Guest Post by Emmy So, Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Solutions, Stok, and Adam Guli, Director of Client Solutions, Stok

What does the future look like?” has always been a common question, but the pandemic has added layers of depth to what it means for our physical spaces and how they might evolve to meet priorities of our modern lifestyles and personal wellbeing.

While the full impacts on real estate remain to be seen, we do know one thing: changes in the built environment are needed to keep up with the way human behaviors have shifted. Placemaking is no longer just about meeting physical or operational requirements; it needs to consider the emotional, physiological, and behavioral needs of its occupants.

From a workplace perspective, return to the office is top of mind for almost every company, and creating a narrative that speaks to sustainability, health, and wellbeing initiatives is a priority. The pandemic has shifted the expectation that workers must be in the office every day and changed the physical, programmatic, and operational conditions of the traditional workplace. Going to the office is no longer simply about getting work done; the office must now be a place where people see and collaborate with colleagues and fulfill their desire to be a part of a company’s culture and community.

But how does a company embark on such a major shift? Employers can use these high-level, critical steps as an entry point:

Prioritize Health and Wellbeing Initiatives

Organizations have been forced to reexamine their company initiatives, and now more than ever, the workplace experience has shifted to focus heavily on the health and wellbeing of workers. Establishing new behaviors and monitoring compliance will undoubtably have a strain on morale, and to ensure a healthy environment, the team will need to shift how they function in their shared space. Engagement strategies that foster employee buy-in and participation will lead to a thriving evolved culture:

  • Create a “Day in the Life of Hybrid Working” for individuals and teams to illustrate how and where hybrid work happens.
  • Have leaders and managers establish and model social behavior standards that embody wellbeing practices to help the organization define workstyle effectiveness.

Rework Your Workspace

Fostering safe environments takes more than ensuring your HVAC system works. It is about creating a place of security and comfort for people to accomplish their best work. Modern placemaking does more than serve as a functional space. Companies will need to develop an experience framework around business goals, asset management and strategies that meet emotional and physiological needs of occupants and visitors. Sociability shifts and impacts, such as traditional water cooler conversations, need to be addressed to ensure a thriving culture and productive team. Start with the following strategies:

  • Create social settings within the work environment to foster social collisions while maintaining safety protocols.
  • Define a “hybrid” workplace. Where to work from will have major implications on asset management, protocols and future expansion plans for organizations who are in continued growth mode.
  • Think beyond “one” workspace. Instead, it is a network of spaces easily accessible to individuals and teams from their homes.
  • Expand the design of workspaces beyond walls and create programmatic and technological processes to create a virtual “place.”

Establish a Communication Plan

Clear and concise communications regarding how employers plan to accommodate a modification to behavioral norms should speak to the hybrid work/home structure and find a way to infuse these new norms while slowly integrating people back into the office. Ultimately, this will lead to an analysis of the impact of real estate on business objectives to support employees’ new priorities.

  • Prioritize thorough communication across the organization, which will be critical for confidence of the employees supporting the organization. It should be a communitive effort across all business verticals within the organization to ensure transparency and trust. Consistent messaging from executives, business leaders, and team leads is key.
  • Establish a multi-tiered communications platform (e.g., identify “hybrid” advocates, intranet, Slack, Teams, etc.).
  • Define and communicate clear systems to support bi-lateral communication flow. Receiving feedback and input from employees is just as essential as communications coming from the executive level.

Being forced to work in isolation has provided proof for the importance of behavioral and emotional needs, including friendship, belonging, respect, and overall fulfillment as human beings. Leaders now have the added layer of thinking about how to reimagine their organizations – to unleash potential rather than stunt it – and empower their people to drive innovation. Our new era challenges the status quo, and companies must expand business priorities to address the needs for the whole person, beyond just productivity but also their health and wellbeing, to ensure viability, relevancy, and longevity.

Emmy So is Vice President of Real Estate and Workplace Solutions at Stok, a provider of sustainability and high-performance building services.

Adam Guli is Director of Client Solutions at Stok, a provider of sustainability and high-performance building services.