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Office space trends: if you build it right, they will come

If anyone has the data on trends, it’s Google. So, if everyone wants to work from home, you’d expect Google to know and plan their business around it, but instead, they are actively contributing to the new office space trends.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

new office space trends

“It might seem counterintuitive to step up our investment in physical offices even as we embrace more flexibility in how we work,” CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in a blog post in April. “Yet we believe it’s more important than ever to invest in our campuses and that doing so will make for better products, a greater quality of life for our employees, and stronger communities.”

Pinchai isn’t the only one building office space. Builders are working on 146.6 million square feet of new office space in the United States. Are builders being hopeful or is there a point at which everyone fighting to work from home will start heading back to the office?

And maybe it’s not the office – maybe it’s the space and the location. If it’s dingy and gray and two hours from your home, of course, you don’t want to commute. But if it’s close by and bright with private space? Maybe that’s what people look for. For instance, even people who can work at home are choosing to go to a co-working space instead. You find one close by, they have all the amenities, and there’s opportunity to mingle or even collaborate with like-minded professionals.

Returning to the office gets a bad rap on social media, and some companies are recruiting directly from competitors that announce a return to the office:

Don’t take this to mean you don’t need an office. You may well need one, and if you do, you want an office that works for you and your business. Here are some thoughts about what your employees might want if you’re planning to be part of this new office trend.

Ban open office space

This office space trend was a money-saving plan sold on the idea that everyone would collaborate if they shared a table rather than having private space. It turns out, people hate it, and it doesn’t work. Researchers found that people interacted 70% less when they worked in open office settings. They were more likely to use email and instant messages when sitting in a shared space.

If you have a hybrid workforce, you need fewer desks, as not everyone will be in the office simultaneously. Use that to give people their own space. The point of people coming into the office is to have collaboration. Don’t waste that precious office time by having people send each other instant messages while they sit across from each other. Give people offices, or at the very least, cubicles, and watch the communication flow.

But be careful of hot-desking

Hot-desking means you come to work and set up wherever you can find it. People hate that office space trend too. And so you ask, how on earth do you set up private office space for everyone without hot-desking?

Easy. Have two workstations in an office or a cube. Set it up so Jane comes in Tuesdays and Thursdays while Jon comes in Mondays and Wednesdays. On the rare occasions where they are in on the same day at the same time, they can share that space. But, mostly, they’ll have their dedicated, private space.

After all, people like to leave their sweaters at the office or have a picture of their kids or cats on their desk. Hot-desking takes that option away from them.

Your office space reflects your brand

In some cities (for example, Boston), so much office space is empty that you can have your pick of places. What was once a premium space may be much more affordable now. You can be picky and use the cost savings to make your office space something that helps you recruit employees.

Yes, even though people clamor for remote work, remember that many do want to work in a hybrid environment and they’d like for that to be a lovely space. This doesn’t necessarily mean pool tables and bean bags in the break room, like the stereotypical tech startup, but it can mean quality office chairs, good climate control, and free parking.

It can also mean rethinking the office. The owners of a co-working space have to ensure that every person who rents a desk is happy with the space and amenities – with more value to an employee than they get if they work from home.

The owners of traditional office space only need to keep the big boss happy. Who cares if the cubicles are half size and 1970s orange? Employees do, in fact, and co-working spaces know it. When thinking about new office space trends, consider the value of coworking spaces for your employees.

Your employees need a reason to commute

Most white-collar jobs can be done at home. But, some are done better in the office. You need to give your employees a reason to come into the office – beyond just having a nice destination for work.

Maybe you have a good cafeteria or you’re near good restaurants. (Cities and restaurant owners would love it if your employees went out to lunch again.) Maybe you add a room for yoga or have an office space across the street from a fitness center. Then strike up a deal with the fitness center – your employees might appreciate that. Maybe it’s high-quality catered lunches, or a quality lunch-and-learn every Thursday for those in person.

You want to make sure your space reflects your brand. When someone walks into your office space, they should automatically know something about your business. If you’re in creaky, old, and dark basement rooms, it’s time to move upstairs and into the light – unless you’re in the business of keeping secrets.

Be honest about your office

Sometimes companies lie about remote work in their job postings – assuming everyone wants to work from home. They figure they’ll hire you, get you working for a few weeks, and then drop the bomb that you need to come into the office. Don’t do that – that will reflect poorly on your employer brand.

If employees have the choice on how they work – say so. If you want everyone in the office all the time, say so (and be prepared to see your applicants drop). If you want people to have a hybrid approach to work, proclaim that loudly on your job postings. And be honest about what that means.

If it means working from home twice a month and the rest of the time in the office, that’s very different from the opposite. Just be upfront!

For example, Gallup described a hybrid working situation like this:

“A flexible, casual and hybrid work environment that allows you to work on-site and from home (you will determine with your manager and team what hybrid looks like for you).”

Visa spells it out very specifically:

“Employees in hybrid roles are expected to work from the office two days a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a general guidepost of being in the office 50% of the time based on business needs.”

That’s so much better than companies (which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty) simply have a remote/hybrid box checked off.

If your office space is welcoming and reflects a positive culture, it can be a powerful recruiting tool. People want to work at least some of the time in the office – but only if it’s a nice place to work.

Know what they want before you commit

We all love the “sunk cost fallacy.” We tend “to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.” If you have already spent big bucks remodeling office space or have three more years on your lease, you may wish to ‘protect’ your return on that investment by requiring everyone to return.

But, turnover can rapidly negate any justification for having space people don’t want to work in. Take the time to speak to your employees about what they want. You may find that the majority in fact want to be in the office. You may find the opposite. You won’t know until you ask the employees themselves.

By taking the time to speak with your current staff, you’ll be more likely to make a decision that reflects your current company culture – not just the culture you think you have. Keeping your current employees happy also goes a long way toward recruiting new ones. After all, candidates ask around about how much people like working there.

Will more and more people return to the office voluntarily, or are these builders full of wishful thinking? Is this new office space trend going to fizzle out? Only time will tell. But as you ponder what to do with your office space, think through how this reflects on your business and how it makes your employees feel. That will help you make the right decision.

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