5 Ways Start-Ups Can Create the Office of the Future Start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike have taken commendable steps to determine the office protocol that works best for their businesses, whether fully remote or implementing one day to five days onsite. As start-ups reimagine the definition of the office, here are five actions they can take to reinvent their environments.

By Kalon Gutierrez

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As we continue to define the new post-pandemic norm, our return to the office remains an increasingly hot topic. Start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike have taken commendable steps to determine the protocol that works best for their businesses, whether fully remote or implementing one day to five days onsite. What is noticeably lacking, especially for those companies who require an in-office presence, is a forward-thinking definition of the new environment employees are returning to and the significance that the time spent there actually holds.

Every person has the ability to choose where they work, so spending time in the office needs to shift from something we have to do to something we get to do. In order for the commercial real estate market to harness the many opportunities among emerging companies, we must redefine the modern-day office.

The good news is that start-ups are uniquely positioned to lead this charge. On average, they are better networked, their headcounts are smaller, and their employees, by nature, are nimbler. By purposefully creating desirable and collaborative office environments, start-ups will experience both hiring and retention advantages. They will see stronger levels of buy-in from their employee cohorts and ultimately generate higher levels of productivity.

As start-ups reimagine the definition of the office, here are five actions they can take to reinvent their environments:

1. Enable 24-hour access

It has been scientifically proven that different people are most productive at different hours of the day and night, impacting workplace productivity. CNN notes a four-year study that found that night owls may be twice as likely as early risers to underperform at work. So why are offices open during such rigid times? In addition, while convenient, working from home may also not be the best solution in terms of focus. Young employees may want to work from home during the day, but find their roommates are home during their most productive evening hours. A 24-hour accessible office could serve as a refuge where they can clock in, put their head down and be both creative and productive. Start-ups of today can create work environments that allow round-the-clock office access.

Related: 5 Ways to Organize a New Business to Take Advantage of the Future of Work

2. Create 'soft work' spaces

In a feature by the Atlantic titled Hard Work Isn't the Point of the Office, Derek Thompson outlines the concept of "soft work" – which is the collaborative developmental work conducted independent of formal research and rigid meetings. As great as this type of work sounds, it will not happen if a supportive physical structure is not built. To put it bluntly, it's time to break down a majority of the cubicle walls and office doors and reallocate space for communal use. Start-ups can intentionally create collaborative workspaces void of barriers, and with balanced aesthetics, food/beverage offerings and even inspiring music — just like your favorite coffee shop. The key here is that these soft workspaces must be the focal point, not an afterthought, of the start-up office design.

3. Throw the old definition of "in the office" out the window

By counting "days in the office" we are completely missing the point. An employee technically being in the office from 9 to 5 is not a direct indication that they are more productive. It may tell the leaders that they've accomplished their onsite, in-person goals, but it doesn't necessarily make the company better. While being regularly visible in the office is key, start-ups need to foster a culture that understands one employee may need to come into the office for two hours one morning for a team meeting, and then head out for a client lunch, while another may want to return later at night, when they are at their productive best.

4. Create mental health-friendly workplaces

It has been proven that certain office elements can lead to better mental well-being and thus better mental health. For example, adjusting the Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) of office lighting and changing the intensity can boost energy, health and wellness. In addition, CEO Magazine notes that exposure to plants can boost the immune system, lower stress hormones and blood pressure, and improve mood. Start-ups have the unique opportunity to create wellness environments that are even superior to employees' home environments. Imagine a world where it is actually more relaxing for you to be in the office.

Related: 5 Steps to Successfully Reinvent Your Organization

5. Develop work/live hubs

The advancement of technology has increasingly blurred the line between work and life, and it will only continue to do so. The reality of start-up life is that we do not turn our phones off the second we leave the office and leave them shut down until we return. So why have some start-ups been looking at the swipe of an office keycard as the new symbol of productivity? These emerging companies must define offices as part of our living environments and assume that the best ones will be close to home, and a part of our personal geographical ecosystem. According to Adam Grant, hybrid and remote work is already eliminating 200 million weekly commuting hours in the U.S. alone, so start-ups must locate themselves close to living hubs, and if not directly nearby, close to transportation centers that provide easy access to home.

Contrary to popular belief, the office is not doomed forever, but it does need to be redefined and reinvented. The truth is, due to technological advancements, a good portion of today's workforce no longer needs to be in the office in order to carry out their jobs. Thus, as a society, we must rebuild the office to become a place that empowers us to live more purposefully and find better harmony with the other parts of our lives. The better off employees are personally, the more engaged they will be professionally. Executives have spent too many years drawing a hard line, demanding that their employees follow suit. Today's employees have choices, and choice is a good thing. It pushes us to lead better and create more beneficial work environments. Productivity will come. But we must get our (work) houses in order first.

Kalon Gutierrez

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Consultant, Advisor & Entrepreneur

As managing director with Manatt's digital and technology consulting practice, Kalon Gutierrez leads next-generation initiatives for top innovators. He’s a three-time entrepreneur, advisor and strategist who writes and speaks on emerging tech trends, leadership and diversity and inclusion.

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