Lots of collaboration space, outdoor areas to meet colleagues and places for casual conversation are on the list, members of Protocol's Braintrust say.
Good afternoon! In today’s edition, we asked the experts to tell us what they thought the most useful function an office can provide a company right now is. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Head of People Operations at Lattice
Offices need to be reimagined as part of a company’s overall benefits strategy for driving engagement and an amazing employee experience. It must feel like a value-add destination, with features designed into the office experience that enhance people’s ability to work more effectively, and events and activities that draw people in to enhance collaboration and community.
For distributed teams, the office can — and should — act as the kind of differentiated space that in the past would have been found outside the office — an “offsite” event that inspired creativity and deeper connections. Now, teams can come together for “on sites” that can do the same in a way that also feels like a home base.
How do you facilitate this? Ensure seamless access to offices, both for employees within local proximity and those who may want to come and visit from other cities. Be thoughtful about the way you build and equip your office space. And don’t forget about the cross-virtual experience – make sure your video and collaboration technology helps all employees feel seen, heard and connected.
Importantly, leaders should keep in mind that working remotely may not be the best option for everyone. Some may have tighter living quarters, roommates, families with different working schedules, etc. For these employees, a comfortable, well designed office could make all the difference in empowering them to do their best work, while maintaining office equity that allows those that are in person consistently to not feel disrupted when there are other groups coming in sporadically.
Chief people officer at HubSpot
The most important thing an office can provide is great space to connect and collaborate. The most important thing employers can provide right now is clarity on how people can grow their careers, regardless of how often they visit physical office locations.
What we are seeing at HubSpot is a fundamental shift in how people view the office. One sales director said to me, “I used to go to the office to be way more productive than I was at home. Now, I go visit the office on days when I don’t need to get a lot done and spend a ton of time connecting with people over coffee.”
Given that shift, our focus is moving the office away from a daily ritual and more to a place to convene, connect and collaborate at scale. That means investments in collaboration spaces for when teams gather in person onsite, upgrades to conference rooms to make it easy for teams to collaborate with their remote colleagues and more innovation on seating arrangements that work for how people actually want to use the office in 2022 and beyond.
Safety, inclusion and equity need to be top of mind in any organization in terms of plans for the office. But like everything over the past two years, we have to be ready to embrace the fact that our best-laid plans will likely change again, as will the offices as we learn more about what works and what doesn’t from our employees.
Chief people officer at Coupa
At Coupa, we put employee empowerment at the center of everything we do. Starting with our upside-down organizational chart — which puts our CEO and leadership at the bottom and equips them to support, rather than manage, their teams — and is now making its way into our office redesign. The past few years were a stark realization that employees are empowered in various ways. And no one way is best. We want to not only recognize these various styles but celebrate them and create a workspace reflecting them.
That's why we decided to redesign our office spaces through the lens of our Coupa Colors program, which uses red, green, blue and yellow to inspire different working styles to find creative solutions to problems. For example, red inspires action, blue promotes analytical thinking, green brings out thoughtfulness and yellow encourages spontaneity. In our offices, this looks like a red-colored room where teams can meet to bolster energy and determine the right course of action, or a blue-themed room to encourage analytical and logical questions, like what metrics we should track to determine a program’s success.
We've only just begun to pilot the Coupa Colors rooms, and we're talking to employees constantly to understand how it can benefit them, and additional ways our offices can support their need for flexibility, but also enable them to "be their own CEO," as we like to say. Meaning employees who are closest to the opportunities and challenges are empowered to take action and drive change.
Chief People Officer at Qualtrics
For many workers pre-pandemic, a physical office was where they did a vast majority of their work. The office was where people went to experience a company’s culture, collaborate with colleagues and attend meetings. Years later, we know that many of those experiences can exist without a physical address.
The flexibility that comes with working from home has kept many employees from returning to their company’s offices every day. In fact, our research shows that only 13% of remote and hybrid workers plan to return to an office five days per week. Yet, if the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it’s that we’re all humans going through our own, personal life journeys. Each of our needs and wants are unique.
So, what is the most important thing an office can provide? It’s not one-size-fits-all.
Personally, I love being in an office because it offers casual encounters to facilitate deeper relationships with people I work with. At Qualtrics, some employees might work from the office for the free lunch, quiet space to focus, games to play with colleagues on a break, child care (we have an on-site daycare at HQ in Provo, Utah) or simply the energy that comes with a change of scenery.
As our future work experience will be hybrid, we will continue to ask employees how we can improve their in-office experiences. It’s so that whatever their reason for working in an office — or at home — employees have the support, resources and flexibility they need to do their best work.
Chief people officer at Brex
The most important thing an office can provide now is connection.
Brex is a remote-first company. That means that today, 40% of our employees are remote and work and live in a location where we don’t have an office. While this has been a great change for us from a talent, retention and productivity perspective, it can be challenging on the interpersonal side — especially since 80% of our 1,200 employees have joined the company remotely over the past two years.
That’s why we’ve transformed our offices into central hubs where people can meet, connect and collaborate in person. Where we can build community. And where we can fly in people multiple times a year to come together as teams and work together, including an annual company-wide offsite. We are providing opportunities for people with shared interests, whether that be pods of new employees, pet owners, book lovers or music aficionados, to meet in person to build greater connections.
And of course, employees with local offices or coworking spaces always have the option to work from there more regularly if they prefer. We believe employees want flexibility, so we’re complementing a remote-first approach with plenty of occasions to build in-person relationships.
Chief administrative officer and general counsel at RingCentral
In general, employees want a workplace that enables how they want to work, provides opportunities to socialize, build new relationships and nurture existing relationships and supports mental and physical wellness. People’s work lives have become far more personalized over the past two years. The office environment must provide an invaluable common space for collaboration, team building and camaraderie. Of course how we evolve that space is one of the most interesting elements of hybrid work. Relaxation spaces, healthy food choices throughout the day and outdoor areas top the list of amenities that are luring workers into their offices as they seek a feeling of connectedness with colleagues along with environments that are as comfortable as home, according to a recent survey of office workers.
The challenge is: How do you help people connect in and out of the office? The diversity inherent in hybrid work means there is no single physical space or virtual program that will meet all needs. Instead it’s about listening to colleagues and team members and understanding what they need. Make sure your workers are part of your office ideas and design for greater collaboration. Encourage your workers to ask what they can do to help stay more involved at work and more deeply engaged in the company mission. Above all, make sure you’re offering your workers an office environment they want to be in — and let them be a part of the process to create it.
Senior vice president, Employee Success at Slack
Over the last two years, we’ve fundamentally shifted our way of working to be digital-first. Today, the Slack product itself is our company’s digital HQ – the place where our teams come together to create, collaborate and get work done.
To be clear, digital-first doesn’t mean “never in person.” We see the physical office as an important tool in our toolkit for bringing people together to build relationships and collaborate on specific projects. But when leaders bring people together in the office, they should do so with purpose and predictability, so that employees can continue to have flexibility and choice in their work lives.
That’s why the most important thing an office can provide now is shared space that is optimized for teamwork. Our research with Future Forum shows that the vast majority of employees want access to an office for camaraderie and team building, instead of heads-down solo work. At Slack, we’ll always support the needs of those who require individual space – but going forward, our offices will be team- and customer-centric. This objective will be top of mind as we experiment with and redesign our shared spaces to build a more flexible, activity-based workplace.
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated May 19, 2022).
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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