How The Post-Pandemic Workplace Creates Meaningful Gatherings in New Space Designs

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The post-pandemic workplace is not going to be like it was when you worked in the office before 2020. As companies grapple with their hybrid work plans, leaders are taking this moment to refresh and reset. Leaders need to think consciously about creating a post-pandemic workplace that creates meaningful gatherings in new space designs.  

In today’s episode, we interview Dr. Tracy Brower, a PhD sociologist, author of The Secrets to Happiness at Work, contributor for and a principal with Steelcase Applied Research + Consulting group. Tracy explains that instead of simply “getting our employees back to the office,” we need to talk about how we are going to make our return to the office more compelling.  

Meaningful Gatherings

Your employees want to be together, but they’ve likely made it clear that they desire to gather in person only when it makes sense. They enjoy gathering in person because they want to connect with their colleagues. 

Meaningful gatherings means identifying and creating significant mini-events that purposefully require in-person presence. These in-person gatherings must be meaningful according to the people attending – not just according to the leadership. These in-person experiences need to create a sense of connectedness. This is actually related to a sense of awe (think of the feeling you have at the beach or watching a sunset)–when we feel we belong to something greater than ourselves.  

Meaningful gatherings contribute to the conditions for happiness because they reinforce a sense of community, where people can contribute and feel recognized. When employees see the link between their work and how it serves the purpose of the community and the company, they are more likely to feel a sense of joy. Organizations need to be really clear in sharing this link–between overall purpose and individual contribution–during these in-person experiences. 

Create the opportunities for meaningful gatherings through which you can give people recognition, reinforce the company’s purpose, and allow for reflection. These opportunities can help compel your employees back to the office.

  1. Planning & Reflection

Planning and reflection are two activities that can make in-person gatherings more meaningful. In our  North American culture, we don’t take a lot of time to reflect or to be intentional. We often like to do jump into things and don’t always take time for reflection. 

Planning and reflection are two critical activities in a successful organization. In addition, it is important that people feel a sense of belonging and that we encourage a growth mindset. Another element of happiness is stretch and learning–both of which are correlated with happiness.

  1. Stakeholder-Focused Gatherings

Bring in your customers or stakeholders for a small event to share their stories and reinforce the importance of the work employees are doing for them. Or host an event where you invite your current customers and your potential customers and let your current customers share stories about their success with your organization. This gathering creates more unity between not only your current and potential customers, but also between your employees as well.

  1. Alone, Together

Many organizations are now using their work cafés for remote workers who need to do focused work, and also want to be around other people. Some people find working from home can be isolating so a ‘social hub’ in the office allows for work that is done alone, but with other people in proximity (‘alone together’). These office spaces allow remote workers to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, even if they’re not working with the other people in the space. (For working from home that is productive you can also be creative about your home office: Productive work-from-home space,)

  1. Celebrations

There are many meaningful reasons to celebrate inside your organization. For example, one company has a cart they regularly use for refreshments in celebrating events like baby showers, cocktail hours and honoring employees. The cart is an artifact that signals to all the staff that there is a special event occurring. 

  1. Showing Gratitude

Gathering your team regularly to show each other gratitude is extremely powerful. One leader gets his team together twice a year to write notes of gratitude to the other team members or to share that gratitude in person. This creates the space for people to express what they really appreciated about others and put that in writing or express it. 

  1. In Person Feedback

Gathering that includes feedback is also powerful. For example, you can have your team pick a metaphor to spur the discussion. A metaphor of an airplane, can elicit feedback like, “what things give you lift?” and “what things are headwinds?” Using a metaphor empowers your team to think differently. And this kind of open sharing about what’s working well or less well tends to build trust, and it focuses on developing a growth mindset. 

Stimulating & Interesting Spaces in the Post-Pandemic Workplace

Leaders can also consider the power of emotional contagion within physical spaces. When people work in the same space as others who are productive, that energy tends to spread within that space. 

