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Will leaner spaces be on the rise in 2024? In this blog post, FlexOS Founder and CEO Daan van Rossum explores the benefits of consolidating space to enhance the overall experience of the workplace.

The remote work statistics don’t lie: people love their work-from-home days.

But just because people don’t want to work from the office all the time doesn’t mean they never want to go to the office. Multiple research studies, including the Stanford-led Work From Home Study, show that most employees–especially younger ones–still long for office days to meet other people, do focused work, and get mentoring.

The office itself, then, needs to be rethought for what matters when people go into the HQ. Based on studying requirements for these new types of offices and my experience designing and operating coworking spaces for the past few years, I recently outlined four critical types of spaces: Social, Meet, Focus, and Balance.

1. Social space: Collide and gather

First and foremost, there must be SOCIAL spaces where employees can COLLIDE and GATHER.

While the Hybrid model provides us great flexibility, it causes employees to feel “a great mental burden” from the lack of face-to-face interactions with their colleagues, known as the “Hybrid Paradox” by workplace strategist Ben Hamley. Unsurprisingly, spaces cultivating social interactions are top priorities when designing new offices.

Social spaces include community, lounges, pantries and kitchens, coffee shops, outdoor spaces, and play areas.

social space: collide and gather

2. Meet: Collaborate, connect, and learn

With an increased sense of belonging and community among employees, the next step is ensuring they can work well together.

That’s why offices should seek to include MEET spaces, where employees can COLLABORATE, CONNECT, and LEARN.

While online collaboration is possible, it has been proven that collaboration is best carried out in the office. The main reason is that effective collaboration requires trust as its main component, which is built more easily face-to-face.

This is critical, as research from McKinsey shows businesses can gain up to $1.3 trillion in annual value if they can improve the teamwork of their employees.

Meet spaces include Share and Learn, Collaborate, Brainstorm and Innovate, Converse, and Connect.

Together, these four types of spaces answer the crucial question: “If people can Work From Anywhere, what does that mean for the HQ? It simply means it needs to be a place people want to go to.”

meet, collaborate, connect and learn

3. Focus: Time to get things done

Moving away from group work, offices need to be places where employees go to be productive, and a big part of the workload is individual work. Thus, offices must have FOCUS spaces where people can concentrate on completing their work.

Steelcase research shows that the number of people who can’t concentrate at their desks has increased by 16% since 2008; among them, the number of people with no access to quiet places for focused work has increased by 13%.

As much as I advocate for collaboration, employees still need time and space to do their focused work before and after such sessions.

Focus spaces include phone booths, work nooks, and designated quiet zones.

focus: time to get things done

4. Balance: Work and life

As demonstrated by the phenomenon “The Great Resignation,” employees are increasingly seeking jobs that can offer them a chance to nurture their well-being, especially mentally and emotionally.

This makes it imperative for employers to acknowledge the significance of employee wellness. As such, modern offices should make available BALANCE spaces that cater to an individual’s work-life balance.

These areas must offer opportunities for employees to reset, restore, and recharge their energy levels to enhance engagement and productivity and ultimately reduce absenteeism and turnover.

balance: work and life

What is workplace experience and why is it important?

Workplace experience is the culmination of designing and orchestrating a holistic environment where employees can effectively perform their tasks, collaborate, and engage. It extends beyond physical spaces, encompassing the digital ecosystem where work is accomplished.

As explained by Workplace Experience Strategist Corinne Murray, who was previously featured on the Saltmine blog, the workplace should be viewed as a product designed with intention and tailored to the needs of employees. In the current era of remote and hybrid work, the workplace is no longer confined to a physical office but one “that travels with you and is present whenever you open your laptop.”

This evolution in the concept of workplace experience emphasizes the importance of intentional design, user-centricity, and addressing the multifaceted needs of employees. As Corinne Murray highlights, the return to the office should be guided by activity-based thinking, focusing on what tasks and interactions are best supported by in-person collaboration.

As futurist Dror Poleg wrote, “It’s not the end of an office, but it is the end of the office.” In other words, while people may not want to go to a singular office five days per week, office space is still needed. But this office space can also be a home office, a coffee shop, or a nearby coworking space to complement the days at the HQ.

The goal is to create a meaningful workplace experience that encourages team equity, trust, and socialization while recognizing that the office does not serve all needs equally.

Activating this space is equally important. It’s what the office looks like and what happens in it. Frequent community-centric events and activities, pop-ups, and even rotating designs can make the office a great and exciting place.

A case study in smaller but better: NBBJ

The requirements driven by hybrid work are influencing companies’ real estate strategies.

According to a recent survey by property consultants Knight Frank and commercial real estate firm Cresa, 50% of the largest companies with over 50,000 employees plan to reduce their global workspaces by 10-20%.

A great example is architecture and design firm NBBJ, which transformed the former offices of clothing company Eileen Fisher in New York City’s Flatiron district into a 28,000-square-foot “living lab” to test the best design and layout for hybrid work.

The space doesn’t force employees to be in the office five days a week but instead creates an appealing place for hybrid work despite the long commutes in the area. NBBJ will use this as a basis for designing offices for clients looking to the future.

The Flatiron space opened in November. It has a mix of office and social club vibes with homey bookshelves and couches in conference rooms, a lab displaying tiny models of buildings the company is designing, green carpets throughout, and rotating art projects on its high ceilings.

Case study on smaller is better

Getting started with consolidated office spaces

To embrace the evolving landscape of work and optimize the workplace experience, enterprises can follow these three key steps:

  • Embrace the new office reality: Recognize that the traditional office setup is transforming. Instead of solely focusing on maintaining large office spaces with high occupancy rates, consider consolidating and optimizing smaller office environments. Understand that employees don’t need to be in the office every day, but when they do, the space should be designed to enhance collaboration, focus, and well-being.
  • Design purposeful spaces: Reframe the office as a space that caters to specific needs. Create SOCIAL spaces that encourage impromptu interactions, fostering a sense of community and belonging. Incorporate MEET spaces that facilitate effective collaboration and learning, understanding that in-person interactions build trust and innovation. Ensure FOCUS spaces are available for focused work, providing individuals with quiet zones or secluded corners. Additionally, prioritize BALANCE spaces that promote well-being, allowing employees to recharge and restore their energy levels.
  • Listen, iterate, repeat: Begin the transformation by understanding the unique needs of your workforce. Engage employees in the design process to gather insights into their preferences and challenges. This could involve surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one conversations. Use these insights to develop a workplace strategy that aligns with their needs and desires. As you implement changes, continuously gather feedback and iterate on the design to ensure it remains effective and supportive of evolving work dynamics.

By adopting these steps, companies can transition to smaller, more experience-driven offices catering to their workforce’s needs.

This approach recognizes the changing requirements of employees in a hybrid work environment. It seeks to create functional and enjoyable spaces, ultimately fostering productivity, engagement, and well-being.

About the author

Daan van Rossum is the CEO of FlexOS, the platform that helps people-centric managers stay ahead in the future of work FlexOS raised 1 million dollars in 2022 and is touted as one of the top 15 future of work brands.

Prior to leading FlexOS, Daan was CEO at Dreamplex, a network of coworking spaces, before which he ran his wellbeing startup Bright. This followed a 9-year engagement with Ogilvy, for which he worked as a Regional Strategy & Innovation Director across their Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, Singapore, and Ho Chi Minh City offices.

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