s workplaces continue to reopen and people return to work, companies are reimagining the role their offices play in their employees’ lives.
To attract and retain top talent, to compel people to come in who have gotten comfortable working from home, to build a strong company culture, offices need to work harder than they once did. What was once the default place to go to do work is now becoming a point of differentiation; a place that must provide tangible employee benefits and fill needs that have gone unmet as a result of the pandemic.
Companies in Toronto, across Canada and around the world are renovating, retrofitting and reorganizing their workplaces to better serve the functions that now matter most: flexibility, collaboration, focus, food and fitness.
Increasing Flexibility to Accommodate Hybrid Work
The growing consensus is that hybrid work is here to stay and that means offices need to be more flexible. They need to be able to accommodate high and low-traffic days, help people come and go with ease, and allow those in the office to collaborate seamlessly with those working from home.
To facilitate hybrid meetings, Microsoft has taken a high-tech approach, retrofitting conference rooms with eye-level cameras and large horizontal screens (so coworkers can more easily make eye contact) and speakers with surround sound (so remote employees can more easily decipher who’s speaking).
Google, on the other hand, has taken a low-tech approach and made their office arrangements more flexible simply by putting everything on wheels. Chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units are bundled into what they now call “Team Pods,” which can be set up, torn down and rearranged in minutes.
LinkedIn is taking a similar approach with “Flex Zones,” spaces dedicated to brainstorming and group-working sessions with ceilings designed to absorb sound and marker-board walls with digital capture technology that are easy to clear and move around.
The developers of CIBC SQUARE, a new office tower in the heart of downtown Toronto, have put a heavy emphasis on empowering people to work from anywhere in the building. WIFI and power supply are readily available everywhere, including common areas, coffee shops and restaurants, and the elevated outdoor park.
Likewise, to enable greater flexibility at Amazon Canada vending machines are available where employees can swipe their badges to get headsets, keyboards and other gadgets whenever they need.
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught companies, it’s that having the flexibility to meet fast-changing demands is more essential than ever.
Enabling Better In-Person Collaboration
The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of in-person interactions for facilitating collaboration, breaking down information silos and sparking new ideas. Some employees have been able to be more productive working from home, but many have struggled to tap into the creative energy they once received from working in the office.
As a result, many office floor plans have switched from being mostly fixed desk space with a few common areas, to being mostly common areas dedicated to collaboration with a few areas for focused work.
Dropbox, for instance, has introduced an entirely new office concept called Dropbox Studios that does away with cubicles and instead focuses entirely on in-person interactions—large conference rooms for “on-site off-sites,” classrooms for employee learning and development, and softer, more casual spaces to just hang out.
Similarly, Hootsuite downsized and completely redesigned their Vancouver Headquarters to be more accessible, inclusive and collaborative. The new office features far fewer rows of desks and far more spacious communal areas they call “Nests,” which are intended to foster teamwork and creativity.
For many, returning to the office is a chance to collaborate with colleagues in a way they haven’t been able to for months. Companies are doing everything they can to not only make these interactions possible, but also natural, easy, efficient and effective.
Carving Out Space to Focus
While many have missed working with coworkers in-person, others have missed having a dedicated, distraction-free space to do deep work. Working from your kitchen table simply isn’t always ideal.
That’s why LinkedIn is dedicating some office space to deep focus areas similar to libraries. Others, like Amazon Canada and Hootsuite, have put in phone booths and meeting pods, where employees can go to enjoy some peace and quiet, take calls, and get things done.
Though dedicated desks have taken a backseat to collaborative spaces and more flexible arrangements, carving out space for focused work remains an important need to fill.
Food, Fitness and Connecting with Colleagues
Two other needs that have largely gone unmet during the pandemic are eating and exercising with others. Whether it’s discussing an upcoming project over a coffee or going to a spin class after work, these activities create opportunities for colleagues to form deeper connections and strengthen their relationships.
Not surprisingly, then, many companies are placing a greater emphasis on these sorts of amenities. Achievers, for instance, welcomed back their team with a new home office equipped with a yoga studio and speakeasy. LinkedIn plans to keep their cafes open throughout the day, offering snacks and refreshments, playing light music, and adding monitors to make collaborating easier.
The new Hootsuite headquarters has standing desks, exercise-bike desks, and a calming room that can be used to meditate, pray or just relax. The new CIBC SQUARE office tower has over 500 spaces for bicycles with dedicated showers, an elevated park, a fitness centre with a spin studio, and other health services like massage therapy and physio.
With all the gym closures and restaurant restrictions throughout the pandemic, people are craving the community that can really only be created through shared meals and shared movement. Providing good food and fun fitness activities gives employees more reasons to return to the office and creates opportunities for companies to build stronger teams and better corporate culture.
The Future of the Office
Early in the pandemic, as more and more companies shifted to fully remote work, at some point the fate of the office seemed dim and uncertain. But over time, the forced experiment with working from home has highlighted the vital role physical spaces play in bringing people and ideas together, and making innovative work possible.
With more and more offices reopening, leading companies have taken the time away to rethink what their offices were designed to do and have intentionally created spaces that allow for greater flexibility and easier collaboration, that carve out dedicated places for deep work, and that incorporate both food and fitness to create moments of connection.
Many people have enjoyed the benefits of working remotely and many will continue to do so.
But so much of the creative energy, so much of the meaning, so much of the soul of the work we do is based in and built off the sort of in-person interactions that are only possible in the office.
See you there?
At KitchenMate, we’ve launched our new GEN2 product to help companies meet the unique food demands of the post-pandemic workplace. The kiosks allow employees to select single-serve items and beverages from our AI Vision-Fridge, prepare hot meals with a smart cooker, quickly grab cold meals when they’re on the go, and use touchless payment to complete transactions. No cashier. No lineups.
Our partner, Van Houtte Coffee Services, has come up with unique ways to allow their client’s employees to enjoy a great coffee experience while working in the office.
Setting up smaller, non-communal coffee stations around the workplace with compact, single-cup coffee brewers that don’t require a water source can help an organization promote social distancing and a safer workplace environment around their employee coffee stations.
And offering employees well-known brands that they love and trust, such as Van Houtte, Starbucks, and others, can help bring the same café-bistro coffee experience to their workplace.