Since today’s workplaces allow employees to work anywhere and at any time, what is the role of the modern-day office? The new office has become an amenity space—a clubhouse of sorts—acting as an enticing venue for employee activities, benefits, and interactions that can’t occur in a siloed environment.
Responding to the needs of a mobile workforce, offices are no longer designed to accommodate cubicles or bullpen spaces that center on heads-down work done in isolation. Beyond providing smaller, shared spaces in which people can work alone or collaborate together, employers are embracing the notion that work truly can happen everywhere. The activity-based work (ABW) model recognizes the human-centered design approach, which espouses that work functions occur in a variety of environments.
In our own work, we are exploring the transformation of the workplace from a physical environment into an idea—manifesting the office function to break free of traditional notions. Workplace designs reflect today’s commonly held belief that your work is integral to your identity. Employees want their values reflected in their workplace, and to find meaning in what they do. Purposely designed, a workplace can be a tool for both the attraction and retention of quality employees.
The office as a clubhouse draws on the idea of membership: employees want to go to a place every day because they feel a sense of belonging. Early models that exemplify the concept of membership are The Battery in San Francisco and SoHo House in New York—places that offer 100 percent amenities and zero workstations, yet fully support the modern worker. These are communities where people successfully make connections and still get plenty of work done. Employers no longer just pay employees for their time—they also provide access to amenities and foster a more collaborative and productive environment.
Historically, employers often made decisions based on real estate instead of on employee needs. Now employers are heavily influenced by the desire to attract talent—a significant departure from the workspace design approach of the past, which was more focused on productivity. Employers are acknowledging employee behavior and expectations for added amenity space. In our projects, we aim for a ratio of 60/40, with 40 percent of space in offices dedicated to amenities.
We engage in many conversations around change management with our clients. Many of them are moving toward offering unassigned desks, but at times, employees can view this action as having their workplace identity, or their work “home,” taken away from them. After all, many of us have had assigned desks since we were five years old! Savvy employers mitigate this by trusting and empowering their employees to work independently, which, in turn, makes them more productive.