Welcome back! Everything is…kind of like you left it.
Before the pandemic, office amenities looked something like Casual Friday, free coffee in the breakroom, or the oft-ignored ping-pong table. Office perks used to emphasize flashy options for employee downtime, but the pandemic has created a paradigm shift in office culture as far as employee expectations are concerned. Instead of nap pods or company-sponsored Happy Hours, desirable amenities have shifted to anything that can foster a palpable sense of teamwork and an empathetic workplace setting.
As we work our way out of pandemic restrictions, most employees are working in some form of a hybrid model, so they’re not coming to the office for downtime. “So how do you design office building amenities for employees who want to just get in and get out?” writes Madison Van Doren. “Essentially, office amenities need to be laser-focused on employees’ needs and reflect workflows.”
Here are a number of workplace amenities that might have seemed strange before the pandemic.
Now more than ever, employees need to feel valued. Gallup researchers recommend that companies who plan to bring employees back on-site must create a “workplace value proposition,” which is a document that represents the organizational culture, benefits, and positive interactions that employees can have while on-site, using something called “The 4 C’s.” The first is Connection. How can employees connect both professionally and personally? By fostering an environment that encourages connection, providing opportunities for teammates to discuss their work as well as their lives outside of the workplace, and by planning social events. The next is Collaboration. How can employees collaborate effectively? By scheduling with intention. Learn to use new collaboration technology platforms which facilitate more authentic interactions with the team—whether they are remote or on-site. Next, there is Creativity. How can an organization foster collaborative creativity amongst employees? By rethinking innovation spaces, scheduling team meetings that are dedicated to brainstorming sessions, and encouraging employees to take their work breaks with each other. Finally, we get to Culture. How can an organization cultivate company culture after COVID? By asking employees to identify (and maybe redefine) what makes the organization unique, and determine which attributes describe the culture.
A company that is thoughtful about its principles and culture and can effectively communicate that integrity is a ‘green flag’ for both existing and prospective employees. In the thick of the pandemic, workers were given a rare opportunity to reflect on their purpose, and in turn, which type of company culture would better reflect that purpose.
Employees want peace of mind around health, especially after the PTSD that the last nineteen months have instilled in many of us. The conversation around airborne pathogens and proper air filtration has circulated so much that a building’s HVAC system went from being basically unnoticed to a key component in the minds of occupiers. Even back in 2019, 50 percent of employees surveyed said that better air quality would make them happier at work.
New advances in smart office technology include monitoring airflow and C02 levels using wireless sensors. These sensors can play double duty of helping both control and communicate air quality as well as increase tenant comfort and building efficiency.
Outdoor and green spaces
When it comes to office amenities, Occam’s Razor still applies. “While expensive workplace wellness programs like gym memberships seem luxurious,” says Van Doren, “they’re also underutilized by employees. Green spaces are one of the least expensive and most impactful commercial building amenities.” Space, especially outdoor space if possible, is a powerful tool to foster engagement, so much so that outdoor space is the most sought-after amenity in a post-pandemic world, for both office tenants and landlords.
Incorporating greenery into your office building has more benefits than just aesthetics. Indoor plants are proven stress relievers. Just incorporating a living wall in the office helps purify the air, improve acoustics, and provide psychological comfort. Implementing a space that features greenery and access to nature can be vital to nurturing healthy interactions between team members.
Employees no longer want to see grim, endless cube farms, they want the agility of space. “The benefits of combined and flexible workspaces bolster the fulfillment and support of three core psychological needs: autonomy, relatedness, and mastery,” states workplace designer GQR. Today’s best offices have an aesthetic that sits somewhere between a coffee lounge and a stylish home, but there’s a growing obsession with integrating PropTech as well.
Another pandemic ripple effect is that smart office technology is becoming more of an expectation than a luxury. Successful office spaces reflect the employees who use them: adaptive, intuitive, and always changing. A well-designed workplace that uses smart office technology keeps workers motivated. Employees who are leery of coming into contact with high-tech surfaces like desks, doors, and buttons will inevitably be more comfortable knowing they can use their phone to access the building, book a conference room, check to see if a desk has been cleaned since it was last used, etc. Building managers can also enjoy smart office technology since the technology optimizes energy efficiency to lower costs.
Mental health resources
Nearly 40 percent of employers expanded mental health benefits during the pandemic, according to a recent survey. Recognizing the long-term impact of the pandemic on employees’ well-being is a welcome new trend, and with good reason, 76 percent of employees say that that they consider mental health benefits to be a critical factor when they evaluate job prospects.
Companies are now offering access to relaxation and meditation software apps as well, in order to garner a competitive edge. More and more companies are promoting apps like Headspace, Calm, and other counseling services in an effort to coax workers back into the office. “A lot of companies are also leaning into wellness and adding new benefits like access to Headspace and expanded paid leave policies,” says Edie Goldberg, president of E.L. Goldberg & Associates.
COVID-19 has shown that childcare is a business issue. “Without a stable form of childcare as part of the business infrastructure, the world stopped working,” writes the Harvard Business Review. As a result, 46% of companies started or expanded parenting and homeschool resources in 2020, according to research conducted by McKinsey & Co.
Additionally, some companies are beginning to offer flexible childcare blocks that employees can take advantage of when they must attend a mandatory meeting. Companies that leverage childcare options will not only stand out but also foster retention. In-building childcare alleviates employee stress of having to scramble to find a replacement babysitter when one cancels last-minute, which in turn allows employees to focus on their productivity.
A recent survey by Korn Ferry shows that a third of workers would turn down a job today that would require them to return full-time to the office. The reality is that the influx of remote work during the pandemic not only changed the way many companies plan to conduct business, but it also changed what workers look for in an office. The best amenities that commercial offices can offer are ones that foster employee wellbeing, which have more impacts on business productivity than a foosball table