27 November, 2022

Heading back to the office?

The days seem shorter, and it’s more than just seasonal planetary factors at play. Many of us have returned to the office and suddenly, the busywork of life is carving into our waking hours again. We have to shower and actually get dressed each morning. We're commuting and showing up at in-person meetings again. How does one cope? We have some ideas—which are also helpful if your “office” is a cafe, coworking space or ski/beach bungalow— in On Our Minds.

On our minds

A recent survey of 1,000 business leaders indicates that 90% of respondents plan to have all of their employees back in-office by 2023. We’re big fans of hybrid-work and promoted it even pre-pandemic, especially because, as we’ve noted many times, traditional office environments don’t serve many employees. We’re skeptical that strong-arming techniques and threats will get bodies in buildings or enhance productivity. Some of us will return to the office full-time or part-time, and some of us even want to. Luckily, COVID has transformed many offices for the better. In the spirit of Cyber Monday sales, our holiday gift guide offers multi-sensory focused suggestions to ease this transition for yourself, as well as for colleagues and loved ones.

When you review your wardrobe and realize all that’s left are yoga pants…

Know someone who’s back-to-office wardrobe could use a boost? Clothing subscription services curate the clothes and send them to you, based on the results of style and size surveys. Keep what you want and return the rest. Gift it to yourself or to a significant other who really hates shopping, alleviate decision-fatigue, and check one off your “life busywork” list.

When the workday is basically a hike through the office…or the city!

We love activity-based workplaces, but sometimes all that intra-office trekking comes with as much portable gear as an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Or sometimes your office isn’t an office at all; it’s a cafe, and then, another cafe. A rolling backpack and a great bag organizer can help.

Tuck a 5-in-1 adapter in one of those pockets for your recipient’s electronic needs. Add a lunchbox kit or silicon Stasher pouches and even the most distractible worker should be able to keep their snacks and cords organized.

When your office is better-lit than a beach at midday…

Intense overhead lighting, of the ilk found in many offices, can increase eye-strain when coupled with computer work. It seems silly, but honestly a visor (um, hello beach-and-golf-wear) seems like an acceptable solution. It’s either that or a clip-on chair umbrella, right? What workplace couldn’t use a bit of a vacay-vibe?

When your office is colder than the polar vortex…

We got pretty used to that cozy-at-home factor during quarantine, which makes our too-cold offices seem truly uninviting. One option is to pretend it’s 2008 and bring back the Snuggy! If you’re seeking a little less of a toddler-in-pj’s vibe, here’s a round-up of stylish, office-worthy throws.

Aromatic candles can visually warm up a desk, offer energizing or calming scents, and give off a surprising amount of heat—enough to keep you from freezing in a car in a blizzard, according to dozens of prepper-blogs. And since dry air tends to go hand-in-hand with cold air, consider a portable humidifier, for that colleague who’s always complaining of itchy skin or getting sinus infections.

When you just need a minute…

Noise-canceling earbuds or even a solid set of earplugs can be a stress-saving addition to any workspace, whether at home, in an office, or in a cafe. And since some of us will need extra motivation both to take that train into the city and exercise now that our days are extra-crowded again, a gift certificate to an exercise class near the office would be an amazing gift for your bestie. Free babysitting coupons are always welcome by parents, especially now that they’re having to shell out for childcare again.

Because who can afford gas these days?

And because none of us can afford (the earth-destroying consequences of) gas long-term… what about a commuter rail pass, bus pass or, if you’re a really big spender, an electric car?

Because these days, we’re all superheroes…

Or at least, it feels like we have to be, as we juggle work, parenting, volunteering, and self-care. There’s something about old-school pen and paper planners, where you can make lists and scratch things off, which feel very satisfying. Or you could go with a specialized version, such as a fitness or happiness planner.

Do you know someone who shuts down when they’re overwhelmed? A productivity app may be just to thing to help them organize responsibilities into manageable tasks.

When you want to keep the giving going…

Consider serving on the board of a business or nonprofit. It’s a career that just might give back as much as you put in.

Thinking about Ukraine this holiday season? Here’s a list of organizations that will ensure your funds are directly reaching people in need.

If you want to focus your philanthropic efforts in the New York Area, this Giving Tuesday, we love Young New Yorkers, a program that privileges rehabilitation over retribution for young offenders and acknowledges the racist roots and continuing practices of our criminal justice system. Storefront for Art & Architecture is a nonprofit gallery staging exhibits by emerging artists that foster dialogue about policy, the public sphere, and other critical social issues.

Because we’re celebrating, right? (Um, that’s what the C-suite said.)

Champagne! Toast the holidays with friends old and new, even if you’re not quite ready to toast the return-to-office. (Although hopefully, at least some aspects of this return are indeed toast-worthy!) Check out one of our favorite sources of bubbly from New Mexico!

From the archives

And now, for the ghosts of gift guides past! Last year was all about thrifting and self-gifting. We encouraged you to buy local, support philanthropies, and purchase services rather than goods—such as that relaxing massage you’ve been meaning to book! In 2019, we gushed about books and gadgets galore, with a focus on travel and on traveling-in-place. Back in 2017, we offered tips to enhance your workspace, no matter your budget.

Happy two-days past Black Friday! We’ll leave you with some theme music.

In Case You Missed It

As we discussed in last month’s newsletter, networks are key to personal and professional success. We’ll help you play catch-up if you missed a few events while busy strengthening other connections.

Need Clarity in Uncertain Times?

We recently spoke at Tradeline’s Space Strategies conference about using workplace data to pilot and test small projects, which would then be applied to larger challenges, in order to create more functional and sustainable offices.

Sustainable Federal Offices

GSA is downsizing and reinventing its physical office spaces. Representatives from GSA and DHS shared details on a recent panel with PLASTARC.

Community Outreach that Truly Engages Users

How do you foster community participation in a large-scale design-build project? Panelists at a recent AIANY event had some ideas.

Measuring Workplace Success in Mental Health Terms

Employee mental health is a key productivity indicator, which means companies focused on the bottom line should prioritize employees’ needs. PLASTARC discussed this very topic at a recent AIA symposium.

Looking Ahead

Once the holiday gatherings pass, where will you be?

Make the World Better Through Business

The BCorp movement is a global push towards creating more sustainable companies, focused on talent and environment. Leaders from companies making the BCorp pledge are gathering. On this year’s agenda? Increasing humanity at work! Happening in Philadelphia, Nov. 29-Dec.1.

Designing Higher Ed

As part of their Planning Institute, SCUP is offering a workshop focused on design. Get practical advice on how to implement a plan for your institution. Happening online Feb. 2-3.

Climate Change & Health Through a Global and Local Lens

Big on planning ahead? EDRA’s annual conference, focusing on managing the impact of climate change in our built environment, is happening in Mexico City from June 20-23.