All Aboard the Modern Office: Design Lessons Learned in Transit

July 27, 2022 | New Workplace Leadership | 4 min read

Recent headlines have focused on the downsides of air travel: baggage lost, fights delayed, passengers stranded. But, l firmly believe that we never stop learning; that we can learn anytime and anywhere. And, even with all its current hassles, air travel has lessons for us if we know where to look.

Here's an example.

I flew to Atlanta a few weeks ago on a 2 pm out of Boston. As my seatmate and I settled in for the flight, we struck up a conversation. It turned out that she was headed home after an early morning flight and quick meeting. And, when I say “quick,” I mean quick. She had been in Boston for less than three hours. I remarked that her travel schedule seemed even crazier than mine.

What I didn't realize, until moments later when she introduced herself, is that I had the good fortune of sitting next to the senior designer for the VIP transit lounges of a major airline.

She was in the midst of revitalizing the more than 50 lounges — across 35 airports around the country — and was in Boston overseeing renovations at Logan Airport. I had recently stopped by one of her lounges in Los Angeles before I flew home following Irresistible 2022. So, I knew the caliber of the experience she was creating.

We spent the flight to Atlanta talking about the renewed purpose and focus of these spaces. In essence, she is doing — and has been for years — what so many of us are trying to do now with physical work locations: provide the right space at the right time to meet the right need. She recognized that lounge visitor needs had evolved and varied depending on the traveler. Some members are business professionals who need a temporary office to do heads-down work or to take meetings. Others are "long-haulers" who need a quiet space to relax or recharge. And still others bring their families in for a decent meal and perhaps a bit of entertainment.

With all these potential functions, transit lounges cannot be just large waiting rooms for travelers (free coffee and cocktails notwithstanding). They must be fit for purpose.

Truly, the office — or, at least, the modern office — is no different than one of her transit lounges. It's not enough to be simply the place where work gets done, but rather, it's the place where specific types of work — and interactions — get done:

  • Collaboration. Nothing beats gathering around a white board and working together on a project in person. Can this type of work be done over Zoom? Of course. But, there is just something about the energy in a room that allows for more creativity and better outcomes.
  • Quiet spaces. While some projects depend on teamwork, office space needs to be set aside for work that requires stretches of focused concentration — especially if your team is on-site often.
  • 1:1s. Face-to-face, in-person meetings or mentoring sessions can be valuable for deepening connections and eliminating the distractions that often come with a screen. Again, they can happen via Zoom, but so much non-verbal communication is lost.
  • Connecting socially. Here at Skillsoft, my Boston team members value their Thursdays in the office. In fact, they often spend the day connecting and then head out afterwards to share a meal. It's not surprising; we form tight bonds with people when we spend so much time — in-person — together.

It occurred to me, after my conversation on the plane, that we hear a lot about future-proofing our workforce (and rightfully so). But, what about future-proofing our workplaces? Just like a savvy traveler, employees today have different expectations, and flexibility is key.

At Skillsoft, we developed a course on Human-Centric Design, which drives innovation inspired by people, and ensures that products and services "create a positive, long-term impact for end-users.” The same mindset could be applied when creating a purpose-fit, modern office: What types of spaces do our people really need, at what times, to function at their best?

Now, I believe very strongly that a remote-first policy can work very well. It works for me and my team (and we've put effort into making sure it feels flexible, supported, and connected.) But, I also recognize the value of creating the right physical spaces, both in number and size, that allow us, when needed, to improve our thinking, deepen our connections, and relax and unwind with our colleagues.

And, remember, while remote work is becoming the norm for many of us, everyone's work-from-home situation is different. (Some of your colleagues might really, really need those office days!)

So, perhaps there is something to be learned from a long day of travel, I’m excited to reconnect with my new friend in the future and see what she comes up with.

Meanwhile, look for me in the transit lounges at Logan. I'll be the one walking around taking notes.

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