4 workplace design strategies to get people back to the office


In 2020, with the shift to more work from home, we saw an evolution in where people get work done. But the significance of physical office space to an organization remains. While 72% of business leaders expect to go back to a hybrid work model with employees working from both the office and home, certain business activities are just done better in person rather than remotely.

In 2021, the success of the hybrid work model hinges on leaders’ success in cultivating an office environment that people want to come back to. According to a recent Microsoft study, “66% of business decision-makers have considered redesigning physical space to better accommodate a hybrid work environment.” We at Custer are among them, and we have spent the past 13 months researching, surveying, investing and unlearning our thought processes to reimagine what the future of work looks like.

From our recent and ongoing experience, I’m sharing four design principles for creating a high-performing, integrated workspace that supports your talent and empowers them to do their best work.

1. Harness home and hospitality: Through our collective experience of working from home throughout the pandemic, employees have become accustomed to the comforts of home — the soft feel of the couch, the opportunity to work outside, the accessibility of refreshments in the kitchen nearby.

To encourage employees to choose the office over their house, make the space more comfortable and less corporate by incorporating these elements of home into the work environment. Open up communal space with more access to food and beverage, seating with various postures, and greenery and access to natural light. By designating certain spaces that have this feel, you’re giving them the resources they may not have at home while incorporating the elements that they do. Also, make it a great hospitality experience. Have good coffee, refreshments and high-energy snacks on hand for both employees and visiting clients. Yes, that is an investment, and I promise you it’s well worth it.

2. Support teamwork and me-work: Reassess the use of your real estate to accommodate a more flexible work schedule and focus on collaborative spaces. Our design plan for our headquarters only includes two dedicated workstations. The pandemic has accelerated the concept of free-address workspaces because this strategy lends itself to hybrid work. If only 50% of your employees are going to be in the office at any given time, consider using former employee workstations space to create collaborative zones for group meetings and brainstorming.

This doesn’t mean eliminating personal space altogether. Touch-down workstations should still be provided for heads-down work. And phone booths and meeting rooms can be incorporated for video conferencing calls or private meetings.

3. Embrace technology and togetherness: There is no question that the pandemic has increased our reliance on technology to conduct meetings, share content and connect to our colleagues and customers. While digital interaction will never take the place of in-person communication, spaces will be better designed to integrate technology and impartially connect those meeting from across the table or from across the country.

Invest in smart spaces with immersive tools such as ClickShare and Microsoft SurfaceHub that make content sharing and collaboration easier than it has ever been before. These tools make it easier to work in the office than at home yet still allow you to safely connect to others outside your organization.

4. Flexibility is the future: Give users the freedom to move throughout space to areas and applications that allow them to do their best work for that particular task. This could be moving from one area of the floor plan to another to meet or concentrate, but it is also incorporating applications that are inherently flexible, allowing the user to easily change and move the pieces for more of an agile way of working. Give your people choice and control of how, where and with whom they want to work while they are in the office.

Closing thought

Reinvigorate your space with elements that sing your company’s culture. Revisit your core values and work to give them a voice in your space. When a client or employee walks into the office, they should feel a connection to who you are and why you do what you do. Your space is an important tool to connect people to purpose and evoke loyalty to an organization.

And don’t just do this by posting words on a wall, think of new ways to establish your brand and core values in the environment. For example, use digital displays to help activate and bring your space to life. Part of design is personality, and your office should showcase yours.

Every organization is unique, but we’re all navigating these changes together to reimagine strategies for a better way of working. I hope these principles get the wheels turning on how you can make adjustments in your own organization.

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