Concurrents: People are the Amenity  

Maria VanDeman

Have you brushed your teeth today?  How many hours have you spent in those sweatpants?  Let’s face it – working from home is extremely convenient and can bring out the laid-back, heads-down solitude we need to be truly productive. The flexibility of remote work helps many families juggle the demands of modern life.  The good news is that we can keep buying our beloved sweatpants because a balanced hybrid work approach is here to stay.   

According to Gensler’s Global Workplace Survey 2023, global workers have indicated that they need an average of 63% of the workweek at the office for maximum productivity.  With the rise of hybrid work models that offer the best of both worlds, companies must create compelling office spaces and nurture company cultures that leverage the human experience.  However, are we asking the right questions or ready to address the needs of a contemporary workforce? Maybe we need to redefine what “amenities” we truly value?  

As the name suggests, the purpose of the “workplace” is, well, a “place to work,” but no one wants to be a cog in the system of efficiency and output. The last thing I want to do is add another noisy and snooze-worthy article to an already saturated discussion of the workplace.  So, instead of focusing on the specifics of collaborative environments and flexibility, I will examine three ways to support people: the true amenity of the workplace. 

Community:   Some of my greatest friendships have come from living in the trenches of projects and tedious tasks alongside a team of others charging toward the common goal (with a healthy dose of office chatter, occasional TV-esque drama, and commissary of the job at hand).  Deep meaningful friendships and valuable skillsets develop at a faster rate among the psychological safety of a community.  Proximity matters when transferring generational skills and knowledge from the experienced elders to the savvy newbies and back.  Hard work is easier, more productive and more meaningful when it’s done hand-in-hand with others.   

Let’s question if we are actively investing in spaces and programs that foster a sense of community and social interactions. A beautifully designed space in itself does not guarantee employee loyalty.  Instead, spaces should be designed to facilitate the valuable human interactions and relationships which are crucial for retaining top talent and a flourishing culture.   

Building strong company culture is a complex task that requires multifaceted adaptation along with champions and cheerleaders within the organization.  According to Gallup, highly engaged teams have been shown to deliver 21% higher profitability.  What we might be missing while alone at home in our sweatpants, is the belonging and relationships to help refine us into the best version of ourselves.   

Career:  The workplace provides a physical hub for professional networking and career development. According to LinkedIn, 85% of job openings are filled through networking, highlighting the importance of career building through personal connections.  My wise friend, Aaron Estabrook, recently told me, “It is up to you alone to communicate your value,” emphasizing the importance of communicating value to our teammates and managers in an authentic way.  This can prove more challenging in a fully remote environment as the “out of sight, out of mind” dynamic is an unfair, but very real, reality.  Employees need peer interaction and access to managers to help overcome proximity bias, and for guidance, lifelong learning and mentorship.   

There are close to 11 million people in the US working in “middle management” roles who serve as the difficult bridge between the voice of employees and goals of the organization. As a catalyst for people staying or leaving an organization, these people often hold the key to unlocking opportunities, development and sometimes, even the valuable lessons of what not to do. 

Are we discussing how to effectively train and equip managers to support growth, recognize bias, provide challenging assignments, lead with vision and clarity and address toxic behaviors that may hinder teams?  If companies are asking for “butts in seats,” then leaders need to be present and active to allow for face time, mentoring, and opportunities for all stages of career development. From the programming to the furnishings, we need to design equitable spaces for people to efficiently learn and grow regardless of hierarchy.   

Convenience:  Navigating an important Zoom meeting with a chorus of screaming kids, barking dogs, broken printers and lost connections can feel like a comedy skit.  That’s when the convenience of a proper office with functional technology, tech support, and dynamic work and meeting spaces truly shines.   

Progressive companies may have on-site fitness centers, meditation rooms, and ergonomic workstations to help support people’s best physical and mental health. I love a good cappuccino and lunchtime walk.  However, we have a long way to go to truly address the real-life challenges and needs of many people.   

Imagine if working parents were supported with a robust childcare program for those unexpected teacher work days and summers. What if teams and individuals had access to staff therapists to help to navigate conflict, communication, boundaries, and mitigate toxicity?  What about doggy daycares and pet friendly spaces to make work days brighter (I spy some upcoming column ideas)?  Let’s continue to imagine what conveniences can serve the people who bring our work to life.    

The people to our left, right, and behind the screen are not commodities, but invaluable amenities to enhance our personal and professional lives and well-being.  Let us challenge the traditional notions of the workplace and reimagine it as a space that not only facilitates work but also nourishes the human spirit, fosters meaningful connections, and empowers individuals to reach their full potential. There is no place like home, but the workplace has the opportunity and obligation to provide an unmatched culture of belonging and support.  Now, (virtual) hug your teammates and go brush your teeth. 

Maria VanDeman, NCIDQ, IIDA, is an accomplished Interior Designer and Workplace Advisor at OFS, as well as a published children’s book author and advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.  With a passion for people and designing for human needs, Maria strives to make a positive impact on the world through her work and mentorship.