By Cheree Franco - 25th March, 2023
The panelists in PLASTARC’s most recent webinar, “Your Evolving Workplace ‘Why’: Making the Most of Time in the Office Together,” shared return-to-the-office rethinks, which included reassessing telework and physical space. Even pre-pandemic, PLASTARC used data-informed design and decision-making to improve employee satisfaction and engagement. Facilitated by our socialspatial designer, Amy Rosen, and including Brianna Mark, a senior manager for Workplace Experience and Events at Mozilla, Stephanie Steele, the VP for Corporate Real Estate at LPL Financial, and Darrick Borowski, an architect, design strategist and studio professor at School of Visual Arts, the panel focused on designing thoughtful workplace experiences, in additional to spatial reorganization.
Prior to the pandemic, Mark organized biannual meetups for all of Mozila’s employees– 65 percent of whom were remote. Now that number is closer to 95 percent. Mark facilitated social interactions between colleagues, such as video introductions for new hires that include both workplace and personal elements. One-on-one or small group interactions on platforms such as Slack help people connect with each other, prior to meeting in larger groups.
For Mozilla, this strategy has worked well, but less in-person time has been a hurdle for some businesses. According to Steele, the future of work is less a conversation about “remote” and “in-office” and more a conversation about different “work-styles.” For years now, her firm, LPL Financial, has piloted strategies to observe how people—and how many people—used space in their office. These strategies, which include A/B spatial testing, led managers to take leads from their team, rather than trying to engineer the worker-experience. Employees naturally developed their own (sometimes unspoken) “rules” for a space—a sort of ground-up authority—and managers became more flexible about how spaces could be used.
Mark noted that existing space needs to be reevaluated. Too much empty space can evoke a sense of scarcity, so perhaps bigger isn’t always better, in terms of growing relationships. The most important consideration should be how space is used in the short-term, as well as how that space can be used flexibly in the long-term. Creating movement within the space allows people to learn from one another, ask questions, and personalize a group, demonstrating the benefits of in-office gathering.
Borowski used a clever analogy to describe how cities evolved in natural ways. Cities began with shared spaces, which provided convenience and accessibility for inhabitants to accomplish daily errands, making the rounds to the butcher, shoemaker, grocer, and other local shopkeepers. But then zoning came into play, disrupting the natural energy of cities. Subsequently a need for multi-use districts arose–spaces which are vibrant day and night. The modern urban workspace, which includes creature comforts and a multisensory approach, is the office version of these multi-use districts. Their vibrancy fosters a sense of shared purpose and creates reasons for coming into the office.
But this same shared purpose can be cultivated virtually. In truth, it’s less about physical space and more about designing more intentional communities in every realm. Future workplace experience is all about culture and programming, resolving digital barriers to connection, and demonstrating company values through programming that fosters new connections. According to Steele, this programming might include appreciation days and shifts to smaller, intentional moments, rather than grand, whole-workplace events. Mission-immersive experiences are more important when employees have less time on-site. Per Borowski, it’s more about inviting people to come into the office for a particular purpose, rather than just expecting people to always come into the office. In general, the panel agreed that the new workplace is a place people choose to come, and it’s an employer’s job to ensure that they feel cared for and appreciated and therefore, want to seek out that experience.