How COVID-19 Accelerated Changes to Work Spaces


The Nest is a collaborative place for women with features and amenities that appeal to those needing temporary space to work.
The Nest is a collaborative place for women with features and amenities that appeal to those needing temporary space to work. (The Nest/Ghidotti Communications)

Some people may be getting tired of working from home, but they still want to be able to make themselves at home when they come to work.

The traditional office had already begun to evolve before the COVID-19 pandemic, and creative, collaborative spaces were becoming as popular as breakroom Ping-Pong tables.

The pandemic, however, has led both employers and employees to reevaluate what’s necessary in a workspace. Hybrid work or assigned work-from-home days are trending in demand among employee benefits packages, and offices don’t necessarily need to have assigned, individual spaces for every person.

A 2021 Microsoft survey shows that 41% of the global workforce would consider switching jobs in the next year, with 55% saying that their work environment would be a factor in their decision. Well-being, work-life balance and flexibility were the top concerns.

“Team members wanted flexibility leading into the pandemic, and now that is a given in the workplace,” said Natalie Ghidotti, founder of Ghidotti Communications & Public Relations and co-founder of the women’s co-working space The Nest. “Employers have been completely reevaluating the types of spaces they offer their team members, and many are going to hybrid models where employees are in and out of the office, particularly on certain days.”

Writing in the Harvard Business Review — Andrea Vanecko, Jonathan Ward and Robert Makin, of the global architecture firm NBBJ — said the pandemic raised the stakes for employers looking to hire and retain top talent.

“The workplace trends that accelerated and the employee preferences that crystallized during the pandemic aren’t going away.”

Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Little Rock-based global nonprofit Heifer International, wrote in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette op-ed that the new demands for flexibility and collaborative, hybrid workspaces led Heifer to reimagine its headquarters office to meet those demands, reducing its footprint to two floors of its four-story building.

“Our staff have clearly expressed a desire for more flexible ways of working, and we are developing with them a series of hybrid working options that will enable a better work-life balance,” Ferrari said.

Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Little Rock-based global nonprofit Heifer International, wrote in an op-ed that the new demands for flexibility and collaborative, hybrid workspaces led Heifer to reimagine its headquarters office to meet those demands, reducing its footprint to two floors 
of its four-story building.
Pierre Ferrari, CEO of Little Rock-based global nonprofit Heifer International, wrote in an op-ed that the new demands for flexibility and collaborative, hybrid workspaces led Heifer to reimagine its headquarters office to meet those demands, reducing its footprint to two floors of its four-story building.

It’s not necessarily about the amount of space, however. As businesses seek ways to attract and retain talent in a competitive jobs market, realtors are seeing demands for more square footage for the amenities and the unique, creative spaces that are in demand.

“The pandemic has sort of acceleraed the consideration for companies and decision-makers to say ‘OK, look, employees and people that are looking for jobs now have a lot of different options,’” John Martin, principal and vice president of brokerage at Moses Tucker Partners, said to Arkansas Business. “They are now looking at things that they might not have been thinking about before. And so that means we’re in a much more competitive environment.”

Younger employees see the office as much as a place to socialize as it is to work, and workspaces are taking on a social aspect as they become more open. Offices and conference rooms are giving way to spaces called “learning centers” or “innovation spaces.”

The Nest has a welcome room, lounge area, kitchenette, designated quiet room/conference room with audio/visual capabilities, a soundproof area for calls and Zoom meetings and a patio.

Of course, not all employers can build a brand new office or workspace. But according to the Harvard Business Review, many are adding or changing spaces to offer a variety of options, from more traditional desks for “heads-down” work to flexible seating to collaborative spaces.

Employers can start small, by just repurposing a conference room or adding a collaborative table or adding upgraded multimedia technology.

Little Rock-based ImageWorks Commercial Interiors works with Fortune 500 companies and top architecture and design firms throughout Arkansas and, through its other locations, around the country. Shown are modern workspace components from Steelcase, an ImageWorks vendor.
Little Rock-based ImageWorks Commercial Interiors works with Fortune 500 companies and top architecture and design firms throughout Arkansas and, through its other locations, around the country. Shown are modern workspace components from Steelcase, an ImageWorks vendor. (Steelcase.com)

"We are hearing that CEOs want people back in the office where collaboration can stimulate innovation and preserve company culture," said ImageWorks CEO Rhonda Bradley. "At the same time, employees want comfort, flexibility and control to inspire their best work. This is driving new ways in which space is designed—to support workers, encourage engagement, and increase productivity. Space has never mattered more as leverage to entice people back to the office."