Post-pandemic workplaces that uplift

New office designs aim to appeal to the entire well-being of employees, including a spiritual side. The pandemic left a desire for higher purpose and greater connection.

Aerial view of Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

One visible measure of how the pandemic has changed society is in the places where people gather – or rather used to gather – to work together. The vacancy rate for office space in the United States hovers at near double the level of 2019, reflecting the enduring appeal of both remote and hybrid work. That is driving a focus on “repositioning” – or remodeling – buildings to make them a setting that workers enjoy.

How old buildings are being made new reflects more than pandemic-related concerns, of course. Energy efficiency and other solutions for climate change come into play. Within offices, new designs underscore what business leaders see as a great shift: a redefining of work that tethers organizational strength to human wellbeing and worth.

The rise of spirituality-driven organizations marks the beginning of an era “no longer defined by mechanization, isolation, competition, and self-interest, but by harmony, unity, spirituality, and shared destiny,” write Eden Yin, a business professor at the University of Cambridge, and Abeer Mahrous, a marketing professor at Cairo University, in a paper published in the Journal of Humanities and Applied Social Sciences.

After two years of working in isolation, many employees – particularly younger ones – are returning to work with a desire for connection and a renewed sense of higher purpose. That is resulting in office adaptations that improve mental well-being – design that creates more flow from inside to outside, color and lighting to lift moods, and shared work spaces to break down hierarchy and promote creativity and collaboration.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the financial firm Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association has opened a new campus with walking trails, disc golf, and putting greens, according to Time magazine. “What really shifted with the pandemic was our focus on our outdoor spaces and amenities,” said Jennifer Cline, head of workplace strategy and execution.

Such elements, which can improve staff retention, point to a deeper shift that the pandemic has perhaps just accelerated. A growing number of studies are grappling with how to define spirituality in the workplace – not as a religious or denominational culture, but as a way of understanding how both commerce and humanity can move beyond the traditional yardsticks of data analytics and competitive market advantage.

“Spirituality is in fact an effective tool to make employees feel that they are an integral part of an organization,” notes a new study in the International Journal of Research and Development. “The unique characteristics that differentiate a spiritual organization from others are: strong sense of purpose, focus on individual development, trust and openness, employee empowerment and toleration of employee expression.”

In other words, more businesses are trying to support the entire employee. If that offers a foretaste of a transformation across society, many trials of the pandemic will have led to an era of useful reflection on daily life. 

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