Workplace leaders are recognizing the value of putting employees first and prioritizing a healthy work environment.
Creating an office space that is both practically functional and physically inviting makes the workplace a positive space to be in. The result is an improved employee experience that supports improved job satisfaction, retention, team morale, and productivity.
Hybrid schedules have created new requirements for what people need from their workspaces. For some, the office is a place that can facilitate collaboration, while others need privacy and space for focused individual work. To create the best employee experience, offices need to have spaces that can accommodate each of those unique needs. But finding the right mix can be challenging.
When you consider hybrid schedules may change what is needed on a daily basis, that balance becomes even harder to perfect. So how much of each is ideal, and what kinds of office designs can strike the right combination of “me” and “we” space?
Employee needs define their workplace experience
In a general sense, employee experience in the office is exactly what it sounds like: a process of gauging how a work environment affects the satisfaction and productivity of those working in it. More specifically, it means understanding the individual requirements of each team and employee so the workspace can be optimized around current needs.
While the specifics of those needs will be unique for each person, they can be broadly thought of in terms of how an employee interacts with coworkers, technology, and space. The experience someone has is shaped by the combination of these elements. A seamless integration boosts mental health, work relationships, and employee satisfaction. The goal for a facility manager should be designing workspaces that are ripe for creating positivity in these interactions.
This is often done by gathering space utilization data from occupancy sensors that show what types of spaces are being frequently used (and which are not). Detailed use metrics let employees vote with their feet, revealing exactly what kind of space they need, what technology they use, and when they need to use it.
If data for a floor with collaborative work areas reveals one conference room is often at capacity while the rest are underutilized, a lot can be learned about what employees need to collaborate. Maybe the high-occupancy room has interactive whiteboards or larger monitors. Maybe it has more wireless and communication tech. Knowing what makes a space valuable to employees teaches you how to improve their office experience. This information can also be applied to underutilized areas, making more spaces that meet the specific needs of employees while optimizing space management, floor plans, and corporate real estate.
Workplace utilization data can also determine what types of spaces are most conducive to the work employees need to accomplish—a critical component for designing the right blend of “me” and “we” areas.
For example, if a floor with phone booths is often underutilized while a floor with conference rooms is always full, the need for more coworking space is clear.
Consider the above example in an office with a single open floor plan. Using real-time data of the existing space will show which days and times see more collaborative work and which are being used for individual heads-down concentration at any given time. Seeing how that data changes over a period of time shows utilization rate trends. From there, adjusting neighborhood square footage and allocation is simple, or adopting flexible designs (like desks with moveable dividers that can quickly convert from solitary to collaborative spaces on a given day) becomes a data-backed decision.
The importance of having the right space for the right job
Knowing that both shared spaces and solitary work areas are necessary, and even understanding how much of each a specific team requires, is not enough to maximize your employee experience strategy.
That’s because not all spaces function the same. As workplace leaders consider how to make a better workplace environment, they must understand the value that specific designs offer and how they can work together to create a comprehensive experience.
The power of collaborative space
People collaborate in a variety of ways, and spaces need to reflect that. Additionally, the switch to hybrid work has created a new need for face-to-face workplace interactions.
Conference rooms are a great place to start. For many teams, working from home has diminished the opportunity for meetings, and they are eager to come back to offices that support productive teamwork. Revamping and refining conference rooms is an excellent way to improve the office experience for employees who seek collaboration. That can mean updating furniture, room size, decor, and tech, so that every meeting room delivers a functional and inspirational space to work in.
But not all coworking takes place in conference rooms, and beneficial employee interactions are often informal and spontaneous. This is one of the reasons why so many Big Tech companies invest in making their campuses inviting—when people spend more time together in the office, there are more opportunities for innovation.
Apple is a perfect example of a company that believes inspirational spaces lead to ingenuity, and a core design of their Apple Park is integration and interaction. But you don’t have to be a tech giant to design meeting spaces that promote engagement. Realizing that collaboration can happen anywhere, office designs that feature breakout spaces, nooks with soft seating, and even well-stocked and comfortable break rooms, encourage the kind of employee interaction that might just lead to the next company breakthrough.
A place to concentrate
There will always be a need for individual work space where people can make sales calls, crunch data, or write a report. And these focus-oriented tasks require a quiet place without distraction.
The kinds of space people need for uninterrupted work also varies, all of which come down to privacy. For example, some employees need visual privacy (where they can focus without being seen or seeing others), while others will prefer audio privacy (quiet areas where they will be able to focus in silence). Having a strategic mix of closed work options will satisfy the diverse privacy needs different employees have. That can mean cubicles for people with visual preferences and soundproof pods for those that are audio inclined (or disinclined).
In addition to private spaces where heads-down work can be accomplished, “me” areas are also an important way for people to step away from the demands of a busy office. Research shows that taking small microbreaks during the day increases concentration, reduces stress, and improves productivity. Providing comfortable and separate areas where employees can clear their heads, stretch, and refocus, can be an important factor in workplace experience.
The impact of balance
To truly create the best workplace strategy for optimum employee experience, it’s critical to remember that the right mix in space planning is often not a hard divide, but a flexible blend.
As projects develop, the way employees work on them will change. And when it comes to being creative and productive, people need to be able to both collaborate and work alone. They might meet to build ideas, and then choose to develop them while doing solitary work.
Having spaces where employees can choose what kind of work they want to do both facilitates fluctuating needs and builds a working environment of trust that develops a positive office culture. Moreover, studies show that when employees feel empowered and trusted to complete their work as they see fit, overall productivity and employee happiness increases.
It’s also possible that future offices will not only have both collaborative and solitary areas, but will find ways of allowing real-time and frictionless changes between them. This type of on-demand balance highlights the trend in sensitivity toward multiple types of work, while recognizing the benefit of providing fine-tuned spaces that can change with the varying needs of employees.
Ultimately, the right blend of meeting spaces and closed work areas will be based on team-specific requirements that are understood through comprehensive space utilization metrics. While the ideal mix will vary from office to office, employee to employee, and even throughout a single day, what it will always have in common is positive workplace experience.