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November 21, 2022 Workplace

Employers turn to amenities to lure workers back to the office

PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Farmington-based Connecticut Wealth Management’s recently renovated office aims to make it more attractive for employees to come to work, with a bar, golf simulator and gym.
HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Farmington-based Connecticut Wealth Management’s recently renovated office aims to make it more attractive for employees to come to work, with a bar, golf simulator and gym.
HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Farmington-based Connecticut Wealth Management’s recently renovated office aims to make it more attractive for employees to come to work, with a bar, golf simulator and gym.

After a long day of meetings in a tree house conference room or phone calls from a privacy pod, workers might want to head to the gym, hit a few golf balls, join colleagues for happy hour or find respite by a cozy, quiet fireplace.

Thanks to ever-evolving innovations in workspace revamps, and employers recognizing the vital need for work-life balance, such amenities are becoming office-place fixtures.

Trends in post-pandemic office space design are increasingly focused on communal collaboration spaces that offer many comforts of home or the corner cafe.

Couches, overstuffed chairs and plush carpeting started replacing rows of cubicles in the early days of 2021 when the corporate workforce was emerging from the work-from-home trend.

At Farmington-based Connecticut Wealth Management, Human Resources Director Debbie Hopper said as workers come out of COVID, they want larger, more open spaces, and an end to the cubicle way of life.

The company, like many others, created a lounge-type environment with TV screens, couches, and high-top cafe tables.

CTWM has a golf simulator and a kitchen with a bar, beer tap and stools.

The ability to unwind and socialize in-house promotes continual team building by keeping employees together at the end of the day instead of making another stop for a round of beers or golf.

The building also has an in-house gym so workers don’t have to make another stop on the way home.

Office design firm Red Thread recently redesigned its East Hartford home with an organic neighborhood theme. It features soundproof phone booths and Steelcase work tents.

Dawn Monde, senior vice president of office design firm Red Thread, said with the hybrid work model here to stay, workspace design is an ever-evolving art form.

“Organizations need to work harder to encourage a return to the office, but more importantly support the new ways they work,” Monde said. “We’ve learned that people won’t put up with poor experiences,” and “spaces are being designed with employee wellness in mind.”

For clients, she’s seen “an explosion of hospitality and amenity spaces that give employees enticing options” rather than a sea of workstations.

Communal spaces

Trends in office space design include collaboration rooms, social areas like coffee stations, and more open, airy spaces.

But as the push for beneficial communal space grows, so does the need for quiet, calming areas.

Red Thread recently redesigned its own East Hartford workplace innovation hub at 55 Hartland St., where it incorporated “unique amenities to not only encourage socialization, but also privacy,” with a bit of fun added in to enhance the office experience.

Red Thread built an “organic neighborhood” featuring a fireplace adjacent to a treehouse conference room and putting green.

The company’s new contrasting “tranquility neighborhood” — with a wellness room for rejuvenation and respite, soundproof phone booths and Steelcase work tents — offers quiet and privacy, Monde said.

“By creating spaces that support both a lively and private environment, our people can look forward to coming into the office whether it’s for a large gathering to connect with others, or if they need more of an escape from the distractions at home,” Monde said.

When flexibility is baked in the design process early on, she said, it gives organizations the ability to change their space as needs evolve, which is imperative considering the drastic change in the corporate office landscape over the last three years.

Demountable walls are an ideal tool to offer a flexible alternative to traditional construction while offering visual and acoustical privacy within open plan environments, she said.

‘Democratic incentives’

Commercial property broker Christopher Ostop, managing director of JLL Connecticut, said most employers want their workers back in the office, and are offering the best amenities while using the space they have to justify a commute.

With the rising costs associated with a commute, like gas and lunch, it’s more important than ever for companies to build inviting, innovative workspaces, he said.

Employers recognize this struggle by offering perks like free coffee or lunches.

CTWM’s partners cook breakfast for employees once a month in the on-site kitchen, where coworkers often gather for lunch rather than going out.

Property and casualty insurer Travelers Cos. recently unveiled a new 53,000-square-foot, market-style cafeteria in downtown Hartford with 10 food and drink stations and seating for up to 700 employees.

It also includes post-pandemic staples like grab-and-go food and touchless self-checkout areas, along with collaborative spaces for groups and conferencing capabilities.

Encouraging employees to return to the office was a key driver of Travelers’ new cafeteria investment.

Associates at Hartford-based workspace design firm Infinity Group are using flexibility in all their plans to better navigate an uncertain office future.

Designer Laura Tremko said another trend shows companies enlisting “democratic incentives” where workers who are in the office more often get perks like access to private office space.

Design trends in the Northeast and Greater Hartford, especially in the insurance and financial arenas, remain on the conservative side as opposed to clients out west in California or Austin, Texas, said Infinity Group Director of Marketing Peter Schaller.

But trends like creating tranquil spaces are popular across the board, and Infinity is designing more library-type areas for collaborative, yet very quiet, work areas.

All these changes have made for a happier workforce, Hopper at CTWM said, and it helps to show that companies care about and consider employees’ time and their work-life balance.

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