Space Design for a Digital World

Insights from Our Metropolis Forum

by Haworth, Inc.

Haworth and Metropolis sponsored five moderated forums across North America where industry experts examined workplace trends. The events occurred in Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia with business leaders in design, research, technology, innovation, workplace strategy, product development, operations, facility management, and change management. This article highlights insights on creating human-focused spaces that offer authenticity in a virtual world.

As technology continually changes how we work, organizations are challenged with keeping employees engaged in an increasingly digital world.

Workers are drawn to positive, human-focused spaces that create a better day-to-day experience at work, explained Cathy French, Director of Global Design and Workplace Strategy for the Royal Bank of Canada.

In her role, French is responsible for the experiences of 80,000 employees within 24 million square feet worldwide. Amenities are important to employees, whether that is a café or coffee bar.

“People have come to expect things to fall from the ceiling—hot coffee to just show up, wine flowing, etc. That takes time, effort, resources, and funding,” said French.  

Part of the movement is an emphasis on food, where workers might expect to have access to a mini food buffet during the day for snacking and be treated to a craft beer on tap after work.

Sense of Belonging

With the widespread adoption of digital communication tools, work can be done anywhere, from coffeehouses to coworking spaces. This flexibility begs the question: Why should we want to come to the office?

Turns out, about half of employees would rather skip the office, according to those surveyed by Cushman & Wakefield, a leading global real estate firm that helps clients transform the way people work, shop, and live. That disaffected attitude can take a toll on recruiting, retention, productivity, and creativity.

But not everyone wants to work from home. Many workers find the office more comfortable or convenient, from a faster internet connection to a cool place to work on a hot summer day.

Some employees feel a sense of belonging in the workplace, while others find it more efficient and effective to collaborate face-to-face instead of remotely, explained Antonia Cardone, Managing Director of Workplace Strategy & Change Management at Cushman & Wakefield. “Some people still love to write on whiteboards, even coders,” said Cardone.

Increasingly, the physical workspace is also being overlaid by a virtual workspace that is expanding face-to-face interaction, even for those who aren’t physically in the space.

At LinkedIn offices, nearly every conference room is equipped with a video conferencing system to promote a higher level of engagement, shared Chris Butterick, LinkedIn’s Director of AMER Workplace Operations. “Almost every interaction is face-to-face in some form. It’s really uncommon for you to have a phone call with somebody,” Butterick said.

Meaning and Connection

It’s not just technology that is permeating every aspect of the office experience, explained Debra Breslow, Principal and Creative Director at Meyer Design Inc. Companies want innovation to be part of the culture at every level. As a result, they are creating innovation teams, innovation centers, or innovation groups that are bringing together R&D, engineers, developers, and even salespeople.

“I don’t even call it a trend because it’s just happening. We are getting more and more requests for clients looking at innovations,” said Breslow.

Creating a workspace that encourages innovation and creativity often means going beyond providing spots to work and a series of amenities. In addition to taking care of employees’ physical well-being, these spaces should be about creating meaning and a connection to work, experts say.

Human capital is the one constant in the ever-evolving digital age that is transforming the workspace. As a result, organizations have begun to embrace and nurture employees as individuals with unique skill sets.

“Work is a celebration of human qualities. No one knows how artificial intelligence (AI) is going to interface with humans. The soft sides of human interaction are going to become more important.”

—Anjell Karibian, Haworth Senior Workplace Design Strategist

Employees tend to stick around as long as they feel that sense of purpose and fit, Karibian shared. Viewing employees as unique, skilled people rather than job titles is what leads teams to continuously evolve their missions. Updating spaces can play a crucial role in supporting these changing goals by creating workspaces that authentically reflect community culture and offer the opportunity for individuals to flourish.

“Work is self-gratification.  It's our purpose,” said Karibian. “It’s more about ‘What can I offer and how can I grow?’”

See how we’ve made virtual interaction easier through our collaborative tool, Bluescape.


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