When the HootSuite facilities team decided to remove 500 desks at its Vancouver headquarters and replace them with a combination of sit-stand workstations, meeting pods, bicycles and treadmill desks, there was some understandable uncertainty about whether the expensive gamble of the company would pay off on hybrid work.
But maybe that’s not the point. “Maybe it’s going to work well and maybe it won’t, but I think we should try it and see how it goes,” said Carol Waldman, director of global facilities at Hootsuite.
Workplace design has come a long way since the days of Herman Miller’s Action Office II – the infamous “office cubicle” despised by office workers around the world (much to the dismay of designer Robert Propst, who ironically invented the Action concept. had thought of). Office II as a new type of flexible, customizable workspace for desk jockeys).
Thankfully, cubicle businesses are largely disappearing: Now businesses are once again on the brink of a major overhaul of the modern workplace as hybrid work takes root and challenges our long-held views of work, home life, and everything in between.
Like many companies, Hootsuite was forced to close workspaces in the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. In 48 hours, the social media company had closed all 14 offices worldwide and sent more than 1,200 employees home from work.
Amid the challenges posed by long-term remote working, including the struggle to keep employees engaged and connected, HootSuite took the opportunity to rethink how it used its office space — and more importantly, ask its employees how they could continue to extract value from the office once it reopens.
What followed was an eight-month renovation of the HootSuite headquarters in Vancouver. The rows of workstations went out, cozy soundproof booths, lounge areas and comfortable chairs entered. There is a new ‘wellness area’, complete with velvet curtains, which can be used by nursing mothers or employees who just want to get away from the daily grind. For workers who want to train their brains and bodies at the same time, they can do so using one of HootSuite’s new bike and treadmill desks.
These have proved quite popular with HootSuite employees, Waldmann says, although she confesses she hasn’t used one herself.
“We’ve tried to provide a wide range of different opportunities for people who work in different styles,” she tells ZDNet. “Our whole process is really about testing and iterating.”
Experimentation will be an important part of navigating the early days of the shift to hybrid work.
As the pandemic necessitated working from home for those who could, some wondered if the days of the office were numbered as professionals recovered time and money from the commute and got a taste of how work could better fit into their own lives, in contrast to reversed†
By now, most have opted for a model that combines the best of both worlds: enabling employees to work from home when they want to, while leaving offices open as a hub for collaboration and a space for forging social and professional connections. .
For HootSuite, closing its offices for good was never on the table. “I’ve always believed that those offices are where you as an organization stay connected with your employees,” says Waldmann.
“I have calls, which we have a thousand times a day, is not the same as seeing someone in the office and stopping for a quick five-minute conversation.”
The previous office, Waldmann explains, was affectionately called “racked and stacked” — in the sense that it had rows upon rows of hodgepodge desks, packed together “like little sardine cans.”
During the redesign of the office, these were gutted and donated to local charities. HootSuite went from 600 desks to just 110 (a big step for the company, Waldmann notes), all of which are now sit-stand workstations.
An important part of the renovation of the HootSuite office was accessibility. Waldmann tells ZDNet that the company hired an accessibility consultant to come and review the floor plans with HootSuite’s interior designer in an effort to figure out how to make the entire office more employee-friendly.
“We’ve added Braille to all of our meeting rooms and to the outside of the entrance to our building; we’ve added contactless door handles so you could just scan in; we’ve added dimmable lighting in all meeting rooms, because sometimes when you’re in a conference room and you’re sensitive to light or you have migraines, being somewhere with really strong light can be too much.”
Lighting was another important factor in the renovation of the HootSuite office. To make the office a place where employees want to work, create a welcoming environment that doesn’t dull or overwhelm the senses the moment employees step out of the elevator.
“Our building doesn’t have a lot of natural light, so one of the things I really pushed for and am really passionate about is natural light,” says Waldmann,
“In our reception room it was actually a small dark box with fluorescent lighting. So we cut a hole in the ceiling and put a huge skylight in it.”
What works in one location does not necessarily work in another location. HootSuite has offices around the world, each with the different requirements of the teams using them.
The company recently unveiled a refurbishment for its London headquarters, which now features collaborative and relaxed soft seating areas, 16 sit-stand desks, two under-desk treadmills and two under-desk bicycles, a dedicated wellness area, greenery all over the space, art and whiteboards in most meeting rooms, a dedicated “focus zone” complete with an acoustic screen and lockers for everyday use.
Waldmann acknowledges that not everything will work out. Just as companies are trying to figure out what hybrid means in the long run, the coming months and years will be a time when we need to see what employees really want to achieve by coming to the office, and tailoring the environment accordingly.
Does this mean the days of the humble office chair are numbered? “If you’re wondering if we’re going to replace all of our desks with treadmill desks, the answer to that question is ‘no!’” says Waldmann.