08 Nov 23

Culture and belonging key to reimagining the workplace experience

Amplifying company culture is the major motivator for the growing number of businesses that want staff to spend more time in the office instead of working from home.

“No one cares about the efficiency of workplace models – it is all about belonging and culture,” says Kirsti Simpson, global workplace interiors leader at Woods Bagot.

Simpson says engaging workplaces that celebrate culture, belonging, diversity and flexibility are the ones that entice staff back.

“My observation is that employer sentiment is shifting towards a firmer view on what the workplace of the future might look like and that includes staff spending more time in the office,” says Simpson.

“We are seeing that already. For example, I met with a major employer this morning whose model currently is three days at work and two days at home. Next year they are proposing to transition to four days in the office and one at home.”

Back to the future?

In a recent survey of more than 1300 company leaders by KMPG, 64 per cent of CEOs predicted all staff will be spending five days a week at the office within the next three years.

But Nhlamu Dlomu, Global Head of People at KPMG International, cautions that returning to pre-COVID patterns probably won’t work.

“The war for talent may have softened in this period of economic uncertainty, but the evidence suggests a one-size-fits-all approach to return-to-office could be detrimental,” says Dlomu.

The KPMG report also notes: “This sentiment underscores the persistence of traditional office-centric thinking among CEOs.

“It comes against a backdrop of the debate surrounding hybrid working, which has had a largely positive impact on productivity over the past three years and has strong employee support, particularly among the younger generation of workers.

“As organizations roll out their return-to-office plans, it is crucial leaders take a long-term view that embraces the employee value proposition and encompasses the considerations and needs of employees to ensure that talent is nurtured and supported.”

Heritage Lanes, Brisbane.

Cultural consensus

These debates are happening in offices around the world and there appears to be consensus that strengthening company culture is key and that this is best done in the corporate office.

“The workplace now encompasses the workplace, the home, social, and other spaces,” says Simpson.

“In this environment, how do we ensure that culture and business strategy are communicated and understood, and how do we make the workplace experience more immersive?”

The answer, says Simpson, is good workplace design underpinning elevated corporate experiences, curated by dedicated specialists.

“If we’re spending less time in the office, the workplace needs to be much more representative of brand, structure, strategy and culture, and employees need to feel much more immersed in it,” she says.

Experience & events

Simpson predicts that “facility teams will be surpassed by experience teams that excel in amplifying and clearly communicating what is important in a succinct and legible manner.”

“If it’s a workplace of scale, employers should look at the programmatic overlay of space – an ongoing level of engagement that means you’re not coming into the same office every day and having the same experience – there’s something that brings you back.

“It might be events, it might be education, it might be activities. But to work well these initiatives should be driven specifically by the distinct organization in that distinct place so it’s something that feels co-created.”

Embracing diversity and flexibility are other issues that have come into focus post-pandemic.

1 William Street, Brisbane.

Designing for diversity & flexibility

“Designing for diversity, inclusion and flexibility is a big part of the workplace conversation,” says Simpson.

“There’s a lot more interest in talking about neurodiversity and personality typologies and how they thrive in different environments.

“The workplace needs to provide spaces to support a diversity of tasks and needs such as areas to retreat if the stimulation in the workplace proper is too great.”

As for flexibility, “It’s important we can respond very rapidly to changes in corporate structure, to changes in corporate strategy, to changes in workforce composition.”

To facilitate this, space should ideally be multi-purpose. “All spaces employers provide need to multi-task, work harder so they support a multitude of activities,” Simpson says.

The case for space

A major dilemma confronting many companies is the amount of space required over the next five or 10 years.

As a result, significant leasing deals have been few and far between since COVID. That may be about to change.

“I do feel there is a view that things have stabilised sufficiently and we’re now in a position where we can make informed and appropriate decisions about the future,” Simpson says.

“The most important aspect of that is around the scale of space our clients would occupy if renewing their lease or moving.”

Simpson says most of the clients she’s dealing with in this position are taking the same space, or if there has been a reduction it’s marginal.

Her view is that there’s a need to for landlords to increase base building amenity at scale to enable tenants to expand or contract at relatively notice, supported by robust, easy-to-use software.

Aurecon 25 King Workplace, Brisbane.

Shared amenity

Simpson says the increased flexibility required by tenants “will significantly increase the amount and type of shared amenity in office buildings.

“We need to carefully consider the workplace ecosystem and the community that it exists within.

“We have become very interested in base building amenity at scale – as more and more of the space in office buildings becomes shared amenity and tenants lease smaller amounts of ‘core’ space, it will be essential for owners and tenants to co-create spaces that can deal with peak periods, can support large events, and can moderate the increasing demands of the workforce. Users will demand a well-designed user interface experience.”

“Buildings will compete based on amenity levels, brand, and customer service; users will review these space as they would the latest restaurant.”

She also believes buildings will be open earlier and close later. “The working day no longer starts at 9am and stops at 5pm like the old process work models. Most buildings will operate from 6 – 9 capitalizing on a more elongated working day.”

Media enquiries
Martin Kelly
Content and Communications Leader (Australia & New Zealand)

Latest from the Global Studio