Now that employees increasingly don’t have to be in the office, what does it mean to design a workplace that makes them want to make the journey?

Economists are calling it the Great Resignation. The pandemic has had many people rethink the balance of their working lives, either quitting their jobs or switching professions for greater satisfaction. A survey by Microsoft found 41 per cent of global workers are considering a major change this year. In April 2021, a record four million Americans quit their jobs according to the US Department of Labor. These facts have employers rapidly rethinking their benefits offer to keep valued staff on board. Perks can translate into physical space through amenities, but most are looking outdated given the complex issues brought to light by the pandemic. Here are three expert opinions on what people want from their employers and workplaces now. 

Cover and above: The Exchange in Paddington Square is designed with the aim of providing an experience that prioritizes self-improvement, learning and personal growth for workers. Photos: Universal Design Studio

Kim Peters, executive vice president at Great Place to Work, a global certification programme and research-based consulting service 

Flexibility is the most meaningful benefit post-pandemic. Employees are continuing to look for opportunities to work when and where it suits them best. Whether it’s from an office, from home, a hybrid of both, at different times of the day due to caregiving duties – for children, for elders or for pets, they want work to be flexible. Perks that support workers with those duties, that make life easier for them, are front and centre right now. Research from our Great Place to Work® Best Workplaces for Parents™ in 2020 list tells us, for example, that companies investing in employees and their families see 5.5 times more revenue growth thanks to great innovation, higher talent retention and increased productivity.

Though it’s not really about perks, post-pandemic employees are also seeking equity, transparency and purpose. For example, we just published the Fortune® Best Workplaces for Millennials™ in 2021 and found that these are the three biggest predictors of employee retention, and especially significant for millennials. When employees are proud to work at a company, feel their job has special meaning and enjoy the work they do, this combination means they are highly engaged in their work that results in lower turnover. This research showed that millennials are nearly four times more likely to intend to leave a job than boomers, and 11 times more likely than Gen Xers.

The Exchange in Paddington Square has integrated multi-functional spaces which can serve as studios for yoga or meditation at one point in the day and then transition for presentations or classes at another. Photo: Universal Design Studio

Barry Ostle, development director at Sellar, a development and design collective in London

There has been a huge shift in focus towards the health and wellness agenda, so rightly we are seeing occupiers facilitate the steps to help people feel comfortable when returning to shared spaces. At The Exchange in Paddington Square, we’ve integrated multi-functional spaces which can serve as studios for yoga or meditation at one point in the day and then transition for presentations or classes at another, with the aim of providing an experience that prioritizes self-improvement, learning and personal growth for workers.

With many choosing more active ways of commuting, it is also vital to provide amenities that will support the increased amount of people cycling into the office. At Paddington Square we have drastically increased the amount of cycle and e-scooter parking to over 500 spaces, with high quality shower and changing facilities integrated in the building.

Mental health and wellbeing are more acutely present in the day-to-day than ever before, so it seems befitting that services which look after employee health will become more prevalent within offices, whether from the basis of nutrition, counselling or physical fitness.

Expressway in London’s Royal Docks boasts an incubation space for 17 young entrepreneurs.

Ben Cross, development associate at General Projects, a UK-based creative real estate developer 

When it comes to perks and amenities one size doesn’t fit all. All too often amenities are seen as breakout spaces or in-house cafés or Zoom rooms, but we need to totally redefine that. An amenity could be an art gallery, a conservatory full of biodiverse plants or a basketball court. We need to see our buildings as a campus of exciting ideas that bring people back to the office. Some people want to work in loud environments or socialize on roof terraces. Others want quiet and to hide away in a secret garden. The idea that one format of space to suit everyone just doesn’t work. To be inclusive, amenities need to be as flexible as office space. 

In real estate, there’s an acute challenge around tech-enabled spaces. We’re not bringing people together in the usual way [in a hybrid scenario], but no-one really has the answer for doing it through technology, to synthesize it in a way that doesn’t feel dystopian. I’d like to think that design or the creative arts has a better response to that rather than big tech, but we’ll see. 

We’re also firm believers that a business community and its neighbours should be seen as one and the same. At Expressway in London’s Royal Docks there is an incubation space for 17 young entrepreneurs. As part of the tenants’ lease, they must give time talking, training, and giving advice to school leavers. We expected some pushback, but actually, this is something that people really want to do. People want to feel like they are making a positive contribution on top of their work lives. Creating social value can be more beneficial to some people than individual wellbeing. I’d like to think that as we move out of the pandemic, we’re more aware of other people’s experiences, and are far more neighbourly.