Beyond Square Footage: The New Value Proposition of Workspaces

April 09, 2024
Interior Design Commercial

The principles of trust, community and well-being are reshaping the physical and cultural landscape of today's workplaces.

In an era marked by unprecedented change, the modern workplace is redefining its value beyond the confines of physical space. With a staggering 19.6% vacancy in national office space, a figure that surpasses records set during significant periods of economic upheaval, according to Moody's Analytics, the fundamental question arises: What is the true value of the workplace? Working with many corporate clients, we understand that the modern workplace is more than a mere location to conduct professional endeavors. In today's world, the workplace serves as a unique cultural blend of resources, technology and human interaction. 

The evolution of work models — from in-person to remote and hybrid — underscores the pressing need to invest in workplaces that foster connection, culture and community. Workplaces can be a potent force in combating loneliness and in nurturing an environment where trust, community and well-being are paramount. In this article, we'll delve into the transformative power of design and the role organizational values play in creating workplaces that accommodate diverse needs — from ADA compliance to spiritual wellness — and serve as catalysts for building authentic human connections.

Trust as the Foundation of Workplace Values

Trust within the workplace is paramount. A shocking statistic reveals that only 21% of employees strongly agree that they trust the leadership in their organization. Trust is the cornerstone of a productive workplace, fostering a positive and collaborative environment where psychological safety, stronger relationships, motivation, engagement and reduced stress can thrive. It acts as the invisible thread weaving together the fabric of workplace dynamics and enables employees to express ideas, take risks and collaborate effectively without fear of judgment or reprisal.

The contrast between online and in-person trust highlights the nuanced challenges and opportunities in building trust across different work models and emphasizes the value of face-to-face interactions in nurturing genuine connections. Much has been made about the pros and cons of remote, hybrid or entirely on-site work. Some employees find working from home more conducive to focused work, while others concentrate better in the office. While the flexibility of remote work allows for greater autonomy (something today's workers prize highly), the office remains a gathering place for social bonding, development and culture building within organizations.

Online environments challenge trust-building, necessitating deliberate efforts toward transparent communication and authenticity. Conversely, in-person interactions naturally facilitate trust through the visibility of non-verbal cues and the tangibility of physical presence. This dichotomy highlights the evolving landscape of work, where the traditional office serves not only as a focal point for professional tasks but also as a critical space for social bonding, cultural development and the cultivation of trust.

Community in the Workplace

The resurgence of employees returning to the office, driven by a longing for relationship-based connections, accentuates the significance of community in the workplace. In contrast to the virtual ease of online relationships, in-person interactions offer depth and richness. In this way, the office transcends its functional role, becoming a vital space where shared experiences, collaboration and trust can flourish.

One of the primary reasons employees return to the office is the desire for interpersonal relationships, underscoring the human need for community. In-person collaboration bolsters communication, fosters innovation and heightens engagement through shared energy and purpose. This dynamic is further enriched by experiencing the equity of in-person decision-making, where consensus-based approaches often replace the hierarchical structures more common in virtual settings. The in-person environment promotes a more inclusive decision-making process, holistically engaging individuals as they create and refine ideas.

Moreover, the tactile and physical aspects of in-person meetings — standing, moving, walking — stimulate the brain differently, enhancing creativity and connectedness. Clients and teams coming together in a shared space report a surge in creativity and a stronger sense of connection, both with each other and the projects they are co-creating. This physical co-presence ignites creative solutions that might remain untapped in a purely virtual collaboration.

Social hubs provide entertainment options and quality refreshments, supplying an optimal environment where employees can build relationships and engage in mentorship and networking activities. Pictured: Fusion Medical Staffing in Omaha, Nebraska by RDG. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging.

Physical workplaces act as catalysts for mentorship, learning, networking and a sense of belonging, illustrating the irreplaceable value of tangible human connections in nurturing a vibrant workplace culture. A top request from clients for their new spaces is the creation of social hubs that foster organic, informal conversations. These spaces are a far cry from the traditional break rooms of the past. Instead, they are designed as prime real estate within the office landscape, leveraging natural light, heightened design elements and a variety of seating options to encourage interaction. These hubs provide entertainment options and quality refreshments, supplying an optimal environment where employees can build relationships and engage in mentorship and networking activities.

