Workplace Reconnection: Rehumanizing the Office Landscape
March 8, 2022
Gillian Hallock Johnson
Building Dialogue Quarterly, Colorado Real Estate Journal
Published in the March 2022 Building Dialogue Quarterly of the Colorado Real Estate Journal.
Never underestimate the power of human connection at work, especially right now. Since the spring of 2021, it has become increasingly evident that in-person interaction is the number one reason people want to return to the office.
As such, we are finally able to answer one of the biggest real estate questions generated by the reality of working from home. Why come into the office at all? The answer lies in the power of human connection.
How do we solve for this conflict? One answer is that the need to connect and produce are not mutually exclusive concepts, and a great office design will prioritize a high level of connection and production, or “we” and “me” spaces, within a more connective office landscape.
This concept was proven by a recently completed law firm space at McGregor Square that prioritized five essential layers of human connection within its space. For Lewis Roca, its new office role has emerged as one that is rich in human experience, service and support to the employee and client, and deeply investing in human connection on multiple levels.
5 Layers of Connection
There are five foundational layers of connection that, when collectively achieved, will advance human engagement and simultaneously foster privacy and productivity:
1. In-person connection. Collaboration and mentoring have emerged as two of the most highly desired priorities coming out of the pandemic. Creating innovative amenity spaces and placing them at primary circulation intersections automatically facilitates chance interactions that may become opportunities for mentoring and collaboration:
- Work lounges and cafés;
- Wide corridors become connective space with work points; and
- Open communicating stairs that land in community space.
2. Remote connection. Advanced technology and audiovisual have emerged as some of the biggest spends within a project budget – sometimes upward of 15 cents per square foot for new, fully integrated AV. With hybrid work initiatives becoming the new normal, facile and abundant opportunities for remote connections are also important to a company’s equity, diversity and inclusion ideology, allowing for remote workers to feel more included in a meeting:
- Mobile, abundant, repeatable and user-friendly technology;
- Variety and choice for video conferences; and
- Elevated network security.
3. Visual connection. A desire for more visual connection to co-workers within the office has emerged as a strong priority for planning. Initially there is a concern for some that visual connection leads to distraction; however, more often than not, the concern is overcome once moved in and a new culture of privacy evolves. To that end, we are seeing clients opt out of traditional privacy window film on offices:
- Full-height glass at all offices;
- Partial-height glass at all occupied interior rooms; and
- Low workstation panels.
4. Contextual connection. Feeling connected to the local surrounding context, and infusing the local context into the design as a way of place making, has emerged as a priority. Connecting to the local context can imbue a sense of community, therefore creating deeper loyalty and feeling of authenticity:
- Create prominent view axis at the end of major circulation corridors;
- Place the work lounge on the perimeter with a great view; and
- Extend opportunities to local food trucks for grab-and-go.
5. Brand connection to company ideology. Employees want to be proud of and connect to their company’s ideology and brand. Without a strong brand presence, employees may seek a different company to which they can attach their own values and feel aspirational. It is important to remember that culture and brand can sometimes be the only connector between remote workers and office workers:
- Express craft within the space to mirror and reinforce the ideology of the company;
- Reinforce the brand visually and subliminally through color and architectural detailing; and
- Tell the story of the company heritage.
Human connection within the office drives a different kind of productivity that cannot be replaced with remote work – one of impromptu exchange, mentoring and building upon one another’s ideas. Beautiful and engaging social areas balanced with well-appointed focus space will facilitate a richer, more layered connection that can offset (and potentially overcome) the inhibitions driving people to work from home.
For those people whose return to the office may be conditional upon the quality of experience and connection in a new office design, now is the time to fully embrace a design to support the power of being human.