Guest Post by Monika Avery, NCIDQ, IIDA, LEED AP BD + C, Principal and Interior Designer for The S/L/A/M Collaborative (SLAM)

Several idioms come to mind when thinking of a valued workplace design today, but vitality is just so perfect as we race to remember and possibly redefine the workplace, its essence, and its purpose. A “vital” workplace may have, by definition of the word, the capacity for survival and for the continuation of a meaningful and purposeful existence.

Yet, in an economy where employees are quitting in record numbers, it’s vital to consider what would make workers feel better about returning to the office. Schedule and flexibility are certainly at the top of the list but what is the attraction of the office, when we do choose or need to be there?

A workforce survey conducted by Ipsos in August 2021, for Eagle Hill Consulting, found that 53 percent of working Americans said they are feeling burnt out at work. Workers between 18 to 34 reported the highest burnout rate at 62 percent and those 35 to 54 years old at 58 percent. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the numbers of workers who quit their jobs rising in the last quarter of 2021. These times of the “Great Resignation” are forcing us to carefully re-evaluate everything about work, including culture, how work gets done, and what does the optimal workplace look like?  

Let’s visualize a vital place, one with extraordinary energy, liveliness, and force of character and personality. We have all experienced places like this in our lives. Some may have been our workplaces, but more likely they have been favorite vacation destinations or entertainment and hospitality venues. We look forward to being part of their vitality. We plan and strategize our itineraries or lack thereof, we experience, we reminisce, and we go back.

The design industry knows this. It’s nothing new in the hospitality realm but now the workplace aspires to adapt some of a vacation appeal with the familiar terminology assigned to products, amenity spaces, and services. Here are some names that may conjure up visions of a type of vacation: Kamala Bay, Bali Hai Oyster Reef, Islander Console, Bungalow, Del So, Island Breeze, Shoreline and Cedar Key, to name a few. These are all actual names of products, specifically office furniture pieces – chairs, tables, storage units, and so on.

Destination terms have also become synonymous with workplace amenity trends such as restorative spaces, spas and lounges, fire pits, green roof gardens, and meditation trails. These have for decades been attached to the hospitality industry – hotels and entertainment venues, but now they are also one with a vital workplace.

Vitality of the workplace is more critical now than ever as employees drift off to an anticipated new office oasis. Every organization will have a common thread of purpose for the workplace’s physical presence – community, socialization, brand, culture, mentorship, efficacy. However, these common end goal aspirations alone cannot guarantee authentic joy, friendship, pleasure, and enjoyment of a place. Companies need to make the office an attractive proposition – both physically and in terms of career aspirations – to employees who now have more choices in where and how they can work. The savvy workers recognize and have expectations for what space design can do to make the workplace an all-inclusive and valued experience.

As the future of work itself continues to evolve and transform, designing a customized vital workplace destination is one of the diverse strategies organizations are embracing to attract and retain key talent. A repeat corporate client of SLAM has unquestionably put people first for the last 17 months. They upsized, they transformed, they advocated, and together we achieved a workplace design that is a genuine home away from home experience. It is a place where their 5,000 employees want to be – social, productive, comfortable, efficient, and an enjoyable everyday destination. Their workplace experience is enhanced by intelligent workplace technologies that allow them to have autonomy and control over their meeting spaces, lighting levels, and thermal comfort. Their space standards and ratio recipe are bold and unique. It is irrelevant to benchmark the details because their strategy is not meant to be a data point for anyone, but them. It is their vision that is relevant. It had vitality of place as a critical goal and its strength and clarity drove the decisions of all the design details. What works for them matters most, and they are not the only ones.

SLAM’s many corporate clients, from professional services to utility organizations, have guiding principles and organizational values that act as beacons for vital workplace design specific to them. Our designs realize their employees’ inherent needs for pride of place, ownership, freedom, access, control of the environment, community, and organizational culture. In short, a workplace that is easy, intuitive, relevant, joyful, and inspiring is vital for all of us to be our best selves and do our best work. Best we get to it.

Monika Avery is a principal and interior designer for The S/L/A/M Collaborative (SLAM)