Buildings and Places, Future of Work, Workplace strategy

In reacting and adapting to the societal changes driven by the coronavirus pandemic, the widespread adoption of remote work and changing work-life patterns have brought challenges to the workplace. But with those challenges have come new opportunities to advance and modernize the way we work.

Organizations around the world are now navigating a new, somewhat daunting task – how to bring employees back to the in-person workplace in ways that are safe, effective and accommodating. While it may not look the same everywhere, leading organizations are leaning into this transition by building in more flexibility and people-centric design into their workplaces. This focus is readying them to remain agile and resilient, no matter what the future brings.

Our global workplace advisory practice lead, Kelly Bacon, and workplace advisory design strategist, Nick Busalacchi, share four key points that every employer must consider in the months ahead.

Purpose-driven spaces

Changes to corporate culture and strategic investments in worker mobility have provided more flexibility for employees to work when and where they want, with many major organizations embracing hybrid work models in which employees can spend part or most of their time untethered from the physical office. This has generated a need to design diverse spaces that are better tailored to the activities workers need to perform. This means incorporating workstations and mobile technologies into the office setting that support workers’ ability to “plug-and-play”; workplaces that optimize collaboration and interaction; and regions that enable workers to move more freely among the spaces outside of the office where they can work, live and play most effectively. In our Sydney office, which is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, an entire floor will be dedicated to fostering collaboration and connection with our clients and each other — all anchored by technology. What’s more, we are aligning the office with our ESG commitments by using recycled furniture and selling excess office equipment, proving that creating purpose-driven spaces does not mean creating unnecessary waste.  

Driving social and environmental value

An indicator of a well-performing workplace is more than just the cost of space per person. Organizations that create truly successful workplaces focus on putting their employees’ needs first to generate positive returns for their company and the community. They are designing workplaces and organizational cultures with wellness in mind, including promoting greater worker flexibility, delivering workplaces that rank high in environmental quality, and extending investments into surrounding communities. The emergence of certification programs such as WELL, more comprehensive knowledge about human behavior, and tech solutions that monitor workplace performance in real-time have made wellness a central component of leading organizations’ workplace strategies.

In addition, investments in “smarter” buildings have made it easier than ever to track performance on factors such as interior environmental quality, workplace utilization, and facility sustainability. Leaders in this space are pairing this data with a sophisticated understanding of their occupants’ needs, enabling them to drive triple bottom line returns.

Organizational resilience

Smart organizations are re-orienting their cultures and their spaces to be more adaptable and resilient toward predicted or unforeseen challenges that the future may bring. These organizations are examining the way they function, working to incorporate agility into their day to day and year over year operations. Nearly 28 percent of large employers are targeting significant footprint changes in the next five years, with another 43 percent undecided.* They are doing so by encouraging greater flexibility for when and where their employees work; re-balancing their real estate portfolios to be more agile to social and economic change; and investing in spaces and systems that drive their missions, while shedding or re-purposing any excess. There is not a one-size-fits-all method or solution—leading organizations are making themselves ‘fit for the future’ by better aligning their businesses with new opportunities for agility.

Enabling systems

The way we work is not only tied to our workplaces, but also to the complex ecosystem of infrastructure networks and cultures that enable and support work and the work environment. Our evolving work structure has driven new demand in areas like transportation and utility systems, which both require a stronger focus on being more robust and adaptable. For example, the re-distribution of commuters across space and time has put new stresses on transit networks, and secure, high-speed telecommunications infrastructure has become an essential component of our increasingly mobile workforce. Regions and organizations that excel in these areas are making strategic investments in enabling infrastructure to support these demands, preparing themselves for future changes and responsibly enhancing experiences in the built environment.

In our increasingly unpredictable world, staying agile in the face of uncertainty will be the key to business success and longevity. This agility begins with a people-centered approach to workplace design and portfolio rebalancing. Organizations that embrace this approach will drive value across profit, people and planet, and create workplace investments that are fit for the future.

Read more about AECOM’s Future of Work initiative here.

*Mercer LLC.

Originally published Jul 30, 2021

Authors: Kelly Bacon , Nick Busalacchi