Event space, hotel lobby, living room—companies are rethinking how they use their workplaces, drawing inspiration from non-offices for a new hybrid work era. But while businesses try to design more social spaces, they shouldn't forget that—more than anything else—employees want a place to get their work done efficiently, a new survey by design firm Gensler suggests.
The research surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. office employees between June 14 and August 7. Workers said the top reason they come to the office is "to focus on my work"—a shift from the emphasis on socializing and meeting face-to-face, and a "surprise to suddenly see," says Janet Pogue McLaurin, global director of workplace research at Gensler.
In 2020, U.S. workers had ranked "focus[ing] on my work" just fourth on a list of key reasons to come to the office, Gensler's research found, behind socializing with colleagues, impromptu face-to-face connections and "working in-person with my team."
The data may signal a desire for efficiency by overloaded workers amid a worsening economy, or, says Pogue McLaurin, a "pent up demand" for what was lost during the pandemic.
"There's this change of expectations of what we value and what we expect," she says. "All of a sudden, it's less on the connecting, socializing and collaborating that we saw during the pandemic, and now it's like, 'how do I get my work done efficiently and competently?'"
The research comes as employers have been rethinking the purpose of the physical workspace and employees and their managers are locked in a standoff over return-to-office mandates. Companies—who may be gaining the upper hand as the economy worsens—are searching for what will draw people back, while workers want a better reason than simply switching seats for online Zooms.
When Microsoft surveyed 20,000 people in 11 countries earlier this year, three-quarters of respondents said company expectations weren't enough to get them back. Yet 84% said they'd be motivated to return to the office in order to socialize.
Gensler's data could indicate a shifting paradigm. The survey shows people are going to the office to find ways to work efficiently—and that may mean focused work or teamwork and collaboration. "'To focus on my work' may be both individual [work] as well as team[work]," Pogue McLaurin says. Employees "just want to get their work done."
Still, the data also shows employees believe the workplace's effectiveness for working alone is at a 15-year low, while workers rate its effectiveness for socializing at the highest level since 2020. They're getting together in spaces such as onsite clubhouses, coffee shops and creative "maker" labs with perks like 3-D printers that companies have added to provide the mix of experiences workers in Gensler's survey said they want.
"What we will see is the office becoming more of almost like a conference center of the company," says Florian Idenburg, an architect and cofounder of design firm SO-IL. Companies will need "a space that represents the company's culture more than a place with desks where everybody can sit."
Take Marriott's new headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland, which Gensler designed, as an example. Meditation rooms and an 11,000-square-foot childcare center sit alongside the innovation and design lab, as well as a premium test kitchen and beverage bar. An attached hotel aims to accommodate company offsites and house out-of-town employees, and a three-story atrium called the hub offers lobby-like flexibility, giving employees different nooks and seating spaces to gather or work quietly on their own, while individual workstation areas have 25% fewer desks.
"We're taking a lot of cues from the hospitality industry," Gensler's director of workplace strategy, Sonya Dufner, told Forbes at the Future of Work Summit in New York in November. "The things that happen behind the scenes that make your day really great when you think about a hotel or a venue ... how can you create that moment that makes somebody say I feel valued as an employee?"
At Autodesk, the company flipped its workplace floor plan, shifting from 30% of its spaces as collaboration areas and 70% as individual workstations before the pandemic to 25% desks in its redesign and 75% collaborative spaces. The company says it needs to "earn" workers' commutes with meaningful activities, such as a free headshot or speaking events. "People will gather to solve a problem, especially if you make it interesting and engaging for them," Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost told Forbes. "Weekly check-in meetings? Those can be done on Zoom."
Designing offices now requires tailored, customized approaches, Gensler says, ones that are people-centric and balance ways to work efficiently with hubs of activity and gatherings. Says Dufner: "The purpose of the office is changing."
This article was written by Emmy Lucas from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.