The tide has turned.
With expectations being reset, office space overhauls underway, and more options for just-in-time workspace becoming available, more and more people are finding that being in an office at least part time may actually be the happy medium they’ve been looking for.
Even if it isn’t the office as they knew it back in 2019.
Kastle Systems’ data tracking nationwide keycard usage across the top 10 U.S. cities suggests adaptation. It cites a “quick and consistent” 2022 return-to-work trend since February’s Omicron low compared to the prior 18 months. Average occupancy surged from 38% in March to a two-year high of 43% in August despite this year’s aggressive summer vacation schedules.
The trend appears poised to accelerate as more organizations use Labor Day to “mark the line in the corporate sand,” as the Wall Street Journal characterized the increasing number of companies calling employees in for more regular – if not full-time – office schedules.
But many companies are still looking for ways to avoid spending time and money on real estate while giving their teams what they want – easy, updated, and inspiring workspace that brings them willingly out of their homes.
Other organizations went fully remote, downsized their real estate footprint, or hired staff in distant locations over the last two years.
Those employees and teams who don’t have a local office to return to or who may want more office days or resources than their employer can currently provide (here’s looking at you, millennials) are seeking out their own solutions – even if only a few days a week.
If you feel like the deluge of digital interactions in your daily life has been draining your mental energy, you’re not alone.
New research has revealed that text-based interactions like email and instant messaging diminish our motivation and impair our performance. Coupled with last year’s first peer-reviewed study proving the existence of “Zoom Fatigue,” it makes sense why once-remote workers are now gravitating toward a hybrid model.
Put simply – we want to be in the company of others, whether working on a project or just rehashing our weekend. A meeting doesn’t feel quite as productive as it could be when entirely conducted over Zoom. The longer we spend meeting over an app, the more we realize how much more satisfied we feel speaking in person.
Even if people don’t come into an office with the specific intention to collaborate, there is something compelling about being in an environment with other professionals.
Seeing the buzz, chatting by the water cooler, and engaging with people in the elevator – even if you’re doing solo work in a private office – seem to be a meaningful enough draw to bring people into a formal workspace for at least a day or two a week.
Feedback from both corporate and shared office workers points to three benefits from time spent in office.
Shared workspaces with fluid layouts can increase these opportunities for spontaneous communication. They allow people to meet and interact away from their work desks in environments designed for better interaction.
Think of lobbies with coffee shops or buildings with shared spaces on the lower floors and private offices on the floors above—different areas designed to support different types of work and break time.
Even the act of moving between different spaces can have a direct, positive impact on overall well-being and productivity. Movement is energy—keeping the mind and body energized means having a chance to change your surroundings when you see fit.
By focusing on variety, organizations vastly expand their options for decor, furniture, and layouts. An area built for socialization can have eye-catching interior design and bright lighting, while more muted and understated tones might suit a private workspace.
People do their best work when they’re comfortable with their surroundings. Think of the difference between a conference room and a private office. An area designed for close collaboration should look and feel notably different from a space meant for quiet thought and introspection.
Modern offices must balance private and shared workplaces, differentiating between concentration and collaboration. Even spaces designed for virtual participants have a place here—solid lighting and acoustics go a long way to including remote workers.
Office spaces designed for mental well-being put the needs of employees first. That’s why amenities like bike rooms, spacious stairwells, and outdoor spaces are so important in this new era of workspace
Dynamic workspaces break people out of routines and facilitate more frequent and more engaging interactions with others, something that’s particularly important in knowledge-based industries.
Using temporary on-demand space, even in a workspace area that’s dedicated to your organization – like a private suite – usually means more “cross-pollination” between teams for a less siloed environment.
You’ll get people from different teams mixing with each other, creating what researchers from Harvard University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology call “knowledge spillovers,” a phenomenon they observed in coworking spaces and described in a working paper released in June.
The researchers also noted that the knowledge spillover benefits were greatest between groups that were the most dissimilar, and those within the closest proximity – specifically within 20 meters of each other. These groups had the most to learn from each other, and the most opportunities to cross paths, engage and share ideas.
The nature of their workspace and interactions, in effect, created its own version of workplace diversity – and the knowledge sharing and innovative thinking that has been so often cited in such work environments.
This change in the way we work has been long coming. Innovators like Sandy Speicher, CEO of the design firm IDEO, believe companies that thrive in the 2020s will do so because, in her words, they give employees a “reason to come in rather than regulation to come in.”
As talk of hybrid models emerged toward the end of 2021, smaller and more nimble organizations led the charge in defining what they might look like in practice.
Tentative steps in getting teams together on a one-off basis quickly demonstrated the power of shared time and experience. While larger organizations waited for corporate policies and resources to be redesigned, entrepreneurial teams and individuals built their own hybrid experience with workspace they could hire by the day or hour.
Demand for meeting rooms and collaborative spaces has soared since January. Interest in day offices and shared coworking options has increased as well, indicating that it isn’t just a need to collaborate that’s driving the growth.
Expansive® alone saw inquiries for on-demand space more than double between January and August of this year, with user profiles from every type of organization. While travelers stopping in for a day or week still make up a small share, the vast majority are repeat users taking recurring meetings or needing “days in the office.”
Solutions to provide just-in-time workspace for hybrid employees have also matured beyond on-off bookings.
Corporate teams are facilitating more structured plans for teams, both distributed and local. Many are setting up dedicated suites with huddle rooms, meeting space, and ‘hotdesking’ areas for employees and partners to rotate through and use as needed.
Others have added day office reservation programs and coworking passes for one or more days, so employees have more options for managing their workspace needs.
But on-demand workspace continues to be a great starting point for hybrid journeys.
As we look forward to more time spent in a formal work environment, it’s a nice way to dip our toes in the water and test out different approaches.
Though people are slowly returning to more predictable workplace routines, that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily embracing the corporate offices of yesteryear.
Increasing reports suggest that people are using a wider variety of workspace than ever before to create the right combinations for themselves and their teams.
That might mean two days a week spent in a newly updated corporate HQ space and three in a home office.
Or it might be a week each month of traveling to a different, dedicated satellite office around the country, and the remaining weeks split between a coworking facility, the dining room table, and an hourly conference room for whiteboard sessions with local partners.
For companies interested in doing hybrid “right,” it’s finding the right mix for each team and employee that matters. But no matter the solution, one thing remains clear: workspace is back.