2020 brought changes to the world that nobody could have envisioned. The Covid-19 pandemic upended daily life with lockdowns, the groundswell of activism around racial and social justice, and the continuing meltdown of the environment—all of these have impacted the way we live and work. Even before the pandemic, Knoll had been exploring opportunities for change and the importance of creating environments that help employees thrive and flourish. We’ve learned that people don’t want to merely survive, post-pandemic. They want to thrive. In many ways, the disruptive changes we’ve experienced are accelerators and opportunities to build new holistic and resilient workspaces where supporting the whole person—the personal, the communal, the mental and physical well-being—is now more important than ever before.
“Covid-19 wasn’t the demise of the office, but we are returning to a different place,” says Kylie Roth, Vice President of Research at Knoll. “If anything, organizations are now looking to create thriving workplaces that improve daily experiences through meaningful and thoughtful engagement. This realignment is an unprecedented opportunity to reimagine and reinvent the way we work and do business— and the workplace promises to be more alive and resilient than ever.”
What is The Thriving Workplace?
The Thriving Workplace takes this seismic shift into account. It is a multi-layered ecosystem comprised of hybrid work settings that support the human connection, forge culture and foster collaboration. It delivers highly adaptable environments that create opportunities to facilitate conversation, togetherness and a sense of belonging.
It addresses the need for inherent flexibility within a space to express and explore different directions—settings that offer us ample space for individuals to freely move, with furnishings that invite collaboration and playfulness. Key to this is a shift from the large dense open floor plan to one that supports a variety of interactions through the use of smaller-scale holistic, flexible neighborhoods. They can be grouped together to form a larger space like a central office, or they can be stand-alone locations like a satellite space closer to where people live.
To better understand the rapidly evolving nature of work brought on by the events of 2020, the challenges organizations are facing today, and how organizations are planning their workplace strategies, Knoll undertook many studies, including roundtables and panel discussions. The participants in these studies, from the business and design communities in North America, provided a rich context for how the nature of work is evolving and how we design workspaces. Our White Paper, The Thriving Workplace: Embracing a New Narrative, along with our companion, The Case for a Thriving Workplace research report, is the culmination of this research initiative. “The concepts behind Thriving Workplace represent the range of insights we’ve gained from our ongoing research into work, workplace and new ways to meet and collaborate,” explains Roth. “Supplemented with discoveries from our continuing client engagements, our findings present new ways of workplace planning and opportunities for organizations to reshape and improve the way we work.”
Discovering The Thriving Workplace
Our research suggests that we are on the brink of transformative change. Six elements help to define The Thriving Workplace—it powers the work ecosystem, delivers a cultural hub, embraces flexibility, offers a variety of choice, leverages technology, and encompasses holistic well-being. It is about choice and empowering employees to select where, when and how they work. It’s about allowing them to choose the environment that supports them holistically— personally, communally, mentally and physically—for the work they need to do that day.
Companies must rethink the large, open environments of the past decade for smaller, more humanistic spaces—for different needs and making sure that all employees are fully seen, heard, engaged and rewarded—that use space delineation, rich materials and acoustic solutions, allowing people to select the space and atmosphere that is right for them.
At its heart, a Thriving Workplace supports the ebb and flow of a collaborative work experience. With more and more individual work being done at home, bringing people together and supporting connection will be core to the mission of the office, as nothing can replace face-to-face interaction. At the same time, because we are not all in the same place at the same time today, new versions of culture and collaboration will emerge, driven by a combination of leadership, technology and clarity.
The Thriving Workplace Supports Scalable Planning
As employees return to the office, rather than a single large, open floor plate, a Thriving Workplace also supports scalable planning for a range of settings which can be sized up or down to support the needs, interactions and activities across locations and sites. The new workplace is one where some floor plate space may be re-allocated with the need for additional group spaces as planned individual spaces decline, and unassigned workspaces grow.
Employees’ ability to connect to their collaborative work community and company culture is key. “As companies address the opportunity to support teams in new ways of togetherness and with a culture of belonging, offices will need spaces for specific tasks like focused work, team brainstorming, and even a lounge to unwind that compels you to come as you are and leave transformed,” says Roth. “Spaces could either be grouped together to form a larger space or stand alone as a satellite location.”
The Workplace Evolves
As we return to the office, we’re returning to a different place. And it’s no surprise that our preconceived notions about the purpose and design of the workplace have evolved to create new experiences that offer more flexibility, adaptability, and a variety of spaces where everyone can be productive and happy.
Covid has disrupted our life on every level—personally, mentally, emotionally and physically. The Thriving Workplace addresses that multi-faceted experience, and redefines what dynamic work is and where work takes place. “Within the new scenario that is the workplace as an ecosystem, people work from any number of locations, supported by a human-centric company culture,” says Knoll Design Director Benjamin Pardo. “Flexibility mixed with humanity is key to all of this, as both companies and employees seek to optimize their work/life balance in a hybrid workplace.”
Photography by Knoll TRMedia Group