Create physical places that are stimulating and interesting, and consider how you manage the energy within that space–bringing people together in an intentional way and fostering gathering among employees.   

Employees Expectations of the Workplace

Employees have a certain set of expectations for their workplaces. Steelcase research shows new employee expectations include safety, belonging, productivity, comfort and control. 


Safety includes both physical safety and psychological safety. To develop more safety within the work space, companies can re-create subtle cues about distance, or ways people can circulate through the space. Companies can create spaces that help develop trust and allow for gathering in a large group, or in a one-on-one. 

Office Space Design Requirements

In their office space design, organizations need to support five modes of work: 

  1. Focus
  2. Collaboration
  3. Learning
  4. Socializing
  5. Rejuvenating.

Design to Increase Leadership Presence

Designing spaces now requires more intention in allowing for more leadership presence and accessibility. Employees want time with their leaders. They want to be seen, they want to learn and be coached by their leaders, and they want to be able to see what their leaders are doing. Steelcase research found that when leaders were more present and accessible, people tended to want to be in those spaces more often. 

One organization has created an office where their leadership meeting spaces are centrally located and transparent, while also remaining acoustical privacy–giving a sense of leadership presence and accessibility.   

Nature Elements

People significantly prefer office space with elements of nature, and research has demonstrated a correlation with productivity, performance and happiness. Office space that includes daylight, appealing views, natural elements, reflective surfaces or fractals are examples. Visual abundance is also correlated with joy and happiness. In addition, many companies are also using their outdoor spaces to a greater extent. 

Wall of Recognition

When designing your new workspace, consider a wall of recognition. This wall is updated on an ongoing basis, with feedback from customers, leaders and team members to recognize both wins and lessons. Some companies have a “Ghost Wall” where the feedback is anonymous. These walls give energy to the room and your employees.

Stakeholder Focused Design

When designing your new space consider your customers and stakeholders and think about how they are evident in the space. For example, some companies use customer avatars that they put up on the walls in their collaborative work spaces. Other companies focus on creating customer spaces that appeal to their ideal customers or customer personas.

Focus Workspace vs. Collaborative Workspace

Today, companies are planning to gear more of their office space toward collaboration, versus focused work. Yet organizations still need to accommodate both spaces and all work modes (focus, collaboration, learning, socializing and rejuvenating). Ultimately, the goal is about creating the space for productivity and performance with plenty of choice and control. 


Neighborhoods are an office design in which people don’t have assigned “spaces”, but still have a sense of territory, where they know where to efficiently find one another. These employees have the neighborhood for connection but include distancing cues to create a comfortable amount of space.

About Tracy Brower

Dr. Tracy Brower is a PhD sociologist studying work-life fulfillment and happiness. She is the author of a new book, The Secrets to Happiness at Work as well as her previous book, Bring Work to Life. She is a principal with Steelcase’s Applied Research + Consulting group and a contributor to and Fast Company. Tracy is an award-winning speaker and has over 25 years of experience working with global clients to achieve business results. Tracy is an executive advisor to Like|Minded, Coda Societies and to the MSU Master Industrial Mathematics Program. She is a council member with Design Museum Everywhere and on the board of the United Way. 

Tracy’s work has been translated into 13 languages and it has been featured in TEDx, The Wall Street Journal, Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century (book), Globe and Mail (Canada), InsideHR (Australia), HR Director (UK), T3N (Germany), Real Estate Review Journal,, Inc. Magazine, HBR (France) and more. Tracy holds a PhD in Sociology, a Master of Management in Organizational Culture, and a Master of Corporate Real Estate with a workplace specialization. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, Unsplash or at

To learn more about preparing for the post-pandemic workplace, download this episode now.

Online Courses for Leaders Leading a Team From Anywhere:

Check out these online courses for remote leaders from the Team Anywhere Team.

How to Be an Effective Remote Manager | How to Build Virtual Accountability

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