Where we work is changing – from corner offices and cubicle farms to open plan offices and bean bags, workplace design has been rapidly changing in unprecedented ways. In no small part because of the prevalence of the gig economy and the cultural drive for personal alignment, we’re seeing our work as a lifestyle choice, and smart companies are adapting and evolving to support the kind of outstanding talent they crave.

We invited four industry experts to talk about the evolution of workplace design, and the ways they see our work environments adapting to the needs – and desires – of the modern workforce. Read on to learn more about what’s now, and what’s next, in where we work.

Collaboration

In the past, cubicles and closed doors were the norm. And while heads-down work spaces are still vital to any work environment, many workplaces are trying to build in and encourage the chance encounters that spark innovation and collaboration.

“Ideas get better when you share them,” said James O’Reilly, president of Life Time Work, a new coworking space concept by Life Time. He spoke about the tremendous trends towards loneliness that come with a society as individualistic as ours, and how the opportunity of meaningful connections is a big draw towards coworking spaces.

Marcia Droege, of Land O’Lakes, talked about the benefits to her team when they did a massive remodel (accompanied by massive re-education) to their corporate work environment. “We had team leaders sitting out with their teams instead of in separate offices, and email went down 30% when people were working face to face.”

“We have a lot of casual events and ‘happiness hours’ to really gather people,” shared Julie Burton, founder of ModernWell, a woman-centered coworking space. “We encourage people to talk to someone you’ve never met, and we try to facilitate lots of connections.” These meaningful introductions have started new businesses and projects, all because of the chance meetings at ModernWell.

Space for innovation, discovery, fortuitous run-ins – it seems that creativity and connection are coming more into the heart of our workplaces, for the betterment of all involved. Whether it’s a new business idea or a potential client, discovering shared interests or having moments of disparate worlds colliding, the fact remains that we are better together.

Wellness

To a person, these experts spoke of wellness as a critical component to workplace design. “Just as technology has become layered on top of everything we now do, wellness is the same way,” said O’Reilly. People want access not only to fitness studios and gym equipment, but they want healthier workday options as well. From standing desks to healthy snacks, modern workplaces are not only supporting but encouraging healthy lifestyles, building in “nudges” to get workers moving and making smarter choices. For some, this means having a yoga studio or meditation room onsite, for others it means bringing in lots of plants and natural light. However it happens, it is clear that wellbeing has come into the work day.

Flexibility

Rather than expecting one environment to fit all of a worker’s needs, modern spaces are seeing the value of offering a diversity of spaces designed to reflect the variety of activities. Fully enclosed phone booths, large team meeting rooms, small 1:1 tables, quiet “library” zones for uninterrupted heads-down work – letting the worker choose their environment based on their task is becoming the norm.

“The key to successful space is visual connectedness with acoustic privacy,” said Jim Vos, commercial real estate expert with Cresa. Being able to be around others, and choose your level of engagement, is critical for getting work done the right way. Many people still want a dedicated space, and small office, said the coworking hosts, but in tandem with the other options that coworking spaces offer.

Every coworking space, and corporate office environment, is becoming more and more catered to different target audiences. Some seek established entrepreneurs, while others are focused on women in small and independent businesses. Even at Land O’Lakes, they have a corporate office that was remodeled and redesigned, but they also have a small “incubator space” in the North Loop that serves teams in special projects and is used as a coworking space for their employees and leaders who want or need to work away from the Arden Hills headquarters. “It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made,” she said, speaking of their downtown office.

Rather than competing, the multiplicity of options reinforces the need and market for these kinds of thoughtful, effective spaces.

Impact

When Land O’Lakes sought to redesign their offices, Droege’s leaders said clearly: “I want our new workspace to be the catalyst to change our culture.” While many businesses see the move towards collaborative and coworking spaces as a benefit to employees, many underestimate the positive impact it will have on their brand and business.

“Many businesses were reticent to give up their corporate offices, afraid of moving into a smaller shared space, afraid that they would lose their brand and corporate identity. Is the social benefit worth the corporate loss?” Vos shared the concerns he’d heard from his commercial clients, and asked the panelists about the business effects of working in shared spaces.

Droege shared that their real estate strategy was directly tied to their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and their focus on transforming their talent pool. By having modern, collaborative, creative spaces, they were able to attract and retain the top talent in the industry, that will continue to transform their business and brand for years to come.

For Burton at ModernWell, the space was really created from the question, “What does it take for women to be successful?” Her members find that the connections and collaborations have expanded their networks and brought in new business, as well as helping to transform their company culture and make work more enjoyable day-to-day.

The movement towards meaningful connection and collaboration, workplace wellness, and workspace flexibility is transforming, for the better, the way we work – not only for workers but for brands and businesses themselves.

Read more about past Way We Work events on our blog here, and be sure to save the date for our next event on Friday, May 10.

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