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2021 is the year of the experiential office

Re-evaluation and experimentation: LOM Director, Simon Marett, and Associate, Chiara Cantilena, discuss the importance of the employee experience and how businesses can benefit from a more experiential workplace.

17/02/2021 4 min read
The Living Rooms, London, designed by LOM

There’s no doubt that 2021 will be a decisive turning point for workplace design. The COVID pandemic continues to influence how we work and its effects will be longer lasting still. Businesses had to adapt rapidly in 2020 – particularly by embracing technology to enable staff to work remotely.  Given the overall success of this working from home revolution, many businesses are now revaluating what the future holds for their office portfolios. Lockdown has also highlighted what we lack when working remotely – and has given many a renewed appreciation of their office space, particularly its facilities and the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues.

Being away from our normal place of work has brought into sharp focus what experiences people have missed. Starting 2021 with renewed positivity and hopes pinned on a successful, expedient vaccine roll out, now is a good time for employers to reflect on what will attract people back to the office and experiment with creating an enhanced workplace experience for their teams.

Re-evaluating the workplace

Office design has been undergoing major transformation for many years – moving away from uniform, structured efficiency into more flexible workplaces that offer far greater interest and stimulation. For most businesses, the office still has a strong future in some form. Now the focus needs to be on enhancing the employee experience – not only to encourage staff back to the office, but also to help employers retain them in the long term.

Ahead of efficiency, productivity or technology, overwhelmingly, we find the most significant issue with working remotely has been the loss of the experience of connecting and collaborating with colleagues and with the business, its culture and values. People are motivated in part by the pride in what they do, who they work with and a shared purpose. It’s difficult to maintain these connections from your spare room and – from a business perspective – loss of connection can result in issues with motivation, quality and creative thinking.

Many have enjoyed dodging the grind of the daily commute, spending more time with family or raiding the fridge between Zoom calls. But there are also distractions to deal with – from daily chores to lively children, or the loneliness of working in isolation. After months of lockdowns, the experience of a shared workplace will have a greater appeal than working from kitchen tables or the spare room.

This year, more than ever, is an opportunity to ensure that employees look forward to travelling into the office – whether that’s every day or once a month. Most people will be coming into the office to meet, collaborate, access specialist facilities or to soak up the office atmosphere while they work. It is vital that the focus is on building a sense of community and shared purpose – all wrapped up in a more flexible, higher quality environment.

Winning hearts and minds

Creating a positive workplace experience is primarily about behaviours and how the spaces are used.  In this sense, while good design is important, function must come before style. This might mean bringing in dedicated ‘branded’ spaces with a unique identity. For instance, a space to touch base with colleagues around food or coffee, and to celebrate human interaction over digital exchange, while we are back in the office. Not all areas in the workplace should be dedicated to work specifically – there will always be times when people need to separate themselves from their daily tasks.

Our solution to this is to create ‘sanctuary’ spaces – these are fully technology-free, immersive green spaces for calm and respite.

The importance of communication cannot be overstated here. Returning to a different kind of office has the potential to be off-putting. Managing and communicating this change in advance and letting people know how they can use and experience these spaces will help them to feel welcome and comfortable.

Putting the right building blocks in place

A truly experiential office space is a tailored one. Choice is key. It gives people the opportunity to have a workspace that is perfect for their preferences at any one time – from quiet spaces for concentration and private video calls, to large communal spaces for activities and collaboration.   Companies will get the most out of their employees by listening and reacting to their different requirements and preferred ways of working. Beyond this, the best experiential workplaces are sufficiently flexible to accommodate even unpredicted needs. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we need to have the freedom to experiment and adapt to new realities and behaviours swiftly.

Wellbeing in its broadest sense is central to the workplace experience, from the look and feel of the workspaces, to the food choices on offer and provision of spaces for other kinds of activities, such as client entertaining and sports. A space that contributes to positive experience is a space that nurtures individuals and makes them feel valued. This extends to feeling included in the business’ brand: a space that embodies the values and the essence of a company and therefore can make us feel part of a higher shared purpose.

2021 – the start of a new chapter

Employees that are happy, healthy and fulfilled are also productive and innovative. For businesses, focusing on the experience of the workplace has numerous benefits. These spaces facilitate collaboration and creativity in a productive environment. They also contribute to staff wellbeing, which by extension leads to workers that are less stressed and more able to focus on quality work. Beyond this, it also fosters a feeling of common purpose and re-endorses a firm’s brand values and culture – helping the workforce to feel like a team. This can all be achieved while reducing the size of an office portfolio – providing the optimum working environment for employees, while also ensuring the whole space is used effectively. This is a model for 2021 and beyond.

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