It is extremely difficult to design a workplace for an uncertain, rapidly-changing future. Luckily, MillerKnoll is uniquely positioned to tackle this challenge with their expansive product portfolio, dedicated team members, and archive of workplace insights and research. The data extracted from this research is like a beacon of light, helping us to better understand our clients’ needs and determine the appropriate course of action. Earlier this week, MillerKnoll Dealers from all over Northern California gathered to listen to a presentation on the future of work. Who better to discuss this topic than Tracy Wymer, VP of Workplace Experience at MillerKnoll, and Ryan Anderson, VP of Global Research & Insights and podcast host of Looking Forward: Conversations about the Future of Work. The two of them shed further light on this new opportunity for workplace design. Here are some of the main takeaways.
The Covid-19 pandemic undoubtedly opened the doors for a new style of work to emerge: hybrid work. Reports show that nearly 74% of American companies have adopted the hybrid work model, where employees work partially from home and partially from the office. While certain companies are doubling down on the traditional in-person work model, Anderson suggests that if executed correctly, the hybrid work model can actually make the physical office a better destination for productivity, collaboration, and employee well-being.
How can requiring employees to go into the office less frequently make the office a better place? It gives companies the opportunity to design offices the way they were intended to be designed. Prior to the pandemic, companies claimed to want a workplace that promoted innovation and collaboration, yet with every new hire, they crammed more individual workstations into their floor plan. With a sea of desks eating up valuable real estate, there was no room for anything except heads-down work. Now that many employees can complete individual work from home, workplaces can now feature a wide array of work settings, collaborative spaces, and communal areas.
If the workplace is no longer a sea of workstations, then what is it? With the prevalence of hybrid work, many employees expect the luxuries afforded to them at home to also be present in the office: comfort, flexibility, etc. That is why certain companies have adopted a “resimercial” (residential/ commercial) look and feel. Wymer was quick to point out that he not only disapproves of this hodgepodge of English language, he also disagrees with the sentiment that the office should be an extension of the home. While the workplace can certainly incorporate homey elements to make employees feel more at ease, he believes that the office should be distinct.
Anderson adds to that point by offering the analogy of the office as a restaurant. For example, the average person can easily cook themselves a meal without stepping foot outside their home. Nonetheless, they visit restaurants because they seek an elevated culinary experience and atmosphere that would be impossible to recreate at home. Similarly, the office should offer opportunities and amenities that incentivize employees to come into the office for an improved work experience.
With the “what” of the office covered, Anderson moved on to the “how”–– how do we elevate the workplace experience to attract and retain employees. The easiest solution is to design the office with multiple neighborhoods (segments of the office designed to accommodate specific needs). This is beneficial because the needs of the Human Resources Department will vastly differ from the needs of the Engineering Department. Anderson emphasized that focus groups are often the best tool for determining the amount, type, and function of neighborhoods in your company. He suggests inviting representatives from each department to get together and have an open dialogue about how the office design can best support their needs.
Towards the end of the conference, one attendee raised her hand and asked, “so how does this impact the bottom line? What is the pay off of investing in the workplace?” I’m sure her concern is one shared by many CEOs and business owners alike. Anderson replied that investing in the workplace is a worthwhile endeavor because there is ample research to support the notion that a company’s financial health is related to its organizational cohesion.
Company cohesion essentially means that employees work well together and have a healthy network of strong-ties (relationships developed between people who interact on a daily basis) and weak-ties (loose connections between people who interact on an occasional basis). While Covid-19 and the rise of video conferencing further strengthened strong-ties by allowing teammates to meet anytime and anyplace, it made weak-ties nearly obsolete. There was no reason to schedule a virtual meeting with someone outside of your immediate team, so employees began to drift apart. This is dangerous because maintaining a unified sense of purpose across an organization is essential for success. This is where the office comes in. Having a physical space that brings together employees who would otherwise not interact improves company cohesion, which ultimately improves financial performance.
The insights provided by this conference will help Interior Motions continue to provide clients with the latest and greatest furniture solutions. While the future of work is still evolving, we are optimistic about the possibilities and potential for unprecedented growth within the workplace.
Also read: Neocon 2022: Bringing Home into the Office