Reapproaching the Workplace: Interface

Optimizing Spaces Based on Changing Employee Needs

In March 2020, we collectively saw offices empty overnight as the impact of the coronavirus continued to rapidly expand globally. The months that followed were Zoom and Teams-centric as we felt the large-scale shift to remote work. With this came a lot of questions surrounding Zoom fatigue, setting up an at-home workspace, over-bonding with your pets and more.

While we grappled with and adapted to working-from-home, a few key lessons about the future of work and our workplaces became apparent. First, employees are productive at home. They enjoy having the added level of flexibility in their work schedules and not having to commute daily. The second realization is the reason employees will return to the workplace: each other. People miss collaborating and connecting with their peers in a face-to-face environment.

As companies begin to ideate what a large-scale return to the office might look like and how they will optimize their workplace with changing needs in mind, it’s critical to understand how employees will use the space to ensure that it addresses safety concerns while also allowing for meaningful interaction.

Taking a New Approach to Workplace Design

According to a recent Twingate study, 94 per cent of employees miss aspects of their company’s workplace. Of this, 41 per cent said they missed face-to-face meetings the most, and 35 per cent miss collaborating with others. But, as revealed in an internal Interface survey, employees are still wary about returning to the office. With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout becoming more widespread, it’s critical that organizations begin to rethink their spaces with collaboration and safety needs top of mind.

At the same time, it’s important we don’t let COVID-19 redesign our spaces for us. So, how can organizations balance competing needs and ideas? By using resiliency as a model. Make short-term adjustments, like physical distancing reminders, while protecting the long-term objectives of the space. Flexible and adaptable design solutions are the answer to achieving this.

With flexible design strategies, solutions that support COVID-19 safety needs can be easy, quick and low-cost. Similarly, this allows for future revisions and refreshes for the space as design trends and needs evolve. This dovetails into the heightened need for adaptability in buildings and the spaces within them, which supports the capacity to accommodate substantial change over the lifetime of a building in response to social, economic and ergonomic environments.

Designing for Resiliency in Action

Planning a space for resiliency involves understanding where an organization is in the present moment and then building from its unique culture, budget and vision to create a space that responds to any reality while understanding the needs and safety of occupants.

For example, Interface recently undertook a redesign of its global headquarters, dubbed Base Camp by employees, in response to changing needs from the space. Opened in 2018, it was designed as a community gathering place and a showcase of workplace design innovation. When it emptied in March 2020, Interface began to evaluate the best way to reopen the office. Like almost every organization across North America, this is not something the company planned for when it entered 2020, meaning it did not anticipate the need for budget and resources to accommodate drastic changes.

As the company began to rethink its space, Interface surveyed its employees to better understand their current attitudes and needs to feel safe coming back, and, similar to the Twingate study, found that one of the key drivers in returning to the office would be to connect face-to-face with peers and friends once again. As such, the new design centered on updates in three key areas: Optimize Spaces for Design, Technology and Employee Behaviours.

To effectively make the furniture and design adjustments, Interface knew it was critical that employee behaviour and technology evolve as well, especially while social distancing remains necessary. With these three areas of the redesign working in tandem, Interface ensured that the integrity of Base Camp’s design remained intact, allowing for minimal adjustments to support a largescale return to the global headquarters.

To modify the design of Base Camp for short and long-term needs, Interface utilized modular flooring as a measurement tool to indicate distance throughout the building. The flooring products provide subtle and artful cues, like colour or texture changes, for social distancing, traffic patterns and zones within the space. At the same time, furniture was rearranged or replaced to create more open-air collaborative spaces from previously underutilized areas identified before COVID-19.

One of Interface’s most noteworthy technological updates includes the introduction of a desk reservation system. Ensuring a minimum distance between employees returning to the building gives employees the comfort of knowing where they will sit when they opt to return. In addition, Interface expanded the use of its outdoor space to support employee productivity, resulting in another technology priority: improve the Wi-Fi on the fourth-floor patio to provide another large space for employees to maintain productivity and interact.

Design and technology updates require office protocol changes to promote a “we-focused” practice of responsible behaviours and routines. Employee behavioural adjustments create a safe, positive space for teams while promoting a culture of collaboration. The changes include adopting a flexible telecommuting policy; choosing which space they will work on and reserving a socially-distanced workstation; adhering to social distancing and COVID-19 protocol needs; and so on.

The recent redesign process aims to serve as a case study for other organizations beginning to evaluate the current state of their workspaces and how to optimize space for the return of employees. Connection and collaboration are critical to consider, along with the current safety and distancing measures associated with COVID-19. Prior to approaching a redesign, it is paramount that companies take stock of their spaces and what the long-term objectives are, how the workplace aligns with their culture, and how it supports employee needs. From here, they can evaluate how best to update the space, allowing it to evolve with their company in the short and long-term.

As Interface’s Global Director of Worklife and Workplace Strategy, Darby Gracey works to provide and maintain healthy, functional, innovative, and collaborative environments for the well-being of employees and customers in all Interface work locations globally. Darby’s responsibilities include overseeing our global headquarters and she has played an integral role in reimagining the Midtown Atlanta space to be a high-design, post-pandemic office of the future.