The traditional idea of an office was losing appeal well before the pandemic made it obsolete. As wireless technology made it possible for people to untether from their desks, many found they liked working in other environments that, while not designed for work, were conducive to it.
Those environments, such as coffee shops, co-working spaces, hotel lobbies, and living rooms, in many ways represent the antithesis of office design and décor. Feminine, nurturing, and sensorially engaging, the comfort they offer seems at odds with productivity.
Moda Tower Lobby, Portland, Oregon
📸: Cheryl McIntosh
Progressive workplaces, however, are finding the opposite to be true. Workplace design that’s informed and inspired by the principles of residential, food and beverage, hospitality, and retail sectors is helping drive employee satisfaction and the desire to be in the office, without sacrificing the need for work to get done.
Applying this cross-disciplinary approach requires a nimble team willing to seek inspiration from a wide array of sources. It also requires attention not just to what your office enables employees to do, but attention to what and how it makes them feel.
As with each of the strategies explored in our The Office as Ecosystem series, the benefit also extends to the bottom line. When employees feel engaged and inspired, and their needs addressed, they can contribute in more meaningful ways to the business at hand.
Eager to see this strategy in action? Check out the full series, The Office as Ecosystem, here, with inspiring case studies and examples of ecosystem-thinking applied in the real world.
Erica Buss, Senior Associate, Research & Information Services Manager
Banner photo: Community Transit of Snohomish County, Everett, Washington
📸: Aaren Locke
The Office as Ecosystem: Strategy 2
Improving an office ecosystem only pays off if employees actually come into the office to experience it. And what gets employees into the office? Studies show the strongest incentive isn’t a free lunch, dry cleaning services, or foosball tournaments. It’s other employees.
That means a commute-worthy office is, in essence, one that builds community. The table stakes, like good coffee and comfortable surroundings, are essential, but the communal energy that can’t be replicated at home is the true galvanizing force to get people there on the regular.
2201 Westlake, Portland, Oregon
📸: Moris Moreno
And it turns out, that communal energy is rarely serendipitous. It’s carefully designed into the space. A strategic approach to desk density can create the right level of buzz and activity without sacrificing employees’ abilities to concentrate. A variety of thoughtfully designed spaces for spontaneous and planned collaboration can get people talking and building deeper ties. Areas for curated surprises and engaging employee programming reinforce a sense of belonging to a company that is creative and cares for its people, while also creating reasons to get people together.
When your employees can get their work done anywhere, workplace design stops being about desks, chairs, screens and printers, and starts being about the interactions that make work worthwhile.
Want to learn more? Check out our full strategic roadmap, The Office as Ecosystem, here, or watch this space for our next installment, “The Not-So-Office Office,” coming next week.
Michael Stueve, Principal, UX Strategy
Banner photo: Buchalter, Portland, Oregon
📸: Magda Biernat
The Office as Ecosystem: Strategy 1
The Office as Ecosystem approach has 3 key tenets:
- The well-being of one lifts the prospects of all
- Fostering connections between people is the primary function of the office
- Productivity is a by-product of belonging
When we think about and design for the office as an ecosystem, we’re essentially saying that if one area, department, or person is underserved, the workplace as a whole will suffer. Likewise, we acknowledge that moves toward inclusion, equity, and belonging benefit not just the person or people for whom they are taken, but everyone in the greater workplace community.
This kind of people-first thinking and design can manifest in small, easy-to-implement tactics, as well as larger, systemic shifts.
At a systemic level, there’s a paradigm shift from the office in service of a business function to an office in service of individuals, each of whom brings different needs as well as gifts to the ecosystem. This requires abandoning both the one-size-fits-all, as well as the set-it-and-forget-it mindsets. Instead, it requires companies to embrace custom solutions, curiosity, and continuous improvement.
Aspect, Portland, Oregon
📸: Christian Columbres
This can be as simple as inviting a wider array of people with a more diverse set of perspectives to the proverbial table when it comes to office planning and design, asking what they need and building solutions together. Truly ecosystem-focused companies might even go a step further and imagine the needs of future staff and visitors, envisioning a truly welcoming environment for people of all abilities and backgrounds. In this way, companies become attractive to a wider, more diverse, and more engaged talent pool, and avoid the need to react and retrofit with each new hire.
Tactically, there are new, people-first solutions emerging every day that allow workplaces to serve the needs of the individuals within their workforce. Straightforward but ingenious solutions, such as furnishings that support fidgeting or fit a variety of body types not only accommodate differences but celebrate them. Visual cuing systems for d/Deaf persons meet a specific need, but also raise the consciousness of everyone in the office about the myriad ways people receive and process information. Imagine the impact when that understanding gets translated to customer, client, or shareholder interactions. When people-centered design becomes the “norm,” everyone in the workplace community – and often well beyond it – benefits.
Want to learn more? Check out our full strategic roadmap here, or watch this space for our next installment, “The Commute-Worthy Workplace,” coming next week.
Bethanne Mikkelsen, Managing Principal, Interior Designer
Banner photo: Fox Tower Green Room, Portland, Oregon
📸: Shelsi Lindquist
The Office as Ecosystem
Our workplace design team has a unique window into the changing nature of work, and the challenges that companies have keeping up with it. Every client meeting we attend, and every new design request we field, gives us a view of what’s really going on in today’s offices.
Late last year, we started to see some patterns emerge in the conversations we were having with clients about their workplace needs. And those patterns lined up with some trends and tactics we’d been incorporating into our projects.
It just made sense, then, to turn those patterns into a strategic roadmap our colleagues and clients could use as they are all rethinking what the workplace looks like. It examines the ways we need to shift our thinking about the roles, both functional and emotional, that offices play in workers’ lives today, with lots of examples and ideas to get begin the journey of workplace transformation.
We call the overarching approach “The Office as Ecosystem,” because it acknowledges that the workplace is an interconnected environment, where the well-being of one lifts the prospects of all.
If you’ve been grappling, as so many companies have, with a changed workforce and a not-so-relevant workplace, maybe a shift to ecosystem-thinking is in order.
Archivist Capital, Portland, Oregon
📸: Josh Partee
Check out the full strategic roadmap here, or watch this space for each installment, starting next week:
Part 1: The Office Gets Personal
Part 2: The Commute-Worthy Workplace
Part 3: The Not-So-Office Office
Part 4: New Ways to Meet
Part 5: Culture First Employee Engagement
(each Part will be hyperlinked once the blog post launches)
Banner photo: Buchalter, Portland, Oregon
📸: Magda Biernat