Bigger offices, more connectivity, enhanced amenities for workers—these are among the key modifications companies are discussing to persuade employees to come back to the office.
A combination of more flexible spaces, along with places where employees can connect with their co-workers through the communication and collaboration applications, will be key to luring back employees who grew accustomed to remote work.
SolarWinds CIO Chris Day explains that with the company still in a hybrid work mode, the post-pandemic office rethink is a learning process.
"We are starting to have conversations about how we repurpose some of our space to be less dedicated assigned cubes and offices and more collaboration space," he says. "Within our Austin headquarters, which is probably our largest location, we have an entire floor that is just auditorium conference rooms and scrum rooms."
The idea is that when workers are in the office, they're there to interact and collaborate and deal with in-person meetings and whiteboarding.
"We're going back to new scenarios where you have a concentration of people together in a place and a smaller number of people that are remote," he adds. "People in the conference room need to be aware of how to engage those individuals that are remote because they tend to not be on a level playing field now."
Day also says there is a need to invest in more sophisticated communications equipment, from speaker systems to larger screens with HD capability, to provide immersive conferencing experiences at a smaller scale.
"It's going to become more complicated for IT and corporate services teams because the answer is not going to be the same for all departments," he adds.
Fostering Cross-Functional Work Environments
Seema Tyagi, senior director of workplace strategy and projects for Horizon Therapeutics, explains after working remotely during the pandemic, the company wanted to create a place where employees would want to get together.
"We had the opportunity with our new U.S. headquarters to build space that would foster collaboration, creativity, and community," she says. "Our campus has more than 200 meeting rooms as well as a lounge and recreational space—there is an openness intended to provide social distance for those who wanted to be there, but not feel at risk."
The stakeholders making the changes include a combination of different departments, including real estate and facilities, HR, IT, and user groups.
"Our approach accounts for different needs across multiple areas of the company," she says. "For our newest facility in Maryland, we are engaging our scientists to help us ensure we are building space that fosters cross-functional work."
For this new research and development, the company will introduce a variety of space types and various configurations of meetings rooms to continue to enable their employees to collaborate effectively with each other and externally.
"We offer a variety of spaces in our offices that cater to diverse business needs, making our employees productive," Tyagi says. "Horizon has always asked employees to make the office their primary place of work and continues to offer a flexible environment depending on role, business needs, and individual needs."
Flexibility is Key at Audi
Gerald Kolbeck, New Work project manager for German automaker Audi, says the company's focus is more and more on well-being and the needs of the employees.
"This means that physical office spaces will turn into places that allow colleagues to interact more easily for personal exchange and networking," he says, adding creative collaboration zones will be part of it.
He agrees physical flexibility is important, which means flexible project rooms where the size and equipment easily can be adapted by the teams.
"Our new company agreement on hybrid working includes a maximum of flexibility for our employees," Kolbeck says. "It responds to the needs of our employees, and this means our offices will change accordingly."
This includes the gradual introduction of desk-sharing models, which he says creates space for more flexible working environments at the locations.
"With desk sharing, employees no longer have personal workstations but share the space flexibly," he explains. "They can use a digital tool to book the room or desk they require."
He adds that in a hybrid working world, mobile working and working on-site go together.
"We are creating the technical conditions to ensure that this works smoothly," he says. "We are focusing on a hybrid working world where all our employees feel comfortable."
This includes packages for mobile working, new communication technology in the offices for hybrid meetings such as rooms with additional monitors and speaker adapting cameras, or the development of new applications such as whiteboard applications.
In addition, new office space concepts are designed to make hybrid working easier and more attractive.
Kolbeck explains Audi's HR department is in close collaboration with the works council to craft more flexible working models in shifts and new room concepts to make time spent on-site more pleasant, and more varied offers in catering and easier access to Audi's "digital world.”
"In the coming years, more creative spaces, meeting rooms, project corners, lounges and meeting areas will be created," Kolbeck adds. "Rather than metaverse, our focus is on flexible working solutions for all our employees in production who are bound to a specific cycle."