What Is The New Role Of Office Spaces?

Do we still need office spaces if we work remotely? Well... yes. But that doesn’t mean they should stay the same.

From startups to large corporations, companies worldwide are rethinking the purpose and role of office spaces in the new work landscape. What’s changed in how we use offices, and what stayed the same? Let’s find out!

Why do we need offices?

Physical places are where people gather, and gathering doesn’t necessarily mean work. Above all else, it means connection. And that’s what remote employees are missing the most.

As a knowledge worker, you can do basically all your work from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection and a computer. The revolution of remote work is all about mobility and flexibility because our jobs can indeed be done from anywhere.

And employees like and value flexibility so much that they’re willing to take pay cuts and even switch jobs over it. It makes their lives easier, frees them from long commutes, saves them money, and gives back the time they can spend with loved ones.

But at the same time, they say building relationships and fostering authentic connections with bosses and peers is the single biggest challenge they face with flexible work. Slack and Zoom just aren’t cutting it when it comes to connections and a sense of belonging.

So while most people don’t want a mandated, 5-days-a-week return to the office environment, they do want to see each other in person at least once or twice a week. They want to chat, have organic conversations, and leverage the benefits of in-face-to-face encounters. That’s why office spaces aren’t going anywhere — but will need to adapt.

How have workspaces changed post-pandemic?

Despite many reports predicting that a full-blown RTO is underway, the occupancy of traditional offices is down, and the vacancy rate is 15.1%, going up from last year. Business leaders across the globe are embracing flexibility and reducing their office footprint in an effort to diversify real estate portfolios.

One of the main reasons for this is reducing expenses. Companies are looking to cut costs on all fronts, and real estate is at the top of their list. With remote work still on the rise, companies no longer want to pay for large office buildings that employees don’t fully use. Instead, they’re looking into options like flexible workspaces that let them drive costs per square foot down while still providing employees with the space they need.

Want to know how much other companies spend on flex workspaces? Check out our report covering spending, use cases, and projections for future uses of flexible workspaces HERE.

On top of that, office design and layouts have changed as well. Companies are using open office plans and workstations less and less. Instead, they’re focusing on collaborative areas, meeting rooms, and brainstorming hubs. More diverse layouts let employees change locations inside a workspace based on the context of what they have to do. A Zoom call requires a private and quiet phone booth, while a brainstorming session needs a larger space, whiteboards, and comfy seating to get the creative inspiration flowing.

This leads to companies using different forms of workspaces, from coworking spaces and conference rooms to dedicated spaces and private offices, to accommodate the different needs of employees in a changing world.

The role of office spaces in a remote-first world

The workplace landscape is evolving, but that doesn’t mean the term “office workers” will cease to exist. The modern office is less about the place where work happens and more about ensuring people come together and build relationships that make them work as a cohesive team.

Catering to employees’ needs

When you switch to location-agnostic hiring, you will find every employee will have their own work environment that depends on external factors. For example, employees living in cities like San Francisco or New York are more likely to live in smaller apartments. This means they are also more likely to need access to a physical office space to do focused work, change scenery, and leave home for a while.

On the other hand, employees living in smaller towns or suburbs likely have more space at home, possibly even a dedicated home office space. For them, being out of the house and heading into a workspace is more about connection and getting face-to-face time with colleagues.

Keeping company culture alive in a remote world

Company culture was never about cubicles and desks. It was always about teamwork, connections, organic conversations, and the concept of “soft work”. So one of the best ways to maintain culture for your remote workers is to give them access to workspaces without any full-time mandates.

Let your team decide when and how often they come together to connect, socialize, and collaborate, and you’ll be showing a culture of trust, independence, collaboration, and true flexibility — something employees tend to appreciate.

The new office is a place to connect, practice team bonding, and strengthen the sense of belonging to your team, company, and role — rather than sitting in an open space and typing away at a computer.

Prioritizing employee wellbeing

Another thing access to workspaces helps with? Wellbeing. For many remote workers, working from home can often feel like a hamster wheel - you work all day, have no boundaries between work and personal life, and struggle to disconnect and enjoy time off.

Going to a workspace with your team, sharing coffee, and bouncing ideas off each other, even occasionally, can help with increasing work-life balance and setting those boundaries. For companies, giving employees access to physical workspaces shows they care about employee experience and put wellbeing high on the priority list.

Bringing the future of work to People teams

The evolution of office spaces doesn’t just change things for employees. Human resources, People Operations, and Workplace teams are coming together to design the workplace of tomorrow.

A truly distributed workplace lets People teams showcase culture, cut costs, and make employees happier at the same time. They can combine office spaces and flex workspaces to ensure employees in all locations have a place to meet and connect.

Additionally, they can offer different types of spaces, from workstations to event spaces, to accommodate the different needs of their distributed teams. This way, they make sure employees stay happy and engaged by seeing each other in person, without rules and mandates.

Finally, this workplace shift helps People leaders manage the distributed workplace all in one place. With platforms like Gable, they can see how much employees use workspaces and why and set and manage budget spending, usage policies, and employee satisfaction. Shifting to a distributed workplace helps People and Workplace teams make data-driven decisions and design workplaces employees truly love.

Offices still have a role to play. How are you using them?

Offices have gone from spaces where we do work to places that help us foster connections, build relationships, and boost employees’ sense of belonging. Plan your workplace strategy with connection in mind, and you’ll engage, retain, and keep employees happy, no matter where they are.

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Andrea Rajic