From low-slung sectional sofas and deep-pile rugs to big-screen video game monitors and virtual forests of ficuses, one could be forgiven for mistaking many offices of today for somebody’s living room.
While creating a more relaxed work setup has been a trend for some time, employers, in their pitch to get employees to return to in-person work, are going to greater lengths than ever to make their offices look and feel homey. In the world of real estate, “resimercial” is a term being used to describe spaces that are part residential, part commercial. Festooning these spaces with swank, modern design features worthy of an Elle Decor spread has been dubbed “office peacocking.” (Clearly, there is still no end to the list of work-related expressions born of the pandemic.)
Employers must go beyond instituting the flexible arrangements today’s employees demand — they must also be “intentional” about how company headquarters look and operate now, according to Owl Labs’ “State of Remote Work” report. Despite the rise of remote work, it is clear that many in the workforce still value having an office to go to. Among 2,300 full-time U.S. workers surveyed by Owl Labs, team meetings and collaboration were seen as far better suited for the office versus a remote location.
“Knowing that you don’t need your office square footage for 100% of your employees, I think you have the opportunity to use the office for other things,” said Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Boston-based Owl Labs, which provides smart technology products for connecting dispersed teams.
Weishaupt’s own company has fashioned a more casual base in downtown Boston that is part workspace, part social spot, where snacks flow freely and the occasional happy hour is hosted — and where, when it comes to work, more collaboration happens. “It certainly has worked for us,” he said. “We’re starting to see an increase in capacity, and I think it’s for all the right reasons.”
Matt Teifke, founder and CEO of Teifke Real Estate in Austin, Texas, pointed to several ways employers are creating more magnetic spaces — incorporating elements like standing desks and soft-seating areas; bright, colorful accents and artwork; and biophilic design touches like plants, natural light and nature-themed fabrics. “By making the office environment more inviting and comfortable, employers can create an atmosphere that makes employees want to come back day after day,” he said, adding that doing so “encourages productivity, collaboration and innovation.”
Brooklyn, N.Y.-based design firm ROOM, which has put its imprint on the spaces of more than 6,000 companies globally including Google, Starbucks and Lucasfilm, has revolutionized the modern workplace with products like soundproof meeting pods and “phone booths,” or soundproof, individual privacy spaces made for the open office. Its latest innovation?: The “Room for Zoom,” a pod specially designed for video conferencing.
ROOM’s co-founder Morten Meisner-Jensen noted that while the resimercial trend was already happening pre-pandemic, particularly in Scandinavia, more employers have come to realize they must offer a communal workplace that is not just functional but inviting.
The last three years may have proved the efficacy of remote work, but, Meisner-Jensen proposed, one thing our two-dimensional, Zoom-powered work life does not do well is foster human connections. That’s why companies must “rethink the physical workspace to inspire human interaction, ideas and innovation,” he said. “We believe this can be done better through human-centric, purpose-built design that focuses on the individual over the corporation.”
The details matter, suggested Meisner-Jensen, who observed that headquarters too often are traditionally cold and impersonal, using materials like glass, steel and stone. Conversely, ROOM favors warmer touches like wood and fabric in its designs. As he put it, “We design office products you actually want to spend time in.”
But being fashionable doesn’t come cheap. For instance, ROOM’s phone booths retail at $6,000 and up, while meeting rooms start at around $20,000.
For the more budget-minded, however, the solution may be as simple as taking inspiration from a peacock’s tail.
“Based on my own experience, altering the colors in your office can be one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve your work environment,” said Sukhy Dhillon, brand director at E-Careers, a London-based ed-tech institution that has done training for companies like Unilever, Harrods and the BBC.
Noting the well-documented power of color psychology — the connection of color to human emotion and behavior, and a philosophy that’s been around since about 2000 B.C. — Dhillon said he makes a point of selecting hues according to the sort of work a staff member performs. For example, purple for creative roles, and blue for more analytical jobs. Furthermore, a drab conference room can suddenly inspire collaboration and idea generation with a simple change of shade.
As Dhillon sees it, “Your team’s performance may be greatly improved … just by using the right colors.”