Flexibility, wellbeing and culture — What the post-pandemic tech workplace will focus on
The pandemic was a unique moment in the tech industry. We had firms like Zoom seeing market capitalisation rise meteorically fold while some other businesses, particularly within the travel tech space, saw an unprecedented crisis. Some companies saw an increase in funding during this period even as others needed to prove their relevance during this time. In some companies where remote and flexible work was already in place, it was almost business as usual for the workforce, while others saw huge teething pains when making the shift towards remote working especially due to data security issues or difficulties collaborating.
In every case, tech firms saw the benefits of weaving flexibility and agility into their business and workplace DNA and most importantly the need to keep their workforce productive, positive and enabled for work. In the past year or so, we’ve noticed these changes shape some interesting workplace trends.
Flexibility to grow and diversify
Across the board, agility was defined as one of the key success factors in adapting to the pandemic. Tech firms in particular, saw this take place in their own backyard and came to understand how IT legacy could get in the way of ensuring smooth communications and data privacy for remote employees or how an inflexible office space could stand in between them and business diversification.
Keeping this in mind, both startups and well-established firms are exploring newer and nimbler workplace models that allow them to scale according to the business needs and also replan the space based on the work needs of their employees.
As the pandemic continues, employees across the world are highlighting how much they miss the office for collaborative work as well as heads-down focused work. To address this, we anticipate a higher adoption of the activity-based work model which ensures devoted space to both ends of the spectrum as well as the large number of work requirements in between.
Some firms were prescient in this regard. For instance, when we designed Browserstack’s Mumbai office a while back, we evolved a workplace strategy with them that enabled different functional spaces for different kinds of collaborative work. From formal meeting rooms to brainstorming zones to phone booths to step seating, we developed 6 kinds of meeting rooms within one office space for them to ensure work of all kinds can get done without any hassle.
Many firms are also examining the neighborhood approach to workspace planning, especially as they consolidate their business lines or functions under one roof. Recently, Zebra Technologies in Singapore asked us to design an office that could house their previously separate R&D laboratories with the other operational functions at HQ. They saw this as an opportunity to foster collaboration in a transparent manner, and create scalability for future growth. In response to this, we developed their brand new space in the heart of the CBD that houses a manufacturing lab, a retail showcase area, specific zones for healthcare technologies, R&D, control tower, solution centre, a general hot desking area, focus work areas and a variety of meeting rooms. We also designed a pantry and lounge for collaboration and informal meetings. By co-locating the two groups and enabling an impressive customer experience through a retail and R&D showcase in the same space, we helped them reinforce the Zebra Technologies brand as a modern, innovative and forward-looking organisation to employees and clients.
Employee wellbeing and concerns
According to a report by Unify Square1, technology workers have faced the brunt of the stress of working from home, with many missing the office routine and avenues to collaborate and having to juggle the distractions and extra personal duties that are part of working from home.
When their workforce returns to the office, tech firms will have to make the extra effort to address burnout and accommodate for wellbeing. Many firms have already incorporated some design and functional elements that address health and wellbeing into the workspaces prior to the pandemic.
For instance, we designed this multinational tech firm’s Chengdu office, keeping in mind the need for employees to be active throughout the day. The activity-based workspaces and rooms facilitating standing meetings encourage movement through, while the in-house gym and the backstreet basketball court offer avenues to take frequent activity breaks too. At the recently completed Bole Games office in Beijing, we designed and built an entire floor with employee-centric facilities such as a library, nap rooms, focus rooms and training facilities — this highlights not just a focus on employee wellbeing but also a focus on employee empowerment and self-improvement.
Another design project, for the Hyderabad office of an international tech firm, included an indoor cricket pitch, and a massage room to make it easier for employees to take small but reinvigorating breaks. Other features like nap rooms, gyms and mother’s rooms are becoming de rigueur at most tech firms and help to address the unique needs of their diverse workforce. Moving forward, companies are seeing the value of getting WELL certified and are working with us to design and certify their workplaces.
When we designed and built Rubrik India’s new office in Bangalore, we worked closely with the firm to encompass both the WELL and LEED-certified frameworks within the workplace. Right from indoor air filters and lighting systems that ensure well-lit and well-ventilated spaces to work out of, to nutrition options and fitness-driven workplace strategies that enable healthy and active lifestyles, the office is designed for the post-pandemic organisation that prioritises both sustainability and wellbeing in equal measure. We have even built sections within the office focused on wellbeing that enable employees to unwind and restore themselves. In fact, more firms are recognising the mental health and value-based needs of their workforce and making changes to address this. An office coach or counsellor on call is becoming a norm for many organisations.
Many firms are also recognising their millennial and Gen Z employees’ concerns about sustainability and address this by working with us to design LEED-certified workplaces that not only reduce their carbon and energy footprint but also enable their workforce to reduce wastage, and commute bikes or mass transit. At the Nutanix Singapore office, we factored in various design elements that embodied the company’s focus on sustainability. LED light fixtures, Energy Star appliances, an Advanced Energy Metering System, low-flow water fixtures and a waste segregation system enable the firm to stay green both at an infrastructure level as well as from an employee-behavior point of view.
With contactless hiring becoming a norm, and with firms becoming more open to remote hires from across the globe, the company office is playing a slightly different role today. No more is it being seen as a place to house employees as they work on projects and day-to-day tasks. Instead, the tech office is evolving as a centre of culture — a place to introduce a new recruit to the company ethos and culture (either remotely or in-person) or to bring together dispersed teams on key occasions to impart professional or culture-led knowledge and experiences. Due to this reason, firms see the brand experience becoming more important than ever.
For LinkedIn Bangalore, this has always been a key aspect of the workplace design. For instance, in order to build a resonance between their brand value of “relationships matter” and their young millennial and Gen Z recruits, we designed key sections of their space to reflect a collegiate vibe. The space transfers the energy of young ambition to a new joinee without the need for a large cohort of fresh recruits around.
At Diginex Hong Kong, the same focus on organisation branding was the motivation behind the state-of-the art reception space with the giant interactive video wall. Clients, partners and employees immediately get a feel of the firm’s pioneering vision in fintech and their forward-thinking approach to work.
To date, Space Matrix has completed more than 300 projects in the IT and Technology industry totalling over 11 million sq ft, impacting 110,000 employees in 38 cities around the world. We’ve worked with dynamic financial services firms like IBM, Microsoft, Autodesk, Gartner and more to push the frontiers of workplace design and employee engagement. We can talk about your firm’s workplace strategy, too.