How this CEO plans to create an office people want to return to

Lyn Hay Adelaide Business Hub office

Adelaide Business Hub CEO interviewing actor Erik Thomson. Source: supplied.

Research released in the US this week by management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates found just 3% of ‘white collar workers’ want to return to the office five days a week — warning employees will quit if bosses force them back full-time.

This echoes research from Microsoft last year that found 55% of people considering switching jobs say the work environment will be a factor in their decision.

As organisations around the world debate how often, when, and even if, their workers should return to the office, leaders need to use this moment to rethink our work environments. What modifications should be made to the physical environment? How have our expectations of the traditional ‘office’ changed? What measures do we take to ensure staff feel safe?

These are just a few of the questions I’ve been thinking about as chief executive of one of Adelaide’s largest shared office and co-working spaces, the Adelaide Business Hub. As a hub with paying tenants, we’re an interesting case study: establishing an office space that people want to return to is not so much a ‘nice to have’, but a commercial imperative.

Here are just some of the ideas I’ve been considering and some reflections on how we can rebuild an office that people want to return to.

Forget fancy desks, what are people’s basic needs?

Abraham Maslow came up with a theory that said you can’t achieve true self fulfilment until you meet your basic foundational needs like feeling healthy and safe, feeling socially connected and feeling that others recognise your achievements. Only then can you reach the pinnacle of whatever success means to you.

The theory applies when we consider our work spaces. According to Gallup, businesses get the most out of their employees when they “orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement”.

Employees and office occupants need access to vital services and opportunities while at work to feel their most basic needs are being met. You need access to a restroom, a place to get drinking water, breaks to eat meals and snacks, and a comfortable working environment.

The second most important factor is safety. People want to feel physically and psychologically protected, as well as knowing that their resources and personal property are secure. My point? You can have the fanciest desks known to man or woman, but if your space doesn’t meet the needs of your people from a psychological and safety perspective, don’t even bother.

The great thing about managing a 2000 square metre hub is that we can create and influence the basics. Why do you think so many hubs have a barista? Coffee is a basic necessity these days.

Adelaide Business Hub

Adelaide Business Hub. Source: supplied.

Deep work at home

If you had asked me three years ago what people wanted out of a hub or shared office space I would have said they want collaboration, but also quiet spaces and the opportunity to work without interruption.

I think that’s changing. Personally, I quite like the idea that the office at home might one day be a silent cube, while the great appeal of a hub or shared workspace will be how it makes you feel when you’re there.

It’s time to break the boundaries of the traditional office

Recently, McKinsey & Company partner Bryan Hancock said, “…when you ask people what their number one concern is about coming back to the office, it’s work–life balance. It’s the commute. And at the same time, you ask people what the number one worry about staying at home is, and it’s work–life balance because there’s no boundary between home and the office.”

Over the past couple of years, the definition of work-life balance has taken a massive turn. Once upon a time, ‘work’ and ‘life’ were separated, but now it is a duality. We need to break the boundaries of the traditional office to facilitate this. There are innovative models worth considering, but in the meantime I’m contemplating childcare options and vouchers for Pet Barn.

Why are people using the space?

Reflect on why people were attracted to your workplace in the first place. What do employees like about coming to work each day? What can’t they get at home? You know what your employees like. Give them more of it!

There are usually aspects of working in an office that make life easier and better for employees or tenants, so focus on those things if you want to keep people coming back again in years ahead.

Consider health requirements

Sanitising stations and regularly cleaning schedules should all be common practise by now, but what else should we be considering as we entice people back to the office?

I’ve spent plenty of time over the past few months researching air purification systems and ways we can ensure our office is a healthy environment for all. Our building is heritage and doesn’t have windows that open so we can’t simply ‘open the place up’ and improve ventilation that way. We need to be smart and innovative about how we can create a healthy office.

I’m looking forward to your thoughts on how we can do this because I certainly don’t have all the answers.


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3 months ago

Great read – thanks Lyn.

Carol Crossley from Fulcrum People
Carol Crossley from Fulcrum People
1 month ago

Always love to hear your views Lyn.
I have been working from home for years and agree, there needs to be separation from work and home chores. However, I put the load of washing in first thing in the morning and do the “housework” later in the day after the usual working hours.
I am free to start earlier if I like and work later if required to finish a report or a proposal. However, the drawbacks are the lack of outside contacts. It is very important to maintain these relationships by physically meeting for coffee and a chat with others and being available for friends and colleagues, when they need contact too. Zoom works as well but is not the same as actually meeting up with others.
Luckily, our business allows us, in fact dictates, that we spend time with participants and clients.

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