Adapting the Workplace for Late-Pandemic Lifestyles
Adapting the Workplace for Late-Pandemic Lifestyles

Adapting the Workplace for Late-Pandemic Lifestyles

Two years ago, WFH was considered a novelty or a privilege reserved for a select few colleagues. Today, hybrid work models have become commonplace, and we expect them to continue. However, navigating an ideal blend of remote and in-person work can be a minefield for those charged with workplace transformation and policy development.

Burnout is a top concern of employees and their companies. It has led to the “Great Resignation” where employees are leaving their jobs to embrace the gig economy or to seek their fortune as TikTok creators. The Great Resignation combined with decreased immigration and the retirement of baby boomers has led companies to offer record-high wages and improved benefits to a somewhat disinterested workforce, leaving key positions unfilled. 

We are told that we are at a different place in this pandemic than we were before the vaccine, but it doesn’t feel like it when we are once again working from home to fight back from yet another variant of this virus. Employees are looking to their leaders for answers, while leaders are feeling the emotional toll of the past two years and uncertain about what comes next. 

While this is not the new normal we hoped for, it is normal. We are far more resilient and in a much better place to accept these changes to our lives than we were a year ago. 

Pragmatically, this means businesses must push ahead with developing their hybrid work models and ask different questions as they seek new solutions for their workspaces. How many desks are needed for hybrid work? How can hybrid meetings work equally for those in the room and those attending remotely? Can a hybrid workplace connect employees to a company culture, and what can be done to increase engagement and reduce burnout?

As we look more closely at emerging employer dilemmas and creative workplace design solutions, our advice is to put it all on the table as you explore the solutions that can work for you. 

Challenge: Daily office headcounts vary wildly.
Design Solution: Desk sharing + improved shared spaces

Despite the popularity of work from home, 75 percent of the workforce is now either hybrid or back in the office, and workplace design must consider the ebb and flow of daily in-office headcounts. 

One RATIO client has a hybrid work schedule that asks the full staff to come in on Wednesdays. It’s an Easter Sunday situation—as much as 90 percent of staff is in on one day, while other days may only see 25 percent of the population in person. Some departments may need to surge and have everyone in the office every day at the end of a quarter, while other departments may need to be there rarely, if ever. 

These scenarios have altered the way we think about the number of seats. We talk less about desks and instead about “workpoints,” or all the places in an office where people can work effectively. For many, a cafe booth alongside a colleague can be a better space to land for the day than a desk. Focus rooms can provide freedom from distractions. “Hoteling,” or desk-sharing, improves flexibility and desk usage, and we believe it should accommodate about 75 percent of an office’s highest average daily headcount. 

To maximize flexibility and usage, hoteling should apply to desk and departments. For groups that have surge times—when they need more people in the office than others—adhering to hard boundaries lessens the flexibility of the overall workplace. 

Daily headcount predictions are necessary to plan for the future. They influence everything from stress on mechanical systems to food service needs. While some companies are starting to collect data to better inform these predictions, other workforces are only starting to return, making the task more of a challenge, especially when it comes to gauging cyclical patterns. Continual communication between department leaders and adherence to hybrid work policies help improve these predictions. 

Challenge: Meeting rooms weren’t configured for hybrid attendance (some virtual, some in-person).

Design Solution: Larger meeting rooms + enhanced technology

A successful hybrid meeting is the unicorn of the hybrid work model. Achieving an equitable meeting experience for both remote and in-person participants has proven to be more of a goal than a reality so far. Technology is slowly rising to the occasion with platforms like Teams, Slack, and Zoom integrating new features and apps to make the experience more collaborative for everyone involved. However, the physical space is also playing a role in the challenges of the most collaborative meeting styles.

Our response is to tailor a meeting space to the specific type of meeting. The room that is great for group hybrid face-to-face conversations is different than the highly interactive space needed for collaborating around a whiteboard, which is different than large-group hybrid presentations. Each meeting type is requiring a different technology set-up, table space, seating, and acoustical considerations. This must be balanced with the request of employees, who tell us they want rooms that are intuitive in their purpose with technology that is easy to use.

Without a doubt, hybrid meetings are here to stay, and the work required to create the right balance of space types and uses are worth the extra effort to get right.

Challenge: Culture has gone cold.
Design Solution: Invest in creative collaboration spaces. 

The office friendship is endangered. Many post-Covid co-workers haven’t met in person, which can lead to high turnover if employees feel disconnected and unsure of their usefulness to the organization. They want to be recognized for the great work they do and want access to the leaders who can help them achieve their career goals. Getting to know their leaders and co-workers socially builds trust and loyalty. The trust and friendships between colleagues lead to a more empathic understanding of why some colleagues may not seem like they are pulling their weight. Companies are smart to encourage collaboration to foster the socialization that isn’t happening as naturally as it once did.

Social settings within the workplace are an essential ingredient to the success of hybrid work. Social hubs, cafes, living rooms, and outdoor gathering areas are a few examples of spaces designed to provide environments for employees and guests to engage with one another. They double as alternate workpoints for days when the population may be higher than your desk count. 

Challenge: Burnout is real and rampant.
Design Solutions: Greenspace, daylight, and mental health training.

Professionals resisting the Great Resignation might still struggle with the effects of Zoom fatigue, among other tolls the pandemic has taken. Nature is coming to the rescue. Amazon built The Spheres in Seattle with 40,000 plants based on its belief in biophilia, the innate desire for humans to connect with nature. You don’t have to go that big. Providing a greenspace for fresh air, access to walking trails, abundant natural light, windows that open, and high-quality air circulation goes a long way. 

While these things can make a significant difference, your wellness strategy must grow beyond counting steps to directly addressing mental health and the causes of fatigue and burnout. 

This is a challenging moment.

Resilience is one of RATIO’s core values, and we are inspired by the resilience that companies and workers have shown throughout this pandemic. We are equipped to meet this moment and help our clients help their people. They are exhausted and overwhelmed, but they know what they want. With the right ingredients of patience, time, and dedication, we can achieve a workplace that accommodates this need.


Ready to adapt your workplace environment?

Get in touch with Sim Nabors or see additional office examples, here.