This article is part of a series of updates to our Steelcase guide
Navigating What’s Next: The Post-COVID Workplace.”

Why do we miss the office? And will we still love it when we return?

The simple joy of coffee with coworkers in the café. Sketching out ideas on whiteboards, post-it notes and digital displays in comfortable meeting spaces. It’s the collective energy and vibe of a space full of people united in a common purpose.

Though we’re successfully getting some types of work done remotely and over video, we’re struggling with the generative work that creates new ideas and solves complex problems. And we are missing the intrinsic human experience of working together – face-to-face – in spaces that were designed specifically to foster the creativity, agility and innovation that organizations need to be truly productive and grow.

It’s clear that social connection builds trust and strong bonds. But our ability to adapt to working remotely is reliant upon the relationships built over time through the spontaneous interactions and relaxed conversations that happen in person – in a conducive environment. The informal, shared spaces – or ancillary spaces – where we socialized, collaborated, focused and rejuvenated, enhanced our work experience before COVID-19 sent us all home.

But when we return, will these spaces that we love go away because of safety concerns? Or will they change?

After months working apart, employees now say the main reason they want to come back to the office is to be with other people, socialize and collaborate in ways that just aren’t possible remotely. That’s why a diverse range of spaces in the office that support these work modes, and collaboration in particular, will not go away. What’s more, they are likely to be even more desired. But they will have to evolve now and for the near term to meet the new requirements of the post-COVID workplace.

Coming together in the workplace to socialize and collaborate will become the greatest purpose that the new office can fulfill.

The shared spaces that support this purpose also bring a welcomed warmth and energy to the workplace. We’ll continue to be drawn to those spaces that bring us together in more residentially-inspired, comfortable settings which also support our performance. But the attributes that make these spaces desirable – softer furnishings, lush materials, crafted finishes – must also consider new safety concerns. Now, shared spaces must pivot towards supporting the physical distancing and cleaning protocols that are required to create a safer work environment. These spaces that employees most enjoy must be adapted or created to not only enhance productivity but to ensure that the people using them can be safe and feel safe too.

We’re striving to balance the need for compelling spaces with the need for safety.

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