Zoom rooms. Lockers. Office hoteling. Here’s how the hybrid model is shaping office design
When Covid-19 took hold last spring of the way we work and live, Jamie Feuerborn found herself having conversations with clients that were very different than the ones she’s having today.
Feuerborn, a principal of workplace strategy at New York City-based architecture firm Ted Moudis Associates, recalls working with companies about social-distancing measures, what employees could or couldn’t touch, and how other pandemic-minded precautions interacted with office design.
Fifteen months later, Feuerborn said those conversations have shifted. In most cases, the focus now is how to design an office to fit with the hybrid model that allows employees more flexibility to work from home.
But the hybrid model brings its own set of challenges across several aspects of a business.
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube,” Feuerborn said. “When you start touching one side of it, it’s going to impact all these other sides that have to work together to create a great workplace experience.”
Office design is an important component of that equation, and experts say it can heavily influence the way people work.
Feuerborn is working with many businesses that are looking to create an optimal environment for a post-pandemic workplace. She said the biggest factor companies need to consider is what the purpose of their physical office will be moving forward.
“People will be coming in for different reasons,” Feuerborn said. “What are they looking for and why are the coming in?”
Many companies that are shifting to a hybrid model with work-from-home options are planning their future offices as a place for meetings and collaboration.
But in larger cities like New York, companies also are recognizing employees with roommates or small apartments will be looking for a quiet place where they can focus.
When rethinking a company’s existing space involves removing workspaces or reducing the number of offices, experts said the impact of working from home is shaping their strategies.
Benjamin Osgood, founder and managing director at San Francisco-based Recreate Commercial Real Estate, said many tenants are changing up their furniture.
“[Sometimes] we’re removing all of the sit-or-stand desks and replacing them with almost residential-looking furniture,” said Osgood, who focuses on tenant representation.
Companies are adding rolling whiteboards and are expanding kitchens to make them more collaborative spaces that foster togetherness when workers are at the office.
Businesses also are taking wellness into account with newer designs, with Feuerborn saying some employers are looking at wellness rooms for meditation or a moment of refuge.
Companies additionally recognize virtual meetings aren’t going away, especially if they embrace the hybrid model. They’re incorporating those remote meetings into the design.
“25% of the people on a call might be Zooming in,” Feuerborn said. “What do we need to adjust in the meeting room to better support that?”
Some are creating Zoom rooms with optimized lighting. Others are focusing their efforts on the audio and visual capabilities of conference rooms to improve the experience for both in-person and remote attendees on a hybrid call.
Feuerborn said businesses also are realizing there is a branding opportunity to build out a space specifically designed for virtual calls with potential customers. Those may feature a logo or other branded elements.
Another trend taking hold is office hoteling, a concept in which employees no longer have a dedicated desk or workstation. Instead, they can reserve a desk for the day or set up at an available station, depending on the employer’s policy.
To coincide with the emergence of hoteling, Feuerborn said her firm is adding lockers into many office design plans to give employees a place to store their personal belongings.
Feuerborn said many employees have shown a willingness to trade a dedicated workstation in the office for more flexibility with work-from-home options.
But there are some best practices companies should follow.
Osgood said the issue of hoteling can be a touchy one. He encourages tenants to survey their staffs and not just force the policy from the top, because many workers do want their own spaces.
As companies think about the hoteling concept, Feuerborn said it’s important they have an understanding of how many people will be using the office at any given time.
Many businesses are utilizing reservation systems to avoid overbooking.
“What you don’t want to happen is people coming in and getting stressed out. ‘I can’t find a seat. I have to book my desk two weeks out.’” she said. “You want some vacancy.”
For industries like accounting that may have a short-term peak period during tax season, Feuerborn said flexible desk setups that could evolve during the year are an option.
Feuerborn said it’s critical for businesses to think about their office strategy and communicate it clearly. That includes specific policies and protocols that might not have existed in a pre-Covid-19 office where all workers were coming in every day – particularly around areas that may not have previously been shared spaces.
“With people slowly coming back to the office, it can be easy to say, ‘Let’s just work this way for right now,’” she said. “But you don’t want to start those behaviors early.”