Navigating the Complex Process of Designing a Hybrid Workplace
The complexity of workplace design has grown and the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in the workplace. Hybrid workplace design has become the dominant strategy in the market, posing challenges for both clients and designers in navigating its complexity and finding suitable solutions for their projects. The design process must now also take into account social and environmental justice considerations, with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) assessments playing a role in shaping the goals of design projects for many client organizations.
To approach hybrid workplace design, it's helpful to view the workplace as an experience rather than just a physical space, recognizing that the physical environment is only one aspect of a worker's total experience.
As a result of workplace decentralization, the role of technology and human resources has become increasingly important in workplace design, with design teams and clients striving to create a cohesive workplace experience.
Traditionally, a project team would consist of architects, interior designers, mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineers, structural engineers, civil engineers, lighting designers, acoustic designers, audio-visual designers, IT and communications designers, and sustainability consultants. However, the growing focus on capturing all the factors that impact the employee's workplace experience has led to an expansion of the pool of specialists involved in the design process. Today, design teams often bring in additional consultants to help achieve project goals. In the following sections, we'll explore some of the specialists commonly relied upon to develop a cohesive workplace experience.
Managing Change in Workplace Strategy
In recent years, the term "workplace strategy" has gained widespread usage. Essentially, workplace strategy involves engaging with an organization to understand their needs and goals, and then developing a strategy for achieving those goals through the workplace experience. A workplace strategist can be a critical member of the project team and should be involved from the outset. The strategist will work with stakeholders at all levels of the organization to identify issues that may impact or enhance the organization's ability to achieve its operational and performance goals.
The strategist's objective is to define organizational goals and gain buy-in for an overall strategy to achieve those goals. They use consensus-building exercises to align stakeholders across the organization and collaborate with a change management consultant to facilitate change within the organization. While not all of the strategist's recommendations will pertain to the physical workplace, they can encompass anything that shapes the workplace experience, from human resource policies and culture to technology integration, communications, management, data collection, physical workplace design, and even the home environment.
Using a structured approach, a change management consultant guides organizations through change, commonly relying on the Kubler-Ross model to understand how individuals cope with change. Collaborating with the project team, the consultant creates and executes a change management plan, incorporating engagement events like town hall meetings, site tours, status updates, and educational sessions to teach employees how to utilize the new workplace experience design's embedded tools. Training is a critical aspect of project success that is often overlooked in traditional projects.
Promoting Sustainability and Wellness in the Workplace
The emergence of sustainability certifications like WELL Building Standard, LEED, Fitwel, Green Globes, etc., and the need to monitor carbon impact has led to the rise of sustainability consultants, certification professionals, and experts in energy modeling, commissioning, and carbon impact assessment. Nevertheless, it is crucial for the project team to comprehend the organization's sustainability objectives and how the project can align with them before engaging a specialist. By facilitating discussions on priorities, a sustainability consultant can guide the team in determining the best course of action. In certain situations, achieving the organization's goals may require innovative approaches that established certifications do not yet encompass.
Recently, wellness has gained attention as a new focus. Most sustainability certifications primarily concentrate on energy consumption and carbon impact, with individual well-being being a secondary consideration. The WELL and Fitwel certification programs were developed to bridge the gap between sustainability and wellness, with others following suit. However, wellness certifications may not align perfectly with a project's goals, and building certification systems do not typically address the current hybrid workplace experience. A wellness consultant can help determine the best approach for achieving the organization's objectives.
Smart Building Technology Integration and Data Analytics
The use of integrated sensor technology in "smart buildings" allows building owners and operators to track energy and water usage, occupancy rates, lighting usage, security, and automate various systems and services. With the growing adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) technology in commercial buildings, there are now complex networks of systems communicating over various platforms within the office environment. For employers, this technology provides valuable data on space use and the ability to control multiple systems from a single platform.
However, because these systems use proprietary platforms and collect information, security is a major concern. The communication of these platforms with cloud-based servers outside of the client's security network can potentially leave an organization's data vulnerable to unauthorized access. Moreover, the disparate systems required to achieve project goals may not be easily integrated, limiting overall system functionality. The image below illustrates the complexity of systems within a single project.
To address these challenges, the design team should consult with an integration specialist. The specialist can help the project team develop a program of requirements, guide system selection, and integrate the various systems in line with project goals.
Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace
In recent years, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives have expanded beyond traditional minority and gender-focused recruitment to focus on workplace experience projects, especially those utilizing a hybrid work structure. The design of such structures must take into consideration a variety of concerns, including:
- Equitable participation in hybrid meetings
- Technology interfaces accessible across generations and ability levels
- Physical workplace environment accommodating individuals of varying ages, mobility, neurological profiles, vision and hearing difficulties, and cultural experiences.
To address these concerns, universal design strategies have gained popularity, creating more equitable environments for everyone. While project teams may be familiar with basic universal design concepts and strategies, a consultant can advise on specific solutions and navigate potential liability issues.
Audiovisual and technology consultants specializing in inclusive design can determine technology systems and processes that enable more equitable experiences for all employees, regardless of location or ability. They can suggest tools that make hybrid collaboration more inclusive, such as closed captioning on virtual calls.
In organizations that encompass diverse cultural backgrounds, an individual's workplace experience can be greatly influenced by their cultural encounters. It is imperative for the project team to consider the impact of different cultures on the workplace experience to prevent potential scenarios that may be considered offensive in some locations. Behavioral scientists are now vital members of project teams, incorporating cultural awareness into the workplace experience.
Integrating all Components
Managing a diverse range of consultants in a complex workplace design project is a challenging task, requiring careful evaluation of each consultant's potential and integration into the project schedule while managing client expectations. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to hybrid workplace design, and each project requires a customized solution that aligns with the organization's culture, goals, and budget. The timeline above provides a potential schedule for consultant integration, but it's essential to discuss the role of each consultant with the client to ensure a mutually beneficial project team structure. This approach will help establish a solid foundation for the project and set it on the path to success.