A study in the 70’s showed that people would rather rebuild a building that was destroyed exactly the same as it was, including the existing flaws, rather than think of it anew.
If your workplace was burned down today, would you build it back exactly as it was?
I was fortunate to attend the recent Workplace Trends Research Summit recently, an annual gathering of workplace consultants and academics and full of new ideas, new research and discussion.
One presentation which really struck a chord with me was by Iva Durakovic, a Researcher at the University of New South Wales, and Laurie Aznavoorian, Strategy and Research Lead at Bates Smart Architects in Sydney. The title of their talk was Togetherness and Place – Considerations in the Post-Pandemic Workplace: Learnings from the Australian lockdowns and explored what the physical office means to people.
Their work was centred on the idea that the pandemic-imposed lockdowns have heightened our awareness of the value of the physical workplace, highlighting the crucial role it plays in establishing our sense of identity and belonging as professionals.
Working from home (WFH) during the pandemic has given us an appreciation of flexibility and inclusivity but there is emerging evidence showing how much workers actually missed the office’s social and learning ecosystem.
Their findings showed that whilst employees felt technologically supported and productive working from home, aspects of connection, collaboration and sense of belonging have suffered with collaboration and togetherness emerging as main motivators for returning to the office.
In fact, the research revealed something much deeper, exploring how the workplace is a physical and symbolic construct that relates to our subconscious feelings of identity and sense of belonging. And according to Maslow, that sense of belonging is really fundamental to human wellness and motivation.
- The “vibe” of an office is often associated with feelings of pride and of professionalism
- The transition that comes from leaving the home and entering the workplace support a mindset shift from a home-centred to a professional
- The formal structure of the physical workplace, where certain spaces signify certain tasks, such as individual focused or group collaborative work, supports a sense of efficiency.
This same physical space creates an emotional glue that facilitates human connections. The psychological safety that comes from being in a physical work environment together, from reading the cues of body language to having the ability to see and hear colleagues, can help to build and maintain trust in an organisation and lead to greater organizational resilience in the long run.
Their proposal for a way forward for workplaces themed around togetherness and place:
- Our technologies need to improve in order to better support human connection when we cannot be physically together.
- We need to evolve and upskill management and leadership to better support and lead the evolution to successful hybrid working.
- We need to build a greater awareness of the important role that place plays in supporting communities and engendering a sense of belonging.
Coming back to our original question: If your workplace was burned down today, would you build it back exactly as it was? Or would you change things?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.