Work is what we do not a place we go – I think we’re all agreed on that. But Covid caused home and work worlds to collide and that’s given rise to a great many questions we’re all grappling with.
One of the biggest has been the reason to return to the office. Some businesses saw it as a natural and normal thing to do post-pandemic – ‘we’ll just go back to how and what we were doing before’. Others have assessed the mood and seen that things for their business and their sector have changed. They know work needs to be and to feel different. Especially in industries where the battle to retain and recruit is fierce.
What I’m seeing with my clients is the challenge of giving end-users what they want – or what they think they want.
“The biggest single issue for businesses is how to give colleagues what they want when they aren’t entirely sure themselves.”
Covid broke down conventions in the workplace. We all went home to work and we got used to having our space the way we wanted it – it was our space and we could set it up as best we could to suit our individual workstyles (everyone’s domestic accommodation situation applying).
Now, as people are back or partially back in the office and we’re adjusting to hybrid ways of working, I think the biggest single issue for businesses is how to give colleagues what they want when they aren’t entirely sure themselves.
What this leads to is an appetite for the office to provide the best of everything – a personal workstation, quiet space for Teams or Zoom calls, busy collaborative spaces for energy and creativity, traditional meeting rooms and café space with great food. That’s quite a check list for the Group Property Director and quite a tally of sq ft to add up!
I see our job as helping clients to find their way through this maze and to focus in on the solutions that are ultimately right for – and deliverable for – each business. It won’t be possible to have it all. Budgets simply won’t allow it in any commercial context. So we need to design to close the gap between employee expectation and a realistically deliverable solution – all without ending up with what’s perceived as a compromised workspace solution when in fact it can be massively enhancing.
To unpack that a bit more, I’m talking about designers like us working with corporate property, HR and leadership teams to hone in on what’s genuinely important to the outcomes and success of their business and their people. By understanding those organisational goals, we can use our expertise to design and configure the right mix of space. That will then enable the occupier and employees.
We can draw our own experience here of course. Like everyone else, LOM went home for lockdown and our Shoreditch office fell quiet. But now it’s vibrant again and we have switched up the spaces to create different but complementary areas for working. People are back in and we’re having constant and evolving conversations about what’s working and what could be better – recognising that we can’t magic a solution to every single desire.
As for 2023, I think the most important thing will be sustaining the conversations and the levels of employee engagement we all needed to have during Covid. In that period, most management teams stepped up their dialogue with their teams. The result has been far greater interaction and knowledge of how people are feeling – and what’s working or not working for them. Plus greater vocalising from staff as to what they want.
“I see our job as helping clients to find their way through this maze and to focus in on the solutions that are ultimately right for – and deliverable for – each business.”
What I’d like to see is that level of engagement evolve so that it becomes even more effective for future workspace design, operation and satisfaction.
As designers and architects, we can create all manner of workspace to help people do their jobs well and in comfort. But we also need the pragmatism that comes from open conversations with clients and their staff about what they want and what their priorities are.
Employee expectations of their employer and their office have changed forever and will only grow. I want to be part of the solution to help employers build the best relationships with their staff and I want to use our design skills to provide the workplace experience that fosters future success.