Such dedicated spaces help transform a typical office environment into a community-centric workspace. By prioritizing areas for informal interaction, organizations can create a central connector that facilitates collaboration and serves as a physical manifestation of the company's commitment to fostering a robust and inclusive community. These are not mere break areas — they are strategic investments in the social and professional fabric of the workplace, designed to elevate the overall experience of coming to the office and enhance the sense of belonging among employees.

Well-Being as a Core Value

Amidst the complexities of the modern work environment, the emphasis on well-being as a core value reflects a holistic approach to employee health that encompasses mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. The alarming rates of loneliness, especially among Gen Z, coupled with the pervasive stress factors impacting employees worldwide, necessitate a reimagined workplace that prioritizes inclusive, supportive environments. The modern workplace must address a spectrum of needs, advocating for spaces and policies that facilitate personal authenticity, cultural inclusivity and a comprehensive support system for well-being.

Catering to a broad array of needs — from mental health support to accommodating diverse lifestyles — is imperative for fostering an environment where every employee feels valued and understood. Pictured: Fusion Medical Staffing in Omaha, Nebraska by RDG. Photo by AJ Brown Imaging.

Statistical insights reveal a stark reality, particularly among Gen Z: 73% of this generation reports feeling lonely sometimes or always, a sentiment significantly more pronounced than in older generations. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that Gen Z is the least likely generation to report having close friends: About half of adults 65 and older (49%) say they have five or more close friends, compared with 40% of those 50 to 64, 34% of those 30 to 49 and 32% of those younger than 30. This epidemic of loneliness highlights the critical role of positive workplace culture in offering a counterbalance through authentic connections and a supportive community. Although leaders and managers cannot change external sources of stress, they can make a difference in overall stress in workers' lives. According to a Gallup analysis, when employees are engaged at work, they report significantly lower stress. The design and implementation of workplace strategies catering to a broad array of needs — from mental health support to accommodating diverse lifestyles — emerge as imperative for fostering an environment where every employee feels valued and understood.

Integrating Values into Design

Integrating trust, community and well-being into the physical and cultural design of the workplace presents an opportunity to redefine the essence of workspaces. Case studies, such as FNBO and Fusion, showcase the innovative ways design can manifest core organizational values, creating environments that encourage collaboration, flexibility and a profound sense of belonging.


FNBO (First National Bank of Omaha) embarked on a visionary partnership with RDG to redefine its workspace for the future. This collaboration aimed at a holistic transformation, focusing on both the physical workplace and technological advancements, to cater to the evolving demands of modern work environments.

Spanning 22 floors and encompassing approximately 500,000 SF, the First National Tower Transformation project initiated in April 2021 represents a significant shift towards a more collaborative, agile and flexible workspace. RDG's strategic facility design approach incorporates rigorous standards, including benchmarks, space planning ratios, math + modeling and focused programming sessions. This systematic approach facilitated each floor's rapid programming and designing, embedding essential flexibility that allows for swift adaptation to changing work demands — a cornerstone of operational excellence and efficiency.

The transformation journey reimagined the traditional workspace layout, transitioning from a model that predominantly favored private offices (80% individual space and 20% shared spaces) to one where the dynamics are strikingly different: 45% of the floor plan is now allocated for individual workspaces, while 55% is dedicated to shared spaces. This reallocation underscores a commitment to fostering collaboration and connectivity among employees. The redesign introduces abundant natural light, open sightlines, wellness-centric spaces and an enhanced number of collaborative meeting areas, cafes and community spaces that prioritize hospitality, creating an inviting and productive environment.

