As we continue to work our way back from the pandemic and transition to being back in the office, companies find themselves in an interesting situation. Commercial spaces are diminishing in size, due in part to the work-from-home (WFH) factor, but at the same time organizations want to welcome back their employees to be in the office as much as possible. Exactly how that will look remains to be seen, and will vary for each company, but here are some ideas:
There’s no doubt that we work better together when we’re face to face. Communication, collaboration and team-building all are hampered when we put Zoom or MS Teams between us. But WFH is not going away. Employees have realized that they can get much of their work done without enduring a commute to the office every single day, and higher fuel prices have them digging in their heels even more. Others have simply gotten used to being in their WFH bubbles and are reluctant to change.
So how does an organization put its best foot forward to create a welcoming environment that encourages employees to be there in person? It starts with communication. Some have been working remotely for so long that they may have forgotten the benefits of being together in the same space. Leadership should make the point that everyone is better – as individuals and as a team – when they’re working together. This messaging needs to be repeated again and again.
In terms of office design, consider refocusing on accommodations that encourage collaboration and even fun: Add or upgrade breakrooms, a café or bistro, or comfortable lounge areas that encourage face-to-face interaction. Those may sound frivolous, but the benefits are very real: Employees in the office will naturally interact more, and those at home or on a hybrid plan will be inclined to spend more time there.
This doesn’t necessarily mean more space; it might involve repurposing existing square footage or even reducing the overall office footprint. A Harvard Business Review article notes that Salesforce reduced its desk area by 40% in favor of spaces that can foster both individual and collaborative work.
These new or modified spaces need to be featured in company communications as well. Just as leadership should repeatedly share the benefits of working together in person, they should communicate the efforts being made to encourage in-person attendance. Give those new spaces descriptive names and show your team members using them, having fun and being productive.
The return-to-work path will be different for each organization, and for each individual, and prying some of those individuals away from their home office will be a challenge. But by creating more inviting and collaborative spaces and communicating the benefits of using them, you can increase your chances of having a team that works together face to face.