Turns out free lunch, dog-friendly policies, and even personal assistants may not be enough to lure remote workers back to the office full-time—at least not voluntarily.
Now, CEOs who have been paying exorbitant rent for office space more suited to tumbleweeds than workers have a new idea: outfitting those spaces to resemble the cozy homes workers are so resistant to leave.
The approach, dubbed residential commercial or “resimercial,” involves attempting to execute an “at-home vibe,” reported the Wall Street Journal’s Ray A. Smith. That means supplanting desks and cubicles with more inviting and comfortable furniture, like plush sofas, area rugs, TVs, succulents, armchairs, or even fireplaces. These settings would ideally bridge the stark gap between the comforts of home and the traditionally cold corporate workplace, he writes.
These kinds of comforts in the office aren’t entirely new; perennially unbuttoned businesses, such as startups and tech companies, have long embraced zany, unique workplaces. Now, that style might become the norm, Talia Olson, a Washington-based interior designer, told Smith. “A lot of this is getting people back into the office after we’ve been working from home for some time, so why not design a space that has that feeling?”
Balancing comfort with compromise
Despite the appeal of the new trend (who doesn’t prefer a chaise longue to a swivel chair?), “resimercial“ designs can’t supersede the real point of the office: a space conducive to productive work.
Aside from serving as a natural place to convene and ideate out loud, offices can also function as a refuge from the manifold distractions plaguing workers at their home office. Maybe they have young kids, a roommate also working in the same close quarters, or a spouse using the blender during a conference call. On the other hand, workers whose homes have become an oasis of calm may experience a slight culture shock when arriving back in an office with so much chatter.
“When you’ve spent two years alone, you [can] become very sensitive to noise,” Jeremy Myerson, emeritus professor at the Royal College of Art and coauthor of Unworking, a book about the modern office, told the Financial Times in December. “What we’re hearing from HR departments is that people are hypersensitive to their environments.”
That goes in both directions; any given worker could prefer noise over silence, and office managers are facing the new task of appealing to both sides—and making an equal case for both of them to show up.
That’s why, in an office clearly geared toward in-person attendance, you can expect to see both private phone booths and pods (dubbed “quiet spaces”) as well as bustling common areas and well-stocked open-plan kitchens.
And whether workers are seated at a desk or curled up in front of a fireplace, the goal of feng shui should never overtake the goal of productivity. To that end, instead of shelling out on game rooms or beer fridges, companies have begun prioritizing “socially evolved” additions like mental wellness rooms, outdoor workspaces, and lactation rooms.
“It’s about employee health, employee wellness, employee productivity, and business continuity,” Joseph Allen, director of Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program and associate professor at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told Fortune in October. “Major organizations are rethinking their approach to commercial real estate…because the C-suite has started to really pay attention to the key role that buildings play in the health of their people and their company.”
Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business with The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Sign up here.