New choices

This sense of choice is opening up new opportunities for firms to work in new ways. In 2022, Airbnb announced that it was allowing people to work from anywhere, including internationally for 90 days of the year. And interestingly, did not specify whether people should work from home or from an office.

Choice appears to be one of the most important factors when it comes to the new era of work. Employees with full autonomy to choose where they work are happier in their job, yet only one in five are currently able to do so, according to Jabra’s 2022 edition of the Hybrid Ways of Working Global Report.

Anomaly, London

What is hybrid working?

At its most basic level, hybrid working is a flexible work model that supports a blend of in-office, home-based or mobile workers. It allows and sometimes even encourages employees to work from a variety of different locations, usually split between the workplace, the home and other environments. Every organisation’s hybrid setup is different. For some, “hybrid work” means that people can choose whether they work in the office or not. For others, it means they must be in the office on specific days of the week. The key to its success is empowering employees to work wherever and however will best fulfil their needs and their organisation’s potential.

A new ecosystem

So where does the office fit into this new network of spaces? How does it meet people’s changing needs and desire for a better workplace experience? What can be done about delivering a new workplace ecosystem? And, perhaps most importantly, when people are offered the choice of where and how to work, how do we make the office the best possible choice?

This is both a challenge and an opportunity for employers and landlords.

A report from office furniture giant Steelcase found that when people like their office, they are more engaged, connected and likely to stay in their current role. The report analysed a range of factors that influence employee sentiments including factors such as commute time, income and tenure with the company.

Three UK, Reading

The factor that most impacted engagement, productivity and feeling connected to the company culture is when people like working from the office. Satisfaction with the office leads workers to feel 32 percent more engaged, 29 percent more connected to culture and 27 percent less likely to leave.

In addition, the characteristic of home working that most appealed to people in comparison to the office was having space for focused work.

The upshot is that the problem is not the office per se. It is to do with the experience the office offers to the people who use it and the choices they have about when and how to use it. It’s about the physical space, of course, but only within the context of a working culture that allows people to choose for themselves. Culture eats design for breakfast.

What we can expect from the best firms that seize the opportunity to offer people something better is a new balance between physical and digital space as more of them embrace the full potential of remote and flexible work for the first time.

The most likely outcome of this new era will not be the death of the office, but much better workplaces. These will be integrated into a new system of work which takes place in different times and places depending on people’s needs and those of the organisation.

Generation Investment Management, Certified SKA Gold

So, organisations are left with a twofold challenge. The first is to create a great working culture that emphasises choice and empowers people to work in the best way possible. The second is to make one of those choices a great office that offers them more than their bedroom or local café.

That is an office that offers them space for focused work with plenty of acoustic and visual privacy. One with plenty of natural light and fresh air. One that brings them together with other people in pursuit of shared purpose. One that allows them to meet new people and learn. One that structures their days and enhances their social life.

Given what we know about how the office can deliver on these promises, we can say with confidence that the new era of work will not see the death of the office. But it should see its rebirth.

The Body Shop, London

How to create a great workplace

What does this look like in practice? How have organisations created a great working culture that emphasises choice and empowers people to work in the best way possible?

Case Study: IRI

To stimulate the creativity of employees, the new HQ for forward-thinking market research and data company IRI is an agile workplace that inspires collaboration by offering multiple ways of working that are not ordinarily possible at home. The huddle room is designed to act as an adaptive informal meeting space complete with carefully chosen objects to create a homely yet functional feel. Elsewhere, open plan collaboration areas feature high tables and chairs conducive to team-based assignments while other areas of the floorplan are designed for more formal work, featuring fixed desks and greater privacy.

The variety of spaces facilitates both planned and unplanned interaction. Not only are there spaces to support concentration and in-person collaboration, but the IRI brand is felt throughout the space, with lighting angles and ceiling details which mimic its logo, as well as wall covering designs and wayfinding features that borrow from visual cues in the branding. This helps create a sense of identity and belonging, bringing people together in pursuit of a shared purpose.

IRI, Bracknell

Case study: Three UK

The design and fit out for Three’s new 117,000 sq ft HQ in Reading also offers the ‘home from home’ feel. A ‘barrier free’ layout with a wide spectrum of areas to satisfy staff needs includes a living quarter, a play quarter and a social quarter. The living quarter has been designed to aid personal wellbeing and features a sanctuary, chill room, yoga studio and gender-neutral shower facilities. The play quarter, a high-energy zone with neon lighting, is laden with games. There is also a library, phone pods and booths for quieter work and meeting rooms to suit every occasion. The social quarter encourages personal connection, collaboration and ad-hoc encounters over food and drink.

Inclusivity is key when striving for a connected experience. Meeting rooms feature Braille panels and zip tags for booking. All ten tea points are DDA compliant and incorporate 3D icons to help abled and partially sighted individuals identify amenity locations. Custom lighting controls and gender-neutral toilets and showers, alongside audio visual systems which consider neuro-diverse needs have also been included.

It doesn’t end there. The building, holding BREEAM Excellent, WELL Platinum and an ‘A’ EPC rating, has been designed with environmental and human health in mind and offers an abundance of natural light and fresh air. The thinking behind the design proves Three UK cares about the health, wellbeing and experience of its people and visitors.

Three UK, Reading

In summary

The design principles behind these projects shine a light on how the office can claim victory over the home. The level of variety on offer, coupled with a working culture that grants people the freedom to choose while driving a culture that everyone feels part of, tops anything the office’s biggest competitor could hope to offer.

The design principles behind these projects shine a light on how the office can claim victory over the home.

IRI, Bracknell