Quick read: we asked ourselves how can workspaces promote the balance between in-person work and working from home and how can offices remain up and running when employees prefer to alternate between working from home and in-person work. We concluded that contemporary workspaces must have even more capacity to attract employees, because competitors are offering working from home, attracting the best brains, and they need to become important socialisation centres.
During the pandemic we adopted our homes as workspaces and we became more digital, though it wasn’t long before we missed the office. But when we got back to the old spaces, they seemed obsolete. To adapt to the working from home model, we developed needs which we have found it hard to give up: not only were we able to wake up later, we stopped wasting time on transport. At Toyno, we wondered:
What did getting back to normal mean?
How can the design of workspaces go along with the new ways of working?
How can we meet the new needs of CEOs and employees?
In 2020 we started carrying out research into workspaces on our network of partners, clients, teachers, scientists, psychologists, and sociologists, promoting co-creation sessions. During this stage we created characters, prototyped scenarios and we wrote stories that helped us to organize the information.
We condensed the information into two standard characters: Fran and Alex. Both are intended to represent colleagues who we all know (or who we are!). We created problems and we imagined how we could solve them.
Fran loves being in the open air, but she always works from home. She needs to rest but she can’t bear seeing a notification without answering it and that's why she always answers in real time! She doesn’t have flexible working hours, but she’s always working out-of-hours. With the pandemic Fran has stopped trekking and has become sedentary. Despite always being connected, she has begun to feel more alone, and she has discovered that she isn’t very productive in the mornings.
Alex is always disconnected in work meetings. Although on the one hand he is always accessible online, on the other hand he doesn’t want to be interrupted. He has flexible working hours, but he keeps to his working hours religiously! His work requires focus, but he spends a lot of time on video conference calls. With the pandemic, he has started to become more available for his colleagues because he has stopped wasting time on travel and now he can take the kids to school. The problem is that he can’t concentrate and work at home because his kids come home at 4 p.m.
When Fran and Alex went back to the office, they ran into various issues that needed resolving. How are we going to stop Fran from always feeling she needs to answer in real time? How are we going to ensure that Fran can get back into the open air? How is the space going to be adapted to Alex’s need for individual focus? How are we going to ensure that Alex doesn’t regard trips to the office as wasted time?
The combination between working from home and flexible working hours have forced us to review the whole work dynamic and process. An expectation of immediacy has been created regarding answering emails, and the constant presence of video calls puts employees in a delicate position and leaves organizations with a problem that needs solving. On the other hand, digitalisation has helped to make communication models less rigid, less departmentalised, and less hierarchical, which has promoted a greater connection between departments and teams.
The physical space entails a formalism that the online space does away with. But with the disappearance of physical walls which strengthened hierarchy, one of the greatest problems of working from home emerged: excess communication.
Communication which is too accessible did not make employees’ sense of isolation disappear. We still felt the lack of physical contact and socialization with colleagues. We ended up concluding that workspaces should meet the new needs of employees.
Two major issues arise:
How can workspaces promote the balance between in-person work and working from home?
How can offices remain up and running when employees prefer to alternate between working from home and in-person work?
By devising spaces which consider the expectations and concerns of employees, we are conceiving them as spaces which are more versatile and flexible to accommodate different activities simultaneously or to meet the need to carry out a specific activity.
Contemporary workspaces must develop new characteristics: they must have even more capacity to attract employees, because competitors are offering working from home, attracting the best brains, and they need to become important socialisation centres, offering the possibility of rest, collaborative work and high-focused work. With these new characteristics, we will be adapting offices to the emotional needs of employees, investing in productivity and in work quality.