Are offices now more social than ever?

Guzman Yarza Blache, Head of Workplace Strategy, EMEA, looks at the changing nature of the workplace in the latest in our series of One Voice articles

September 13, 2022

Yes, it certainly seems that way as hybrid working evolves - but with a close eye on maintaining high performance in the workplace.

From installing a sense of belonging and brand awareness, to fostering the exchange of knowledge between employees, companies with hybrid workforces have much to consider. Mental well-being and loneliness are also key challenges that our clients currently face. Workplace demographics matter too, especially for those companies prioritising Diversity and Inclusion as some segments of the company are more inclined to be in the workplace than others.

With all this in mind, making the workplace more social and interactive can help tackle and address these challenges. One client, a successful tech firm in Barcelona, told us their Friday afternoon all-hands meeting is the best moment of the week. In this case, a vital amenity was a proper bar with drinks and sofas, in flexible space that can accommodate other uses throughout the week.

Sparking innovation, happiness or interest, because people simply bump into each other, can be gently provoked: the now widely used workplace oxymoron, engineered serendipity.

More companies are organising community-building activities, speaker events, workshops or team meals that help business units get to know each other.

The results may well resemble a sought-after members’ club, with coworking areas, complemented by onsite food choices, well-equipped gymnasiums, and even space for celebrations. In other words, a place where individuals truly want to be, offering experiences out of the ordinary.

New need for workplace amenities

In a recent JLL study, 63% of employees said socialising is a key reason to come into the office, while 47% highlighted team brainstorming*. That suggests a new need for social amenities in the workplace.

This needs to come from an overall workplace strategy that grasps a company’s business needs and pain points, its vision and crucially, employee preferences. Checking daily use of space, for example, can indicate if certain departments get enough face-to-face time together. From there, the required location, building, fit-out and amenities can be defined.

Catering for employees’ physical and mental wellbeing doesn’t mean every office needs a gym. Which wellbeing initiatives make the right impact – whether that’s mentoring and onboarding programs, activity clubs or workplace design that encourages mobility – depends on company culture and employee profiles.

One amenity that’s universally beneficial, however, is healthy food.

Some major tech firms spend $3,000 to $5,000 per employee a year to offer free or highly subsidised food. It promotes a healthy lifestyle and employees save time and money by not going out for lunch. And crucially, you can create a social feeling around food.

A sophisticated, comfortable canteen with varied food stations attracts people to eat together, enhancing relationships and sharing knowledge. There’s a cultural aspect to food, too, being a longstanding part of what defines the ethos of any given workplace.

Maintaining high performance

Let us not forget that while it is important to foster social interaction, the workplace must maintain a balance of spaces that enable focused work and high performance productivity.

A well-crafted office should ensure activities do not disturb each other, with allocated concentration areas separated from more collaborative spaces and social gatherings.

Further forward, I’d also argue that the workplace can become even more open, where not only employees but a company’s wider ecosystem of partners, consultants and clients can freely use space. Opening office environments to outsiders can be good for the creation of flexibility and resilience, helping these spaces become more diverse and inclusive for all.

A more social workplace can encourage innovation, community and engagement. While some may question this approach, for me, there’s little risk of offices becoming too social. Striving to create an enticing environment that attracts people and offers networking opportunities has long been the norm for social clubs - why should ambitions for the workplace be any different?

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*Source: Global Benchmarking 2022 Report