Office makeovers: giving employees what they want

Companies are offering a wider variety of spaces that aid focused work

May 28, 2024

Quiet, focused workspaces are sprouting up as companies incorporate a wider variety of spaces to cater to employee demands in returning to the office.

Last year, four in 10 companies surveyed by JLL added more dedicated focus areas, such as semi-enclosed booths and soundproof pods, in their offices.

This shift marks a move away from the “collaboration-first” office layout towards an environment that accommodates more individual work.

“Companies now understand that fostering collaboration shouldn’t come at the expense of individual needs,” says Gonzalo Portellano, Head of Design Solutions, Asia Pacific, JLL.

Recent trends have favored collaborative workspaces to entice people back to the office with its unique benefit: face-to-face interaction with colleagues.

However, data from JLL suggests that individual work remains the dominant activity in offices, consuming at least half of employees' daily schedules.

“This shows the importance of offering diverse work settings that can replicate the most natural space for every task an employee performs in the office,” says Portellano. “The right space for each task is required to achieve deep work and flow states that wouldn’t be possible without a certain sense of privacy and individual focus.” 

Data-driven design

Understanding employee work styles and behaviors is crucial to meeting their different needs. Take, for instance, the discomfort some experience taking or listening to private calls in open-plan offices when meeting rooms are unavailable.

“Often, the amenities might already exist in the office, but how they’re distributed and used, or misused, makes a huge difference,” says Portellano. “Data empowers us to predict employee needs and deliver the required amenity or work setup when it’s needed.” 

A prime example could be incorporating more smaller, non-bookable meeting rooms with house rules to prevent overuse and with incentives to encourage more or less usage during specific time periods.

“The physical changes required to optimize a space are less drastic if we possess the right utilization data and can identify utilization patterns,” Portellano says. “By leveraging predictive AI analytics, real-time sensor data, and personalized workspace recommendations, we can create office environments that truly cater to employee needs while also boosting their performance.”

This aligns with the findings from a years-long study by JLL, which shows that employee performance thrives when they have control over their environment — including factors like the choice of space, privacy, and access to quiet, focused work areas.

Optimizing the workspace

Without proper data on how employees utilize the space, companies risk creating over-customized and underutilized workspaces. “We have to avoid falling into the trap of adopting too many variations that are either impractical or superfluous for core work tasks,” Portellano warns.

The ideal solution lies in maximizing space flexibility and modularity by creating multi-functional spaces that serve up to three or even more purposes.

A common example is informal work cafes that can double up as collaboration areas for ad-hoc meetings, internal and external events, or a wellness or leisure activity. "We shouldn't limit our thinking of office spaces to just the 9-to-5 workday," says Portellano. “After all, rent is paid 24/7, all-year round, so why not design them for multiple functionalities?"

Companies with larger office footprints can also take advantage of low occupancy rates to experiment with new layouts in pilot spaces. This can be conceived as pop-up areas with adaptable furniture configurations — in collaboration with designers and suppliers — to deliver unique experiences in a controlled environment.

Take cloud-based software giant Salesforce which implemented a "hoteling" concept in some offices, reducing the number of dedicated workstations. Employees now reserve shared workspaces as needed, allowing for the closure or repurposing of underutilized areas for other uses.

Despite the solutions available, a lack of clear metrics for the return on investment on workspace improvements is holding companies back, Portellano suggests.

Many still rely on the 3-30-300 rule, which allocates fixed costs per square foot for utilities, rent, and payroll. However, this focus overlooks the benefits of human-centric design and its impact on employee well-being and, ultimately, productivity.

A holistic experience

Employees crave a holistic experience the moment they step into the office, one where the workspace adapts to their needs, as an employee and as an individual, throughout the day.

“The office should be a space that eliminates friction and provides the tools and environment they need to perform at their best,” says Portellano. “Consider the office a gym for the minds, where a well-equipped gym with a personal trainer can improve someone’s physical performance.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, where the return to office is largely stable, Portellano believes the time is ripe to take longer-term decisions on changing workspace configurations to cater to the new employee demands for workplace use.

“This could be through increasing the number of focus areas or rethinking collaboration areas, driven by data findings and user experience, not anymore by pre-conceived industry standards or assumptions,” Portellano concludes. 

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