Guest Post by Regan Donoghue, Principal, Workplace Strategy, Unispace

Despite valiant talk, the “perfect office” doesn’t exist to entice workers back – at least not yet. From the Great Resignation to quiet quitting, employees are confirming old workplace norms aren’t cutting it. What exactly will inspire workers to return, and stick around? My formula: Mix science with imagination.

Step one is to scrap pre-Covid workplace strategy. The difference between then and now in how we work is like the difference in NASA sending people to the Moon, versus sending them to Mars. Employees need entirely different resources and environments to thrive in our pandemic-marked world.

From there, the future of work is up for grabs. Covid-19 shattered the paradigm, and even the most seasoned workplace strategists can no longer claim to have all the answers. Like with any new frontier, when you enter it for the first time, you can no longer consider yourself an expert on the terrain.

You can, however, consider yourself ready for the challenge – and the opportunity. The future of the workplace may be unwritten, but we can write a more satisfying, more rewarding, and more innovative future where employee and employer alike profit.

Like any epic journey, this one demands its heroes bring the best of both sides of the brain: rigorous logic and analysis, matched with artful and audacious imagining.

Left-brain: Observe what’s happening in today’s workplace 

Investigate what’s working, and what’s not, with science 101: the Scientific Method.

Make an observation. For example, how are hybrid schedules are actually working in your workplace? Are people able to easily find their colleagues in the office, or is there confusion about who is coming in, and when? Is it as easy for teams to connect when they’re in person as it is when they’re working remotely?

Form a hypothesis from your observations and create predictions for outcomes.  If you’re seeing that teams are having trouble connecting with their in-office and remote colleagues in the office, you may want to consider spaces like an anchor department hub with advanced videoconferencing capabilities, or a VIP lounge that staff can reserve as needed.

Be cognizant about how people are feeling and acting. Are some people clearly morning people? Do some people connect better through video than in person? Catalog the different ways people approach work and predict different ways to create a mix of experiences that empower them all.

Now, let’s hit pause on the logic-first approach. Before you start testing, analyzing data, and reporting worthy conclusions, power up those hypotheses with a hefty dose of creative thinking.

Right-brain: Dream up new ways to earn the commute

For many people Covid innately changed their normal – how they interact, what they place value on, and what is important to them.

People have been racing get back to restaurants, schools, parks and playgrounds – but very few have been clamoring to get back to the office. Who can blame them? The workplace in its current state no longer feels worthy of the time it takes to get there.

Ready to earn the commute again? Unleash your inner camp counselor and dream up new ways to make the workplace a worthwhile destination. Here are a few tips to help stir those creative juices:

  1. Disney-fy workplace design. Motivate people to get back to the space with memorable, stimulating and yes, fun environments.

    For instance, consider providing space for employees to realize their own playful ideas with tools like 3D printing labs. Reimagine health and wellness amenities with tech-enabled workout rooms and Insta-worthy relaxation areas. Trick out casual lounges with playground equipment – anything goes in this brainstorm session.

    Think like a park planner when you visualize new layouts – the more types of space, the better, so people with different personality types and neurological functions can find places they want to be.

  2. Game-ify the return. From frequent flier programs and hotel rewards programs to store club discounts, many other sectors see the value of incentivizing use. Why not get workplace design in on the action with similar perks?

    For example, one of our clients game-ified the switch to hybrid by giving team members points every time they used the company app to book a work area. Virtual rewards can add up to prizes based on your company culture – and they can entice people to come back to the physical environment more regularly.
  1. Think social. Make the workplace a salve for the loneliness epidemic that was exacerbated during Covid. Work friendships can be a meaningful part of people’s lives, especially when the workplace itself is designed to foster them.

    Some unique ways our clients have helped encourage camaraderie at work include organizing foam latte art classes, food truck visits, gallery showings, and family picnics complete with bounce houses.

Building the future of work with reason and imagination

It takes a lot of brain power to help shape the future – especially when we also need to consider what works for today.

Use observations of current needs to visualize an ideal future 10, 20, and even 50 years out. Big picture thinking can help inspire big ideas that will help your company and its people, flourish. It also relieves tension on today’s improvements, helping you outline what you need right now and how to future proof for down the line.

Every time you land on what seems like a promising step forward, use your data and your imagination. Be thorough in your analysis of all possible solutions. And don’t forget to bring the fun.

Regan Donoghue is Principal, Workplace Strategy, at Unispace