To learn how people use their facilities, coworking company Spaces put tiny sensors under tables and chairs at its location in the iconic Red Elephant building in the Hague. By sensing body temperature, the devices shed light on how areas were being used—or not used—so the company could redesign based on real-world data. One example: Swapping hard wooden seats for cushy office chairs bumped use of a large, shared table by 30 percent.
In May 2020, Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke declared “office centricity is over” and proclaimed the Canadian e-commerce company would be going “digital by default.” But when employees work from home, a company’s carbon footprint steps right through their front doors. So the company launched a project to incorporate its workers’ home energy use into its corporate emissions calculations.
With the pandemic completely reshaping the talent market, company leaders are increasingly realizing they need to meet potential employees where they are. And when it comes to younger candidates, where they are is on viral video social media platform TikTok. That had megabrands like Chipotle, Target, WWE and Shopify flocking to a one-month pilot of TikTok Résumés in July, which let job candidates submit video résumés that recruiters found by searching the eponymous hashtag. While there was some concern that the service might cut out those who can’t afford smartphones or older workers not as adept at using the channel, there seems little doubt that videos are officially part of the recruiting mix.
With so many people working remotely during the pandemic, Microsoft saw its Teams digital meeting software go into extensive use among its own employees as well as those of companies around the world. Yet leaders at the tech giant also realized that hybrid meeting environments left some participants out of the conversation. So engineers, marketers, product developers and hardware designers gathered in Microsoft’s prototyping center, the Hive, to have a go at designing the conference room of the future. Rolling out updates to Teams as they iterated, team members tweaked how presentations and chats appeared on monitors, arranged seating around a curved conference table for better visibility, and projected remote attendees on a single large screen at eye level to bring equity and eye contact into the hybrid meeting realm.
U.S. retailer REI planned to move into its brand-new Seattle-area headquarters in mid-2020. Instead, it quickly transitioned to a remote- working model and sold the 400,000-square-foot (37,161-square-meter) campus in September 2020, just four years after the new HQ project was first announced. The company will rely on several satellite offices in the area, while leaning into remote work. “We believe the future of work is much more fluid,” said REI’s Chris Putur.
Forget the locked-down look and feel of many financial services firms. The new HQ for Hana Financial Group in Incheon, South Korea is being built as a light-drenched, open space filled with greenery—a direct reflection of just how much the pandemic has changed the way people live and work. Designed by U.S. architecture firm NBBJ, the new office is an antidote to the typical closed office building boxes, where each floor is only accessible by entering and exiting an even smaller box: the elevator. In contrast, this building is cut through from bottom to top with ribbonlike ramps dotted by trees. And “community stations” are meant to give employees a place to meet with and be mentored by leaders—a connection constrained during the pandemic. With designs revealed in June, construction is set to begin late this year and be completed in 2024.
A fixture in many a remote meeting (and a permanent part of the pandemic vernacular), Zoom counted over a half-million customers around the world in August. With those kinds of numbers (and a massive January stock offering), the U.S. video conferencing company started making some serious investments into acquisitions. One of the first was of German startup Kites GmbH, which develops real-time AI language translation. And now Zoom is working on a project to integrate the technology into its meeting app with the aim of eliminating language gaps in cross-border communication. The company demoed the feature in September and expects to roll it out in 2022.
The results of Iceland’s landmark four-year experiment in the four-day workweek came out just when the world might finally be ready to take them to heart. Between 2015 and 2019, 2,500 workers (over 1 percent of Iceland’s working population) worked a reduced workweek of roughly 35 hours with no reduction in pay. The study, published in 2021 by U.K. research firm Autonomy, showed productivity stayed level or grew, and worker health and mental wellbeing spiked dramatically. Now some 86 percent of the country’s workforce is—or is able to start—working shorter hours. Spain is also piloting a four-day workweek, and U.K. consumer products giant Unilever is offering shorter hours with no change in pay to employees in Australia.
In theory, WFH sounds lovely most of the time. But being stuck inside the same walls—especially for city dwellers—can get old. Voilà, the Îlots d’été Network, created by the government of Québec, local open-air coworking space Aire Commune and internet provider Fizz. Users have their choice of more than 25 free workspaces in the great outdoors, each fully equipped with Wi-Fi, integrated lighting, power outlets and a ramp for accessibility. Strategically positioned across Montréal, the offices are close to bike paths, on pedestrian arteries, public transport and parks. The self-supporting aluminum and wood structure is designed to stand up to inclement weather and can accommodate two people with social distancing or six otherwise. As more workers report rising stress, the project could be a case study in showing how green desking can cut isolation and improve mental wellbeing.