Reimagining the collaborative office beyond the 9 to 5

Esha Jalal
April 30, 2024
Team members that have fun together and engage in learning about each other can create lasting bonds that improve their productivity and well-being at work.

How workspace design can help create lifelong friendships and lasting relationships beyond the 9 to 5

It was a typical day at my old office. It was lunchtime, and deathly quiet. But behind one closed office door, a fierce card game raged between bites of food. At 13:30, we slowly packed our stuff, opened the door and seamlessly transitioned back to our work routine. This was the norm.

Each day, like clockwork, all junior associates gathered in one of the vacant meeting rooms to engage in a spirited card game. Beyond the sheer joy of card play, it was the collective experience and the shared moments that we cherished the most. Amid the deadlines and professional demands, these lunchtime gatherings became the highlight of our routines. It was a chance to break away, connect, and enjoy each other's company. 

When I reflect on my first professional experience, it's these seemingly insignificant moments that stand out the most. How through this game we managed to create a space for bonding and shared experiences. We were able to carve out a small haven within the confines of the office, where laughter and friendly competition could coexist. 

Humans are inherently social creatures: they need spaces that promote socialization, and allow them to make significant connections with others. While COVID-19 changed a lot of our priorities and cemented the concept of hybrid working, the fact remains that people still want to reconnect with their colleagues and friends face-to-face. Therefore, the design of our workplaces must align with this fundamental aspect of our nature. 

I often bring back this lesson when I work on the designs and concepts for our clients. It’s about small details making a big impact. 

For example, to support the informal interactions in the office of one of our clients, we have suggested adding a coffee bar within a lounge area of their workspace. With this casual setting, we aim to provide a conducive environment for the team members to connect over a simple cup of coffee, fostering a culture of networking and socializing. This will not only meet the teams’ functional needs but also enhance the overall workplace experience and create a sense of belonging.

In a different example, when an IT-centric company shifting towards agile working came to us for an office redesign, our focus was on the human need for connections. The challenge was not only to create an environment that aligns with the company's agile approach but also to encourage the team to come back to the office. 

To address this, we introduced the concept of 'atoms,' the agile rooms for different teams. We designed these spaces to serve as hubs for collaborative work, with a brainstorming lounge and a standing meeting room. We aimed to provide dynamic settings for face-to-face interactions and idea exchange - essential components for team building and innovation.

These 'atoms' were also designed to accommodate a hybrid way of working and seamlessly connect team members working from different locations. With technology and thoughtful design elements, we aimed to bridge the gap between physical and virtual collaboration, ensuring that remote team members feel actively included and connected.

Meaningful interactions in the workplace also provide opportunities for mentorships and better career prospects. Architecture and design have the power to influence employee well-being and companies should prioritize creating workspaces that support wellness and health. Ergonomic furniture, natural lighting, and dedicated areas for relaxation and rejuvenation can contribute to a healthier and more engaged team. For many, the role of workspaces has changed. It is now a center for culture and idea exchange that can attract young talent who seek inclusive and stimulating work environments.

The Board of Innovation's collaborative office in Antwerp

We spend approximately one-third of our lives at work, roughly 90,000 hours in a lifetime. This time investment must translate into meaningful experiences. We can create a compelling case for our employees to return to the office by ensuring that their time spent there is both enjoyable and productive.

Other than looking into fostering social spaces when (re)designing workspaces, leaders might want to consider the following: 

  • Adding phone booths and silent libraries to better support focus tasks in the physical workspace;
  • Promoting inclusivity in the workplace through the use of dedicated relief spaces like EHBO or nap rooms;
  • Creating a safe space for different cultures and communities to thrive in the workspace through the use of inclusive gathering spaces, prayer rooms, and celebrating cultural holidays of your team members. 

Through intentional human-centric design, forward-thinking companies can transform their offices into hubs for rich experiences.

The future of the office must become a place where teams want to come - to win together!

Cover illustration by Esha Jalal.

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