable new forms of social connection and belonging. Experiment with new tools.

Give remote workers the opportunity to unplug regularly, and sync schedules to minimize headaches.

If equipped properly, our homes can do a lot more.

Knowledge workers were forced to make it work in 2020, but if some employees remain remote in perpetuity, companies will need to offer holistic solutions that bring key elements of the office home.

You might also adopt an activity-based remote model, where work happens partly in the home and partly across a broader neighborhood network.

Traditional office experiences have borrowed from the home for decades. It’s time to do the inverse, bringing office resources into our homes. Companies have seen gains in productivity in a remote setting, but only if employees — and their homes — are equipped properly.

We can also look beyond the home, encouraging employees to open their remote working experiences onto their neighborhoods as well. Neighborhoods are great tools for activity-based work — provided folks understand what’s available to them, and feel invited to be productive in a park, museum nook, or their favorite cafe.

Consider offering employees a stipend to select fixtures and supplies for their remote setting.

Alternatively, provide kits that meet employees’ remote needs, while building a sense of brand connection in home environments.

Crowdsource neighborhood guides that highlight spaces in close proximity to people’s homes that are also conducive to remote work activities — and suggest what’s best done where.

Office life should prioritize the things we need to do together.

The primary function of your physical headquarters and offices should be re-optimized, foregrounding the activities and modes of interaction that can’t happen at home.

With a significant chunk of your workforce maintaining productivity in a remote environment, there’s a huge opportunity to reimagine the purpose and physical expression of your IRL office space.

How you do and where you land should be determined by two things: (1) the principal role of in-person interaction for your business, and (2) the unique needs of your distributed workforce. A few helpful thought starters, if the exercise feels overwhelming:

Do you re-shape workspaces for different types of meetings and production?

Do you downsize your footprint, or radically distribute it?

Perhaps a pivot from a real estate fixed-cost budgeting approach to an events-based one — for flexible, short-term, large-scale spaces that grant all employees much-needed facetime at once — might be in order?

We don’t have all the answers. You do.

We’ll continue to share cases on how we’re helping our clients think beyond workplace to design around the human needs of their workforce. Stay tuned.

Rapt Studio is a strategic design consultancy. Our sweet spot is at the intersection of place, experience, and emotion. www.raptstudio.com

Our sweet spot is at the intersection of place, experience, and emotion.