Integral to the project's success was a comprehensive change management strategy grounded in the ADKAR model: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. This framework guided the team in tracking employee engagement and feedback throughout the design and implementation process, ensuring a responsive and adaptive approach to meet the workforce's evolving needs. By closely monitoring and acting on employee data points, the project team could tailor educational efforts, pivot strategies as necessary and provide robust support, culminating in an impressive average floor rating of 4.7 out of 5. This rating reflects the project's operational success and the positive reception and adaptability of FNBO's employees to their transformed workspace, a testament to the project's holistic vision and meticulous execution. 

Fusion Medical Staffing

In response to substantial growth and increased demand for its services, Fusion Medical Staffing embarked on a transformative journey to reimagine its workplace environment. The company sought to create a space that would not only attract and retain talent in a competitive market but also accommodate future growth. To achieve this, Fusion enlisted RDG and initiated a profoundly collaborative process to reshape the office into a vibrant, flexible and growth-ready environment.

RDG's approach centered on implementing flexible workspaces and shared meeting areas within Fusion's new 115,000 SF office. This approach addressed the challenges of rapid growth and the integration of remote work, ensuring the office can adapt and expand in alignment with the company's evolving needs. By planning for future expansions, RDG laid the groundwork for a workspace that could effortlessly transition in response to shifts in operational demands.

A key element of RDG's design was the integration of wellness and fun-focused amenities, reflecting Fusion's brand ethos. Centrally located breakrooms on each floor foster a communal atmosphere, promoting socialization and the development of trusted relationships among employees. The inclusion of wellness rooms allows for personal care services offered by professionals such as estheticians and masseurs, underscoring the company's commitment to employee well-being. Additionally, respite rooms provide a secluded space for employees to attend to their mental and physical health or engage in personal religious practices.

To encapsulate Fusion's culture of vibrancy and fun, RDG infused each floor with a unique personality, articulated through five distinct themes ranging from U.S. National Parks and the TV sitcom "The Office" to local Omaha dive bars. The Fusebox, an employee lounge on the main floor, features a golf simulator and arcade games, serving as a dynamic space for hosting customers and bolstering recruitment efforts.

Integral to the project's success was an informal yet strategic organization and process characterized by the identification of Change Champions. These individuals played a dual role: educating colleagues about the project's vision and design while conveying employee desires to a steering committee. With a workforce comprised predominantly of Millennials and Gen Z (a demographic keen on making a meaningful difference), engaging these individuals in the redesign process fostered a more profound sense of purpose and identity within the company.

The active involvement of various sub-committees, including department groups, floor reps, graphics team, furniture squad, safety committee and transition team, ensured that approximately 25% of employees were directly engaged in the design process. This extensive engagement, supported by surveys and input from all staff members on aspects such as workstation selection and departmental needs, underscored a crowd-sourcing effort pivotal to the project. Leadership's commitment to massive involvement as a prerequisite for significant change highlights the project's foundational belief: transformative workplace redesign is contingent upon comprehensive employee engagement, ensuring that the new space authentically reflects and supports its users' dynamic needs and values. The redesign embodies Fusion's mission to positively impact the lives of all its stakeholders. It stands as a testament to the power of thoughtful design in boosting employee engagement, mirroring corporate values and nurturing a robust sense of community and belonging.

These examples serve as a testament to the power of involving employees in the design process, ensuring that the workplace reflects and supports its inhabitants' collective values and aspirations. The emphasis on flexibility and the prioritization of well-being and community within the design process exemplifies how physical spaces embody and promote the foundational values of trust, community and well-being.

The journey toward a more inclusive, engaging and productive workplace is not solely about physical space but about nurturing the soft skills and social support systems that form the bedrock of a thriving organizational culture. As we navigate the crossroads of redefining the workplace for a new generation, the imperative for organizations to embrace a holistic approach that foregrounds trust, community and well-being is clear. The transformative potential of workplaces offers the chance to transcend functional boundaries to become environments that fully support the diverse needs of a workforce. By fostering a culture that values authentic connections, inclusivity and comprehensive well-being, organizations can unlock the full potential of their employees, leading to a more connected, satisfied and resilient workforce. 

Written by Alysia Radicia, Interior Designer