A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jan 10, 2022

How Leaders Are Working To Make Offices An Attractive, Effective Destination

Between omicron, hybrid schedules and two years of remote work, it is likely that 'the office' of lore may never fulfill the same functions in the same way. 

But many leaders still believe that it can play an important role in innovation, coordination, culture carrying and team building. To enable those functions, enterprises are investing in office upgrades that recognize the new work imperatives while optimizing the interpersonal engagement at the core of its effectiveness and attractiveness. JL 

Chip Cutter reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Companies that reopened have found the in-person experience underwhelming. Bosses observed that staffers spent much of their days hunched over laptops wearing headphones on video calls. Workers arrived to discover most of their colleagues at home, or on hybrid schedules. Employers say offices must be more effective in the pandemic era to draw staff. Companies are rolling out new software to allow employees to better coordinate their visits with colleagues, renovating spaces, upgrading in-office catering or monitoring the office experience. (Some) are setting “engagement days” when all employees will be required to attend. The goal is to make offices a destination

The office is back open. The new challenge is convincing more people to use it.

Companies that reopened spaces on a voluntary basis in recent months say they have often found the in-person experiences to be underwhelming. Some bosses observed that staffers spent much of their days hunched over laptops wearing headphones on video calls. Other workers arrived only to discover most of their colleagues were still at home, or on alternating hybrid schedules. The spontaneous collaboration offices once provided often didn’t occur, executives say, and some workers who tried returning to offices quickly gave up and settled back into a routine of working at home.

Employers say offices must be better—and more effective—in the pandemic era to consistently draw staff. To help, companies are rolling out new software to allow employees to better coordinate their visits with colleagues, while others are renovating spaces, upgrading in-office catering options or appointing staffers to monitor the office experience. A number of companies are also experimenting with scheduling, with some setting “engagement days” when all employees will be required to attend.

The goal is to make offices more like a destination, said Leena Nair, chief human resources officer at Unilever PLC, which expects its employees to eventually work in offices about 40% of the time. In recent months, as it reopened offices, Unilever has created specific days when multiple teams can gather in the office at the same time, Ms. Nair said.

“We’re learning new ways,” she said, adding that the company wants to prevent colleagues from working in isolation, where, “you get on your floor, you’re the only person around—no one else has come in that day.”

Physical spaces are also morphing, often to better support groups of employees. Technology giant Salesforce.com Inc. turned executive offices in its San Francisco headquarters into small group conference rooms open to all employees. It is also tripling the size of some dining areas, moving out desks and adding more couches, TVs and whiteboards for teams to gather. Most offices will have about 60% of space devoted to collaboration, up from 40% prior to the pandemic, said Brent Hyder, president and chief people officer of Salesforce.

“We’re creating spaces so that, when our teams come together, they have a place that’s inspiring to them,” he said. “What you’ll see is these buildings are primarily used for people to come together.”


Other companies are hoping brand new buildings will draw people back. Consulting giant Accenture PLC this spring opened a new office at the top of New York’s One Manhattan West tower near the Hudson Yards development. The office is open to employees on a voluntary basis. Amenities include access to an outdoor terrace, sweeping views of the Hudson River and New York skyline, along with an interfaith prayer room, tech-free “reflection zones,” yoga and wellness areas and dozens of conference rooms, said Jack Azagury, Accenture’s market unit lead for the northeastern U.S. For those who opt in, a new system accessible via an internal app that is in development can help Accenture employees find their colleagues who may be seated on other floors, Mr. Azagury said.

To entice people, Accenture in recent months has also offered staffers free lunch coupons on Mondays and Fridays, when the office tends to be less busy. The company has also organized volunteer events, happy hours and other group activities in the office.

“There has to be a purpose for coming in,” Mr. Azagury said, adding some may use the space for heads-down work, too. “You want to create a pull, not a push. And to create that pull, and to have people want to come in, I think the office space has to be designed with that in mind.”

When the French pharmaceutical company Sanofi SA opens a new headquarters in Paris next year, the company plans to upgrade its catering, adding options for breakfast and an early dinner, knowing that many employees will likely commute fewer days to the office, but may want to squeeze in more meetings and time on-site with peers when they do attend.

“If people are only coming in two days to the office, we want them to be able to max it,” said Paul Hudson, the company’s chief executive.

Other employers say setting clear expectations can be helpful. At the wealth-management firm Hightower, the company has told employees they will be expected to be in the office six days a month when a newly renovated headquarters space opens in Chicago next year. All employees will be asked to create a set day in the office per week, and to also attend two mandatory “engagement days” each month, when the company plans to have all-company meetings, said Bob Oros, the chairman and CEO. The company will also allow employees to skip coming into the office one month a year so they can work wherever they want, he said.


The company gutted its headquarters in the pandemic, eliminating dark woods and cubicles while raising the ceiling, adding more natural light and creating a more cohesive look, Mr. Oros said. “We want our workspace to be somewhere people want to be—when they walk in, they’re glad to be there,” he said.

The company recently promoted a former executive assistant into a new role as an employee experience specialist, focused in part on making the office a desirable place to work. Mr. Oros said he could foresee bringing in baristas, motivational speakers, comedians or others to inject some fun into the office. About 150 people work at its headquarters.

Hightower will also set an annual calendar for the engagement days, so colleagues can plan around them and attend. The thinking, Mr. Oros said, is that those days can be reserved for colleagues to meet new peers or to chat with folks with whom they don’t normally interact. Otherwise, Mr. Oros said, he worried employees would rarely be in the same place at once.

“When you really think about it, wow, we could be in a world where we never have all of our people together. It actually made me sad,” Mr. Oros said. “It really, really matters to have people together.”


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