As employers and employees alike embrace the philosophy that work is something you do rather than a place you go, the traditional office space is undergoing a radical transformation. An increase in hybrid and remote work in the post-pandemic era is driving new tenant preferences and making it more important than ever to deliver an equitable work environment, regardless of where employees are working from.
More and more, companies are looking for office spaces that deliver greater flexibility, spread-out floorplans and enhanced ventilation systems. Hot desking is more prevalent than in the past, with companies transitioning away from honeycomb-style workstations toward a wider variety of collaborative meeting spaces.
At the same time, equity has moved into the spotlight—there’s a widespread expectation that people working at home will be able to collaborate and communicate just as effectively with co-workers and clients as someone working in the office can.
Consider, for example, the challenge of holding a meeting with attendees scattered around the country. People are now accustomed to individual panes displaying and identifying each participant clearly. Going forward, you may have a dozen people in an on-site conference room, with a handful of others joining via video. But with a single camera in the conference room, how can the remote workers tell who among the dozen on-site is speaking? If discussion centers around a shared spreadsheet with a small font, is the worker at home on a laptop able to participate as fully as his colleagues in the office? If the person who scheduled the meeting isn’t in the office, how does a visitor management system work to get non-employees to the meeting?
In today’s increasingly hybrid workplace, it has become more important than ever to deliver an equitable, engaging, consistent experience for on-site as well as remote workers. Here’s how to get started.
1. Lead with the User Experience, Not a System Design Focus
Many people designing modern office spaces bring in a variety of systems experts, from IT and Wi-Fi to audio-video and access control, who design within each specialized platform. Those platforms, however, don’t always come together to provide a cohesive user experience.
Rather than starting with the capabilities and requirements of each system, ask yourself instead what the day of the life of the user looks like. Whether an administrative assistant, a doctor or a producer, each eventual occupant of the office space has varying needs, modes of work, pain points and business drivers, and each differs in how technology can make their day better—or worse. By envisioning the user experience, you can determine how AV, Wi-Fi, security and other technologies can work together to provide a frictionless experience, rather than designing siloed systems that may not meet rapidly changing corporate needs.
2. Take a Holistic Approach
Floor plans today are often divided into zones, each with a different function assigned to it. There might be a breakout space, informal meeting spaces like a canteen or cafeteria, or a game room. Start by looking at the layout of the space and zone it—you may not want a theater next door to the CEO’s office, for example—then consider not only the competing acoustic and technological requirements of each zone, but also how they interact together.
3. Model How Sound Behaves in the Space
In a meeting space, you may want to focus on making sure speech is intelligible, while your concerns in an open office area may be to reduce the propagation of sound over long distances. The hybrid workplace in particular poses a significant challenge from an acoustic perspective—with a mix of people in the room and remote, it can be difficult to marry the existing acoustic environment with high-quality, natural-sounding reproduced audio from remote speakers. Modeling the acoustic performance and conditions can help you understand what happens when you change the geography of a room, or the finishes used.
4. Ensure the Technology in Place Offers a Consistent, Yet Flexible Experience
Just as acoustics have a strong impact on workers’ abilities to collaborate and participate in meetings depending on where they are, so too does technology. You need to ensure that people have the same experience, regardless of the format, and that encompasses everything from the headphones and cameras they use to their ability to screen-share, view data and more.
You’ll also want to ensure that your technology has evolved along with workplace norms. There’s an increasing tendency for people to collaborate more informally—for example, by picking up the phone, then deciding to jump on video to screen share, then determining that they want to add additional participants (whether remote or in-person) to the meeting. There’s less pre-planning, fewer agendas and more on-the-fly collaboration, and hybrid workspaces need to be able to accommodate these more fluid behaviors.
5. Start Earlier
Evolving user needs in the hybrid workplace are driving corresponding changes to floor plans and layouts—office spaces are being reshaped and resized, conference rooms are getting squared off, with larger walls being leveraged as display canvases, and chairs are being reoriented to line up facing cameras and these large screens. Involving acoustics and technology experts early in the design phase enables these pivots to occur before floor plans are finalized and makes the process easier, allowing you to not only balance competing interests, but also meet your stakeholders’ expectations.
After all, it’s entirely possible that the layout a tenant is looking for won’t be compatible with the acoustics environment they want at the price they’re willing to pay; understanding their goals early in the process can enable you to find a solution that’s buildable within the project constraints.
The ability to work from anywhere and have the same quality of collaborative experience as teams working on site has moved from a nice-to-have to an imperative. By taking a holistic approach that considers how spaces interact with each other acoustically and technologically, you can ensure that everyone can participate equally in the hybrid workplace.