Writer: Joshua Andino
2 min read October 2022— With companies looking to bring employees back to the office, employers are turning to design professionals to find creative new ways of making the office the center of work once again.
The return to office has not gone as smoothly as employers had hoped. While flexibility and work-from-home has allowed employees to avoid the worst of rush-hour traffic, the culture and collaboration that remain key pillars of business adaptability and long-term success have been affected. Mentoring opportunities, quick conversations and the easy free-flow of ideas that happen across the watercooler or in the breakroom have been replaced by endless chat-notes, back-to-back Zoom meetings, isolation and the inability to separate at-home living with working life. Ironically, reclaiming the home as the place of rest and escape from work means employees should look to the office as a place to perform their jobs and get the feedback they need. Employers can aid in providing work-life balance by making the office a workplace social hub, thus providing the amenities and camaraderie that allow employees to focus on their work.
Things are done differently today — it is increasingly clear that the pandemic’s legacy on businesses will be the reassessment of processes many were forced to conduct at its onset. Employers should note that mandating a return to office is insufficient to bring employees back, and similar orders lead to attrition. Headlines repeating the phrase “great resignation” have continued even after pandemic worries shifted toward concern over a potential looming recession.
The office is an asset. It is an adaptable environment used for work, and trends that had already begun taking shape prior to the pandemic — resimercial furnishings, adaptive flex space, as well as staples such as easy access to coworkers, are key in bringing back employees. Denise Hoffman, Charlotte interiors manager and senior interior designer at Cline Design Associates, explained in a statement to Invest:, “There is a wide variety of professional environments with varying work styles, but since the onset of the pandemic, all those environments have been lumped into the generic category of ‘the office.’ It seems like with this generic label comes the assumption that everyone was sitting behind 6’ panels or private offices with a view, not speaking to anyone all day when there are many professions, like our own, that thrive and can only survive through interaction, creativity and collaboration.” As clients have struggled to attract their employees back to the office, Hoffman and her team have tackled how best to attract talent back into the workplace. It’s a mix of factors as Hoffman noted, including collaboration and enhancing the space to make it as inviting as possible.
“The list of punch items hasn’t evolved all that much, although it’s appreciated even more-so now. Wellness, both physically and mentally, walkable or mass transit locations, access to daylight, wellness rooms, bike storage, healthy snacks. I have seen an increase in the encouragement to promote these things versus the stigma that they’re here to check a box but it’s faux pas to actually use them,” she said.
The office evolution, for employers, means providing focused and social spaces.Outdoor porches and gardens for fresh air throughout the day are increasingly in-demand, as the recently completed Christenbury Commons office space demonstrates. Located just outside of the thriving Charlotte market, wide open windows expose the space to sunlight and greenery, with easy in-and-out access allowing employees to step outside to stretch their legs.
Whitney Sheppard, project manager and interior designer at Cline Design, noted that amenities clients are pursuing include phone rooms, cafe’s, gaming areas, lounge spaces, kegerators and snack bars. She explained, “Gone are the days where employees were expected to be sitting at their desk in slacks and a button up from 9 to 5. Employers are providing a comfort level that you are used to having at home and bringing it into the workplace. We are also seeing clients providing as many amenities as they can to make their employees happy.”
While the office has undergone a transformation designed to make it more sociable, it remains the area where employees can work most effectively. While hybrid and remote options are popular, McKinsey’s 2022 American Opportunity Survey highlighted that remote and hybrid workers were more likely to report impediments to peak performance. “Those working in a flexible model were most likely to report multiple obstacles, followed by those working fully remotely, and then by those working in the office,” the report notes. Sheppard offered a frank assessment, saying, “With all the distractions at home it can be tough to focus on work with the dirty dishes, unfolded laundry, and unmade bed lurking in the back of your mind. Providing a physical separation from those fiends can also help provide a mental separation so you can focus on getting those deadlines done. Being surrounded by coworkers with similar tasks and goals can also have a motivating effect.”
That motivating effect, namely the collaboration that naturally occurs between coworkers, is something that Cline Design has pursued in its own work and offices. Hoffman told Invest:, “The type of work performed at Cline Design covers a lot of territory in terms of work styles. The openness of common areas in modern offices is well-received as long as it is balanced with workspaces that have appropriate acoustic levels and levels of privacy. There are teammates that need quiet, heads down spaces; there are times when collaboration is a necessity; current technology is also a must. Providing tools in the office that help make everyone’s job more efficient and effective will encourage more days in the office.”
As offices become more diverse in their form, companies are hoping to find it easier to bring their employees back full-time. Drawn by the promise of being able to collaborate easily and efficiently and without the nagging distractions of chores around the house will help prevent the blur between home and work life. Technology, flexibility, and professional development are the key drivers that will bring employees back to the office. As Hoffman had stated, it’s not new, just appreciated more now.
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