Nonprofits: It’s Time to Re-Energize Your Workplace as Folks Transition Back to the Office

01/11/2022 7:49 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin


By Gioia Giannotti, ACN Member

Although many have insisted since the pandemic began that “the death of the office” is imminent, some nonprofits embraced the opportunity presented by remote work and empty offices to enhance and re-energize their workspaces. Over the course of these last two years, studies have shown that people want to return to the office — for reasons that are both practical and emotional. Employees cite the desire for a greater sense of social connection — engaging in collaborations and meetings, as well as training and career development opportunities.  Some state that a change in scenery and a break from home life are additional reasons for wanting to return.

What appears evident is that a hybrid workstyle and hybrid workspaces may be more of the norm across industries moving forward. Therefore, as folks return to the office, many may be greeted by spaces that may look, feel and function a little differently in order to accommodate this shift. Others may be pleasantly surprised by having access to new amenities intended to enhance their comfort—mentally, emotionally, and physically.

As nonprofits re-define their return-to-work policies, many are also rethinking their physical spaces. While nonprofits typically have limited budgets for remodeling, even small investments can boost productivity, attract and retain employees, appeal to clients, and bolster your mission.  Here are few ideas to consider:

Create a Warm, Welcoming Entry. Renovating your entry, such as the façade or reception area, could be a relatively inexpensive way to attract clients and establish your brand identity. For instance, repainting your exterior entrance or recladding it with an inexpensive material can enhance visual appeal. Repainting and recarpeting your reception area can add personality and color. If you need to post legal documentation at the entrance, creating a framed or organized display will reduce a sense of clutter and enhance its attraction. Signage and imagery that reinforces your brand identity can also help staff, clients and guests feel more comfortable.

(r)evolution architecture design for Healthcare Alternative Systems, Chicago

In the past, many nonprofits and businesses have favored open office plans, both as a cost-saving measure and as a way to encourage communication through random encounters that build relationships and spark new ideas. But in recent years, research has pointed to a need for more varied work spaces. Employees have expressed that they want and need a choice of where and how they work, with access to areas that are both open and collaborative, as well as private, heads-down, get-the-work done spaces. A well-thought-out design plan can ensure that space is used flexibly yet efficiently and cost effectively.

In an era of hybrid work, many organizations could also consider supplementing traditional multi-purpose/conference rooms with smaller virtual collaboration spaces (equipped with audio visual capabilities) to allow employees on site to plan or brainstorm with those working from home.

(r)evolution architecture design for Health Communities Foundation, Riverside

Create Rest Space. Staff need designated break areas to decompress. Consider going beyond a kitchenette to provide an area with comfortable furniture that encourages employees to relax and socialize. Doing so can help build relationships among staff that strengthens their connection with each other and your organization.

If possible, create an outdoor break area in addition to an indoor one. Access to the outdoors can refresh and enhance productivity. At a minimum, ensure that your staff has access to natural light in both rest spaces and work spaces. Research shows that natural light energizes people and benefits mental health enormously.

Build Connection through Design. While redesigning your workplace can take time and resources, the potential benefits are great. Thoughtful design both communicates your brand identity and accommodates human needs. It makes workers more productive and attracts clients and employees. It makes people feel welcomed and taken care of, increasing their sense of belonging and commitment to your organization. Especially in the COVID era, people are longing for a sense of connection that good design can help you provide.   

Gioia Giannotti, ACN vice president, is also the vice president of business operations and co-founder of (r)evolution architecture, llc. She enjoys collaborating with clients across diverse industries to create unique holistic and inclusive spaces through a methodical pre-design plan development through design and construction administration. Her diverse background includes marketing strategy leadership, business development, and customer experience management for Fortune 500 companies, marketing agencies and non-profits. As a bilingual and bicultural Latina, Gioia brings an equity and belonging lens to her work, community and civic service efforts.

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