Office Design

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Attracting top talent could require thoughtful office design decisions, leaving it up to HR leaders to redefine workspaces to recruit and retain employees. Fill out the form to learn more.

Hybrid work

If you want employees in the office, build creative spaces and quiet zones

The push for nicer offices is less about impressive shows of wealth and more about practical design solutions for making the lives of employees easier.
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4 min read

Offices are undergoing a (let’s be honest) long overdue transformation. As office design decisions have become more closely linked to talent strategy, HR leaders have had to figure out how to reconfigure workspaces in a way that will bring employees back in the door.

“A lot of our clients are actually looking at using this as a time of experimentation and piloting and learning,” Janet Pogue McLaurin, global director of workplace research and a principal at workplace design firm Gensler, told HR Brew.

HR leaders looking to make improvements to their cubicle-farm layouts can start with adding spaces for creative group work and individual quiet work, according to recent Gensler research on the office amenities that are most attractive to employees and drive productivity.

A chart of the most impactful office spaces on employee effectiveness and experience.


What they want. Tech-free zones and innovation hubs were the amenities most closely  correlated with workplace experience and effectiveness, according to Gensler’s 2022 Workplace Performance Index, which surveyed over 2,000 US workers who have returned to the office at least part-time.

Survey respondents also outlined the different vibes they want from their workplaces. The ideal mix, they said, includes different spaces for the different types of work they do, from collaborative to individual.

“People are more willing to return for their ideal mix of experiences,” Pogue McLaurin said. “In fact, 42% said they would come back one more day a week and 24% said they would come back full-time if they had [their perfect] mix.”


Perhaps not surprisingly, some preferences varied by generation, with Baby Boomers ranking the “corporate,” “residential,” “library,” and “conference center” environments higher than Gen X, Millennial, and Gen Z workers. But all kinds of spaces are under consideration for some businesses.

“Libraries are making a huge comeback,” Pogue McLaurin said, “and it’s not about the books, it’s about the rules of a library and having a place that you can just quietly get your work done.”

New philosophy. Office design decisions were once pretty straightforward. Companies required most employees to come into the office every day and provided them with a space-efficient workspace, Pogue McLaurin explained. Today, that’s not enough.

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“It’s got to be a destination, not an obligation,” she said.

This might mean developing workspaces that are more like a hotel lobby or college lounge than a corporate office, and customizing them based on teams’ unique tasks.

“We’re learning that not all functions work the same, and we really need to think about tailoring this to how their employees work,” Pogue McLaurin said. “We are borrowing from hospitality. We’re borrowing from everyday life experiences…outdoor spaces, meditation spaces, even nap areas.”

Some companies are even migrating to more walkable, urban locations for the amenities available around the building, she added, such as gyms, happy-hour spots, or access to public transportation.

Marriott, she noted, moved about four miles from suburban Bethesda to a downtown, metro-friendly neighborhood. The hotel chain told Fortune that it hoped the new location and surrounding amenities would attract prospective employees.

“We’re seeing a lot of our clients relocating to mixed-use developments for that very reason,” Pogue McLaurin said. “Because they want to take advantage of all those spaces around them.”

First time? When it comes to workplace design decisions, “HR is more involved now than ever,” Pogue McLaurin said, echoing sentiments shared by peers in commercial real estate.

“Our client decision-makers have really shifted to be more people-focused and talent-focused,” she said.

For those just getting started on an office redesign, Pogue McLaurin recommended asking employees for feedback and noted that large-scale changes are not always necessary. Instead of a major refurbishing or a move, companies can start with smaller changes and pilots.

“We would start by having focus groups,” she said, “and talking and listening to what their employees really need, [and] understanding what's around that location that they can take advantage of.”—AK

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.