Guest Post by Heidi Hendy and Anna Grayhek, H. Hendy Associates

Never before in modern history has the business community, and specifically commercial real estate, experienced such profound and dramatic change. The marketplace faced a long, arduous year with unexpected demands on resources and personnel. It was beyond transitional; it’s been transformative, educational and an eye-opening experience.

What Did We Learn?  

We witnessed a fundamental change in the role of office. As we transitioned to virtual workspaces, leadership perspective on remote working and physical space changed. Business leaders shared concerns over workplace purpose and rightsizing future office requirements, yet they’ve been awed and inspired by the complexity of a single question: “What is the future of work?”

Now that we’ve untethered from our cubicles, there will be no turning back. Remote work is here to stay and Upwork’s “Future of Workforce Report,” reveals that 36.2 million Americans will be fully remote by 2025—16.8 million more compared to pre-pandemic rates.

Through this disruption, organizations are questioning business norms and expressing concerns about the shift to more agile workspaces. Key questions business owners are asking include:

  • What is the best office size and configuration?
  • What are long-term, post pandemic implications on real estate decisions today?

Digital Transformation Spurs Remote Work

The pandemic’s demand for safety and wellness drove an overnight transition to remote work and sudden implementation of tools often underutilized. We now have an experienced, digital savvy workforce with the tools to make remote work successful. So, what’s next for office and how do organizations apply learning lessons? Enter the New Generation Space.

Components of The New Generation Space

The New Generation Space is a purpose-built environment that drives employee engagement: an inspiring place where people want to work and be. This hybrid workplace can also be viewed as a “Hive;” the place people return to for human connection that supports activities employees can’t do from home. And although it’s not one-size-fits-all, there’s an emphasis on the following:

  • Leadership: Presence and vision are the heart of an organization. Associates will need to see and be seen to fully connect with the culture and vision.
  • Cultural Experience: Work environments are a physical manifestation of a company’s values, purpose and brand promise. In-person engagement helps create social capital that binds organizational culture.
  • In-Office Employees: Though many will embrace remote work, others will prefer the office environment. Resident employees will likely be in office often and require assigned workspaces. Companies should incorporate flexibility to expand and contract as needs adjust.
  • Collaboration & Innovation: Although many platforms have made virtual meetings successful, it misses nuances of body language and visual cues in communication that impact brainstorming. The “Hive” will incorporate innovation labs and project rooms for teamwork and tactile learning.
  • Agile Workspace: Similar to activity-based work models, associates can choose preferred work settings based on tasks. A hybrid workforce requires freedom to choose between tech-enabled focus areas, quiet zones, and collaboration spaces that promote productivity and cross-collaboration.

Attaining the New Generation Space

Companies are experiencing degrees of readiness and acceptance of the “Hive.” Organizations have extensive investments in existing real estate, deeply ingrained leadership styles and cultural history, often supported by well-established industry norms. To address these issues, Hendy developed a methodology to guide businesses through uncertainty and help find the best workplace solution. Following are steps to achieve your New Generation Space.

1. Confirm Your Purpose

The process begins with listening and understanding leadership as it confirms – or redefines –the organization’s vision, mission, values, culture, and how those may be impacted by a dynamic workforce or new processes. This self-examination will create uncertainties and provoke questions. Addressing concerns is imperative for a united leadership and guiding companies to their solution. During this process, we also identify leadership’s threshold for change regarding remote work, digital processes and financial commitment.

Secondly, assessing employee work-from-home (WFH) experience is crucial to understanding what’s working and what can be improved regarding technology, performance, distractions, engagement, isolation, and organizational connection. Through employee experience surveys, businesses can capture feedback regarding preferred WFH schedules, in-office activities, desired on-site resources, and amenities. This unveils individual personas and insight to the new workplace purpose. Surveys coupled with leadership’s goals are key in identifying issues, priorities and expectations addressed in the next step, “Future of Work Sessions.”

The sessions include a cross-section of company participants for a broad perspective on beliefs, needs, and expectations. These insights set the stage for creating opportunities and exploring the shift from “where we are” to “where we want to be.” Sessions utilize tailored exercises based on a modified design thinking methodology – a human-centered approach to problem solving. One such exercise develops “How might we?” questions to frame the challenge. Examples:

  • How might we design a workplace that’s intuitive for all occupants?
  • How might we design a workplace that improves remote worker engagement?

Not only do these sessions align all stakeholders on the vision and purpose of the environment, but it establishes “seeds of change” and becomes the basis for developing new processes, protocols, and determines change management required for transformation. 

2. Develop a Strategy

This step applies results from Future of Work Sessions to real-world applications. Using these ideas and solutions we test what impact “What if” scenarios have on future office needs. Some examples: “What impact does remote scheduling have on real estate requirements?” or “What if everyone shows up the same day?”

As individual space becomes shared and alternative work settings are utilized, space plans are no longer measured by number of workstations and private offices. A capacity analysis determines how many “seats” will be needed to meet current and future demand.

Finally, developing a comprehensive workplace strategy includes aligning IT and HR. This strategy should address how to support an untethered workforce and new tools required. Appropriate technology infrastructure must be implemented to support a seamless user experience. These may include integrated employee dashboards, booking systems, or sensor technology that manage relationships between people and spaces. HR’s involvement regarding policy and protocols are also established as changes in space require new behaviors and training to maximize use.

3. Create an Experience

The heart of the New Generation Space is connecting individuals and embracing the human side of an organization. With well-planned migration patterns and deliberate touchpoints, the environment becomes a memorable experience.

This workplace model will be easy to use and intuitive with seamless, plug-and-play technology. Integrated platforms will provide insights that track trends and schedules and improve communication and user experience. When designed effectively, it will build personal and professional relationships and foster collaboration and innovation.

Heidi Hendy, CID, LEED AP is Managing Principal at H. Hendy Associates

Anna Grayhek, IIDA is Principal / Studio Director at H. Hendy Associates