DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Back to the workplace. It’s a topic that breeds strong opinions from both employers and employees.
Some companies are now changing their physical office space and culture to entice people back to the office.
In downtown West Palm Beach, an office building stands tall. From the naked eye, nothing particularly unique.
But inside, the tangible is special.
“We have couches, lounge chairs, a hammock,” said Shana Ostrovitz, the executive director of 1909.
The intangible has been changed by the pandemic. Workers are encouraged to embrace the small talk.
“We really are encouraging people to feel like they are connected to other humans, that they have the opportunity to share with one another,” she said. “That the world is different.”
Ostrovitz noted businesses small and large are trying to entice workers back into the office.
“We’ve kept a lot of opportunity where people can plug in virtually,” she said. “We have a call Monday mornings, where people can just jump on zoom.”
Courtney Campbell of Campbell Creative in Delray Beach is a branding strategist, working with companies on this very topic.
She said start with your physical space.
“Ask business owners, take a minute, take yourself out of it.” she said. “Make yourself an employee that has been working at home…If they walk back in the door of this office space, what about your environment is welcoming?”
Campbell said what used to be simply a functional place maybe didn’t have a need for improvement.
“People came to do their job, be productive and leave. Now, it needs to be reimagined into a space that feels inviting and welcoming,” she said. “Inspiring, engaging and has different work environments, where people, who have gotten really comfortable on the couch and have gotten super productive —how do you translate that into your space?”
She said you don’t need to recreate home with televisions and sofas, but note the obvious.
“People don’t want to go back, and if I am honest, some of these offices I am walking into, I wouldn’t want to go back, and it’s not because the company is not great,” she said.
Campbell encouraged outdoor spaces as a way to let your employees know you are taking the pandemic seriously and giving other options for places to meet.
“It’s a combination of being able to shake up the scenario of sitting at your desk and also now giving you that safer place to meet with people,” she said.
Campbell acknowledged all this costs money.
“You may not be able to do it all right now, but you are making an effort,” she said, elaborating that showing steps towards improvement goes a long way with employees.
“Some of that is literally down to the lighting - do you have any natural, do you have any plants?” she asked. “Creative ways to make a pingpong table into a conference room table. It doesn’t mean you play pingpong every day, but there is something about the possibility that you could play ping pong that feels way more inviting than a traditional manilla conference table.”
Campbell said you must take note that some people, especially working moms will need more flexibility.
“People are more empathetic and understanding, and I do think that has been a positive for females, that are trying to juggle children of all ages, but in reality, it is going to be really hard to fathom going back to a structure where ‘I didn’t have a little flexibility here and a little flexibility here,” she said.
Bottom line she said think about your “Why.” Why do you want your employees back in the office? If the reason is that it’s always been that way, it’s probably not good enough. If you need the collaboration, or physically building something, that would be a consideration to get them back in the door.