From perception to connection: Rethinking the purpose of the workplace

Trade the Great Resignation for the Great Reconnection by designing spaces that prioritize identity, inclusivity and collaboration

Nearly every corporate real estate team today is grappling with the same formiddable challenge: how do we re-energize our workplaces when so many employees would rather skip the commute and work from home?

Solving that dilema starts with acknowledging how the pandemic forever changed the way we work. By accepting that fundamental truth, organizations can stave off the Great Resignation and instead facilitate the Great Reconnection.

New goals for workplace design

Organizations have long sought to drive perception of their brand and culture through their office designs. That’s still a valiant goal—workplaces should strive to help employees and visitors deepen their connection to the organization’s brand. But now is the time to prioritize a different form of connection—human to human.

Over the last two years, many employees lost the sense of belonging they felt in their workplace community. At least a third have struggled to maintain personal connections with colleagues, according to JLL research. Inherently social creatures, many of us missed face-to-face interaction as the days of working from home stretched into months, then years.

Yet people also grew to love the comforts of home. That dichotomy explains why 63% of workers prefer a hybrid model with the ability to choose where and when to work.

Workplace design can play an important role in facilitiating connection. The key is to envision welcoming, inclusive environments where employees feel supported and inspired to connect with each other, and with the brand as a whole.

Six ways to design for the Great Reconnection

Ready to move from yesterday’s perception-based design, to tomorrow’s connective approach? From amenities to technology, following are strategies to help you achieve the workplace of the future:

1. Create space to facilitate various ways of connecting—and disconnecting. In an ideal world, high-density workplaces would yield efficiency and collaboration as intended. In reality, they’re either too noisy because everyone’s talking, or too quiet because no one wants to break the silence. More than just an uncomfortable experience, it hampers productivity and employee happiness when people feel like they can’t focus or express themselves comfortably. 

So, give people a mix of areas to find the level of socialization they seek at different times of day. Include a range of quiet zones for focused work and peaceful breaks, as well as collaboration areas for group engagement and casual conversation.

2. Help visitors feel connected. Your workplace should be a place where job candidates can gain a deeper understanding of your organization and its people. While many recruiters plan to continue video interviews as part of the hiring process, just 22% plan to conduct all-virtual hiring in the future, according to a survey by Jobvite. As HR managers begin inviting candidates into the office, they will need comfortable spaces to conduct interviews that facilitate stronger connections with your brand and people.

Also consider the third-party connections that so often enliven a workplace. For example, dedicating co-working-style space can ease collaboration between your teams and their vendors, clients and other partners—without disrupting employees who are focused on confidential or internal-facing work.

3. Foster interaction with a mix of hospitaity spaces. Many companies relegate their corporate dining area to a dedicated floor, offering a singular experience. While there can be value in bringing employees together in one place at lunchtime, it may also be overwhelming for employees who are no longer accustomed to dining in large communal spaces.

Instead, consider creating smaller café areas scattered throughout the workspace. This hub-and-spoke model invites more frequent moments of connection around breaks and offers different options for groups of different sizes. For example, a coffee bar located in the middle of a group of conference rooms provides space for chance encounters as employees go to and from meetings.

4. Enliven the office experience with the comforts of home. People will be more eager to spend time with their colleagues if they’re happy and comfortable. Take a cue from the best perks of working from home, and encourage people to move their meetings to an outdoor terrace or a cushy couch. Quiet nooks can give people a place to retreat when they need a break or place to focus.

Embolden employees to personalize their workspace, too, much as they would at home. Whether it’s family photos or sports team paraphernalia, such displays can help spark conversation and even strengthen people’s sense of belonging.

5. Champion health and wellness. The pandemic cast fresh light on the importance of well-being, including mental as well as physical health. When employees feel it’s safe and even healthy to come to work, they’ll not only be more comfortable showing up, but connecting with each other, too.

Start by incorporating a range of fitness and meditiation rooms where people can go to exercise or decompress with colleagues. Rather than investing in one big fitness center, consider building smaller studios for group classes—situated closer to workspaces—to facilitate connection.

6. Support connection wherever people sit. In this new hybrid era, there’s no going back to the days of in-person-only meetings. For productive hybrid meetings, meeting rooms need video-conferencing solutions that allow everyone in the room to be heard and on-screen.

Remember that not every call or video meeting happens in a conference room. You’ll also need to ensure every desk has a quality headset and design ways to give employees more visual and acoustic privacy.

The future of work demands connection

Today, corporate leaders have a historic opportunity to reimagine the workplace, yet many are holding off on making changes. In fact, 63% of people say their companies have not made any significant changes to their workplaces to adapt to new ways of working, found a TravelPerk survey.

This wait-and-see approach comes with risks, however. When employees return to offices that don’t meet their needs, they may decide to keep working from home—or jump to another organization that provides the engaging workplace they seek.

Now is the time to make the big changes that will facilitate the Great Reconnection. Seize this moment to design a connective workplace that puts people first.